A show that I thoroughly enjoyed last year, even though I never wrote a review for it, was HBO’s Lovecraft Country (2020) which was based on a book by the same name by Matt Ruff (2016). Part of what made that show so good is that it combined dark, Lovecraftian fantasy with history, and in particular, history of Civil Rights and the Deep South. With the success of Lovecraft Country, I was really looking forward to another dark fantasy, historical fiction to dive headfirst into. So, when I was walking through a bookstore’s fantasy section and saw a novella with a Klan hood on the cover, a staff highly recommended tag, and a description that said the story was about monster hunters in the deep south fighting KKK dark magicians and monsters, I was instantly hooked and knew I needed to buy this book.
Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark is a dark fantasy take on the early 1900’s Deep South and the KKK. In 1915, D. W. Griffith’s film The Birth of a Nation released across America and cast a spell across its viewers and simultaneous summoned demons to Earth. As a result, the Klan’s numbers grew both with humans and the Ku Klux demons that hid amongst them. The only way to see the demons for what they are is to have the sight, and luckily for the Black community in Macon, GA, the sword wielding Maryse, sharpshooter Sadie, and Harlem Hellfighter “Chef” have it and hunt down the demons that litter the Klan’s ranks. As the Klan plans on performing a new ritual with A Birth of a Nation, it is up to these three monster hunters, their community’s Gullah leader, and Maryse’s otherworldly “Aunties”, to prevent the dark magicians in the Klan to achieve their new goal.
Everything about P. Djèlí Clark’s novella works: the characters are phenomenal, the story is perfectly paced, the messaging and themes are current and beautifully woven in, and the dark fantasy/horror elements are truly spine-chilling. Ring Shout was a book that I could only put down when I absolutely had to as it was engaging throughout. I love horror films and television, but it is rare that a horror novel/novella actually gives me chills—P. Djèlí Clark’s prose in how he described his Lovecraft-esque monsters and his darker scenes gave me chills. Between Lovecraft County and Ring Shout, I am convinced that Jim Crow South is the perfect setting for these racial commentary, dark fantasy stories. This is not only because a lot of the themes and subject matters are still, unfortunately, still extremely prevalent in our present cultural zeitgeist, but also because this time period/setting is already terrifying before adding the horror elements in. P. Djèlí Clark does a great job with this dichotomy between the historical atrocities and Lovecraft monster-horror and using each to elevate the horror of the other.
My only complaint about the novella is how the finale is laid out. Without spoilers, I think that the Ring Shout‘s final conflict was mishandled with its sequence of events, so much so, that it undermines the character development and conflict that the main character, Maryse, goes through. That said, it is my only criticism to an otherwise flawless story.
While reading Ring Shout, I was picturing this as a feature film: Djèlí Clark’s prose was so accessible and well paced that it felt like I was reading a written out scene in a screenplay. Many of the scenes in Ring Shout and a lot of the action and horror sequences are naturally cinematic and are perfect for an on-screen treatment. Personally, seeing as it is only a novella, I was picturing this as a feature film while reading it. That said, as announced back in December (only two months after the novella released, if that help speaks to how great this work is), Skydance Television has acquired the rights to Ring Shout and is developing it as a series with The Old Guard (2020) and If Beale Street Could Talk (2019) actress, Kiki Layne, set to star and Kasi Lemmons as the showrunner. I’m not sure how, or if, they plan on expanding this story past a 6-episode mini/limited series, but when I finished the book I was desperately craving more of this story. So, if they tell the story and expand the world that P. Djèlí Clark created, sign me up.
Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark is absolutely incredible. It is a non-stop, horror and action filled ride, and I desperately hope P. Djèlí Clark gives us more stories in this awesome Lovecraftian world that he melded together. I absolutely cannot wait until the television adaptation comes out, and I desperately hope that it lives up to the excellence of the novella.
Book Review: 5/5