Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle

The Ballad of Black Tom is my second read in the Nebula novella category, and it's a solid one.  It's set in New York City in 1924, centering on the Harlem and Red Hook neighborhoods.  Our protagonist is Charles "Tommie" Tester, a hustler and would be street musician who is actually not much of a musician.  He provides for his prematurely aged bricklayer father with the hustles. 

This New York admits to some magic, starting when Tester meets Ma Att and getting weirder from there.  Tester ends up tied in with an older white man, Robert Suydam, who is trying to make something big happen with occult magic.

That description doesn't capture the interest of the book, particularly how the story is told.  Tester suffers outrages echoing today, but told in a straightforward, passive way that effectively underscores the rage.  The story is a real page turner but it's subdued, not over-the-top.  The very basic unfairness of it all comes through, but effectively reinforces the plot.  Great stuff.

Also was fun to do a little looking around on the occult references.  The Supreme Alphabet has a pretty sketchy article in Wikipedia, and the other sites that come up look sketchy to click.  The Sleeping King is a harder one, I didn't find much relevant on it.

Four stars and a recommendation from me, it will be hard to beat.

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