Book Reviews

{Book Review} The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle


Pages: 149 pages
Published: February 16th 2016

I can’t say enough about this novella, but I’m going to give it my best try. I’m going to start with this awesome noir cover. It sets the mood. An African American man walking through the streets of New York at night in the early 20th century. If that doesn’t get your attention, then I don’t know what will. It definitely piqued my interest. Tor did a great job with this cover. I immediately wanted to know who the man is and what kind of guitar he picks. And it doesn’t take long for the reader to find out what this book is all about. It lives up to the hype. If you’re a fan of horror, then grab this book. If you can’t afford it, grab it from the library. If you don’t have access to a library, you can always request it on Libby. (I love that app.)

You can hear and smell the New York City streets as you read The Ballad of Black Tom. Victor LaValle lets you walk a mile in Charles Thomas Tester’s worn out shoes. Charles Thomas Tester is a runner of rare items. He runs an ultra rare tome to an old lady across the city. Something doesn’t sit right with Charles. And it definitely didn’t sit right with me. Chills ran down my spine. The way LaValle describes the old woman chilled me to the bone. The scene ushers in some shady characters. I was immediately suspicious of every character in this novella. I needed to know everyone’s motives.

One day while out and about picking his guitar on the street, an old man offers Charles a hefty advance to play a gig at his house. Charles accepts and shows up to play, but it’s just him and the old man. This particular old man wants to show Charles something strange and beautiful. Oh, get your mind out of the gutter, you. Anyways, Charles’ life is changed forever. Victor LaValle does an excellent job with the visuals. The scenes come to life so brilliantly. I don’t how the author packed so much into a small book. There’s not a dull moment in this book. It’s crisp and compact. The writing is rhythmically superb.

Victor LaValle is a genius by using H.P. Lovecraft’s racism against him and his mythos. It’s truly brilliant and timely. The Ballad of Black Tom is every bit horror as it is socio-political. It’s also noir, which adds that flavor to an already delectable read. I love history in my horror. I could hear the music coming from the pages. I could smell the food wafting from the chapters. I can still hear the city sounds in my mind. New York City will never be the same. And there is so much diversity in this book. Americans from all walks of life are represented in this story. The dialogue is spot on with the time period. The characters are all unique and three-dimensional. The tense situations are panic enducing.

I hope LaValle will one day revisit this epic world he has created. This novella is definitely in my top ten books of all time. I love it when a book and its characters are fully realized. It makes for a great experience all around. It reads like a movie. I also really want a Black Tom action figure in all his glory. That would be awesome and he would look great on my shelf. I can’t say enough about The Ballad of Black Tom. It really is brilliant. Give it a buy. Give it a read. Give it a review. It’s worth it. You won’t regret it.



People move to New York looking for magic and nothing will convince them it isn’t there.
Charles Thomas Tester hustles to put food on the table, keep the roof over his father’s head, from Harlem to Flushing Meadows to Red Hook. He knows what magic a suit can cast, the invisibility a guitar case can provide, and the curse written on his skin that attracts the eye of wealthy white folks and their cops. But when he delivers an occult tome to a reclusive sorceress in the heart of Queens, Tom opens a door to a deeper realm of magic, and earns the attention of things best left sleeping.

A storm that might swallow the world is building in Brooklyn. Will Black Tom live to see it break?

Categories: Book Reviews

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