P. Djèlí Clark
published: 21st August 2018
Creeper, a scrappy young teen, is done living on the streets of New Orleans. Instead, she wants to soar, and her sights are set on securing passage aboard the smuggler airship Midnight Robber. Her ticket: earning Captain Ann-Marie’s trust using a secret about a kidnapped Haitian scientist and a mysterious weapon he calls The Black God’s Drums.
But Creeper keeps another secret close to heart–Oya, the African orisha of the wind and storms, who speaks inside her head and grants her divine powers. And Oya has her own priorities concerning Creeper and Ann-Marie…
Galley provided by publisher
Honestly, this is how you write novellas. With enough worldbuilding and plot and characterisation that you simultaneously feel that it works as a novella but also that it could be expanded into an entire novel. And The Black God’s Drums does all that so well.
This novella is an alternate, steampunk history set during the American Civil War, in which the Confederates and Union came to an truce (along with a number of other things, as explained better in the book than I could ever hope to summarise in this review). It follows Creeper, an orphan living on the streets, who overhears a Confederate plan to use a weapon known as the Black God’s Drums to defeat the Union once and for all, and plans to use the information to bargain her way onto an airship.
Sometimes, in a novella, it can feel like there’s either not enough worldbuilding or not enough plot, but in this one, there’s the perfect balance of both. The world and the characters in it are compelling, and there’s a fully realised plot as well. It’s so good, I even didn’t mind the present tense, which would usually be a bit of a problem for me.
If there’s one tiny thing that I didn’t really like, it was the strangely omniscient nuns. I get the plot needs to move along, but the fact they knew everything and had the right tools for the right moments in time, and even seemed to perhaps be able to see the future? It all felt a bit overly convenient. I’d have liked the main characters to have had to struggle a bit for the answers but there we go