A review by jcstokes95
Ring Shout, by P. Djèlí Clark

adventurous dark emotional tense fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Plot
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? It's complicated


This book landed somewhere in the middle for me. Clark is telling an dark adventure story wrapped up with fantastical monsters pulled from folklore. This story is at it’s best when it’s giving vivid (and gross) descriptions of its many mystical creatures. I read this via audiobook, which really got me into Mayrse’s head and seeing through her eyes. For a short book, I felt invested in the characters journeys; though, I also found there was quite a lot slammed into story. Mainly, I felt a bit overwhelmed with the sheer amount of magic and monsters here, and wasn’t always sure of the motivation of each force. I also felt there were a few passages that dumped info about the magical version of historical context. 

I did appreciate that the author drops us right into the action early. I do not generally enjoy fantasy, and much of my dislike is the long world-building passages. Clark is being economic with his storytelling, which I appreciated. The only downside of this economy is that the author doesn’t always untangle the nuance in his ideas. In my mind, a social horror/fantasy/insert genre here, is about giving the reader some perspectives to chew on. I felt like some of the messages are unintentionally muddy. Two things to point out that bothered me… first, by making the racism of White folk magical in origin, I feel like it takes away the brutal horror of hatred and plays it down to some sort of mind-control game monsters are playing. This just bothered me. It felt like once you take away the fantastical elements, the White people would just be non-hateful people. I’m not sure if this was intent, but based on the image of the White mother and son in the latter half, it seems to be what the author implies. 

Second, I’m not sure what to make of what seems to be the ‘main message’. Mayrse is meant to turn away from hate and vengeance because it will not change the pain of the past. I get the sense Clark might be making some sort of statement about rage being a weakness of social movements. This may not be his intent. Or it might be. But the message was muddy. And for a book published in 2020, a year when Black folks’ rage poured into the streets and succeeded in steps toward social change, I feel he should be more clear in his ideas. Rage, hate, vengeance can be powerful motivators for social change, even if they are incomplete methods. I just felt like more nuance was needed. It feels like the ‘moral’ of the story is incomplete. 

That being said, I found this, on the whole, to be a fulfilling read with descriptive prose and an intense pace that kept me wrapped in the story. 

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