Reviews for The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle

twoheadedcalf's review
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adventurous dark mysterious tense fast-paced
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters centre-stage? Yes

Carlos Ernesto's review
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4.0

Interesting retelling of The Horror at Red Hook, shifting much of the emphasis to an African-American confederate of Robert Suydam.

In lieu of an analysis, here are strong and weak points --

Strong:
LaValle treats the themes of immigrants and poverty in early 20th century New York with much greater insight than HPL, turning one of his ugliest stories into a look at marginalization and resistance.
The characterization is solid.
The plot moves nicely and keeps the tension up.

Weak:
The prose is serviceable but sometimes clunky.
It significantly cuts down the plot, which means the climax comes nowhere near the psychedelic weirdness of the original.

SamanthaLaurene's review
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5.0

The characters were so huge and enticing that I needed this to be scarier than it was. This may be sacrilege but I read it less as horror and more as really, truly magical historical fiction. Then again, maybe it doesn't matter, because I liked it either way.

ariel_reads's review
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4.0

A quick read but a wonderful retelling and reclaiming of one of Lovecraft's most racist short stories, The Horror at Red Hook. I loved the cosmic horror aspects and how this story embraces and celebrates the diversity of New York City.

Catharina's review
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dark mysterious tense fast-paced
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters centre-stage? Yes

5.0

AdelaB's review
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dark medium-paced

3.0

Travelling_Bookworm's review
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4.0

"You can't choose blindness when it suits you. Not anymore."
--
Imagine everything that makes a good H.P. Lovecraft story. The mystic power of "The Great Ones", slowly brewing in a cosmic, ominous, and insidious fog. Remove the toxic racist bullshit Lovecraft is known for, and turn it on its head. This is what this novella is.

I did not quite know what I was in for when I started this book, but it was blood-chillingly poignant at this moment, when the BLM movement is at its strongest.
The Ballad of Black Tom is the story of a black man in the racially charged setting of New York, faced with racism, police brutality, and oppression through silence (Sounds familiar? No, this book isn't set in 2020 but in 1920s). And consequently, what Tommy does, is say "You know what? I would rather an enormous cosmic creature with tentacles in its face take over the world and destroy it with all of us on it, rather than let you get away with your BS." I mean, can you blame him?

Logophile's review
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4.0

Excellent Lovecraft pastiche that turns Lovecraft’s racism on its head.

Dustyloup's review
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adventurous dark

3.5

3.5 * another one read for book riot's read harder challenge 2020. " Retelling of a classic of the canon, fairytale, or myth by an author of color. "
My biggest exposure to the Lovecraft universe has been through boardgames and card games, like Arkham Horror. So for me this story was like the Jim Culver character come to life. 
In the end I liked Tommy's backstory more than the story of black Tom, mostly because afterwards the story suddenly shifts to Malone's perspective, which now that I read a bit more about the story it's based on (murder at red hook), I *guess* it makes sense but it was supposed to turn the Lovecraft genre on its head and in fact returned the agency and perspective into Malone's hands. 
I really like how it critiques today's issues around race and immigration, while looking back at the historical context. The historical backdrop of the 20s was much more interesting to me than the horror elements.

elizabethlk's review
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4.0

4.5 stars.

Victor LaValle manages to take what's really great about Lovecraft's works and use this retelling to adapt the shittier parts into something amazing. Weird and frightening and oddly heartfelt, it definitely had me in the moment.

Definitely recommended. This is my first time reading LaValle but I look forward to reading more from him.

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