Book Review: The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

black tom

Title: The Ballad of Black Tom

Author: Victor LaValle

Release date: February 16, 2016

“For H.P. Lovecraft, with all my conflicted feelings.”

I got this ebook a while back, when Tor had it as a free ebook of the month. I added it to my long list of books on my TBR and it slowly made its way up the list as I made my way through them.

I think I’ve done a decent job of reading diversely. I know for a fact I read A LOT of Women Horror authors, that has always been something I strive to do. But POC authors? Probably not good enough.

I will readily and unashamedly admit, I bumped this from 15th on my TBR list (yes, I have my books ordered and numbered!) to start reading this after the horrific and world changing events of George Floyd. As the Horror community rallied around our fellow POC authors and people shared photos and stacks of books to read by them (myself included) I knew I needed to do more than just share a photo.

‘The Ballad of Black Tom’ accomplishes a rare feat. We in the Horror world know just how horrible of a person HP Lovecraft was. There is a big disconnect between the mythos he created and the human he was. I remember reading some Lovecraft growing up and rereading some recently, and while I enjoy his worlds, I hate his writing. I struggle to get into it and I drop interest quickly.

Thankfully, there are a number of authors who write within that mythos incredibly well and whose writing I enjoy! So, I can get my weird gods fix and enjoy those books.

Victor LaValle, from what I’ve read online, grew up reading Lovecraft, but as a person of color, when he discovered Lovecraft’s views, he was conflicted. Like many people, he looked past the views and focused on the writing.

But then at some point, LaValle decided to take back some of Lovecraft’s mythos and make it his own, and much like the epigraph that starts this book (which I shared at the top) LaValle dove in.

What I liked: ‘The Ballad of Black Tom’ starts off by following Tommy Tester, a black man in New York at the start of the 19th Century. He is chosen by a rich man to come perform at his mansion and from there the reader gets introduced to some of the great Old Ones.

I’ve seen a few reviews state this and I’ll echo it – LaValle does Lovecraft better than Lovecraft ever did. There are some scenes in here that are completely unnerving and will creep you right out. The character of Ma Att is one such entity that will grab you and make you want to shower after you read a few of her moments.

The second part of the book follows Malone, a detective. This worked really well to see the subtle nods between the first and second half of the book, but also to understand the glamour or shimmer that the Secret Alphabet has placed on those outside of the inner circle.

What I didn’t like: While LaValle does Lovecraft amazingly, I personally wished there was just a bit more creatures featured. We get some great descriptions, but I wanted to see so much more!

Why you should buy it: LaValle writes with such efficient prose that this book hummed along. The characters and events are engaging and the use of the Old Ones was perfect. This would have been an easy one-sitting read if I didn’t have 6 other books on the go! Saying all of that, now is a time for us to support and read more diverse authors and LaValle is one of the masters of the genre. I have ‘The Changeling” from his as well, which I will be pushing up my TBR asap.

This was a stunning piece and I loved every second of it.



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