Book Review: The Ballad of Black Tom

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
Published by on February 16th 2016
Genres: Horror, Retelling, Fantasy, Novella, Historical
Pages: 149
Format: Paperback

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

“Walking through Harlem first thing in the morning was like being a single drop of blood inside an enormous body that was waking up. Bruck and mortar, elevated train tracks, and miles of underground pipe, this city lived; day and night it thrived.”

Magic lurks in 1920s New York, but Charles Thomas Tester is just hustling to put food on the table and keep a roof over his and his father’s head. He has no need to look for more.

“A good hustle isn’t curious. A good hustler only wants his pay.”

Unfortunately, one hustle sets him on a path there’s no coming back from.

“Mankind didn’t make messes; mankind was the mess.”

The Ballad of Black Tom is a subversive retelling of one of Lovecraft’s most racist stories and is fantastically written and has such an eeire undercurrent of dread as you flip from page to page. LaValle weaves throughout the book elements of cosmic horror but also commentary on racism and xenophobia.

“You can’t choose blindness when it suits you. Not anymore.”

About the Book

People move to New York looking for magic and nothing will convince them it isn’t there.

Charles Thomas Tester hustles to put food on the table, keep the roof over his father’s head, from Harlem to Flushing Meadows to Red Hook. He knows what magic a suit can cast, the invisibility a guitar case can provide, and the curse written on his skin that attracts the eye of wealthy white folks and their cops. But when he delivers an occult tome to a reclusive sorceress in the heart of Queens, Tom opens a door to a deeper realm of magic, and earns the attention of things best left sleeping.

A storm that might swallow the world is building in Brooklyn. Will Black Tom live to see it break?

Content Warnings:

Racism, xenophobia, police brutality, racial slurs, gore, blood, violence, death, murder, gun violence, body horror, hate crimes, grief, ableism, death of a parent, and torture.

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