The Ballad of Black Tom

The Ballad of Black Tom

Book - 2016
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"When [Charles Thomas Tester] delivers an occult book to a reclusive sorceress in the heart of Queens, [he] opens a door to a deeper realm of magic, and earns the attention of things best left sleeping"--Page 4 of cover.
Publisher: New York : Tom Doherty Associates Book, 2016
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780765387868
Branch Call Number: FIC LAVALLE 2016
Characteristics: 151 pages ; 21 cm


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JCLCharlesH Oct 31, 2020

This novella captures the creepy, paranormal, cosmic horror of H.P. Lovecraft, but attempts to combat some of Lovecraft's own views on race. Not a book for those who get squeamish, but perfect if you like a fast paced dive into madness.

For fans of mystery, the paranormal, weird fiction, and especially HP Lovecraft, The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle pays tribute to the best Weird Fiction (LaValle’s particular obsession with The Horror at Red Hook echoes throughout the short and affecting novel) and turns it around for those who might not be so familiar. In Jazz Era Harlem, Tommy Tester is a young, disenfranchised black man who is not particularly good at anything besides hustling to support his ailing father. When by chance he meets Robert Suydam, a rich benefactor bent on”lifting the veil of ignorance” over the world, Tommy is ripped through space and time and confronted with a terror – and power – he could never imagine. The book is a fast, eerie and thrilling read- I read it in one sitting- and an elegantly written answer to the question of what to do with HP Lovecraft’s infamous racist beliefs. LaValle, born and raised in Queens, is definitely an author to watch in the future. (Submitted by Mandi).

Dec 29, 2017

Great addition to the Lovecraft universe.

Two very minor points about this novel. It's set in the mid 1920s, so references to flying to Fiji and "Emergency Services" truck sounded a little anachronistic to my ear. My guess is someone of Thomas's status living in the 1920s would talk about taking a ship to Fiji -- which still likely be out of his price range -- and "Emergency Services" seems a later coinage. (I could research this further, but this was my impression while reading it.)

Jun 06, 2017

I really liked this book! Other reviewers mention the similarities between this and Matt Ruff's 'Lovecraft Country'. Without spoiling the plots, there are a lot of similarities. Both stories deal with characters of color dealing with 20th century racism. Both stories involve Lovecraft magic, and a wealthy benefactor offering to recruit a talented acolyte. The two stories could almost fit in the same universe, except for a few key differences. Lovecraft Country mentions Lovecraft explicitly, the the story makes subtle implications that the classical authors' writings were based on pre-existing actual magic. Lovecraft's stories often did the same with allusions to works by Alister Crawley and Lord Dunsunay. Ballad of Black Tom occurs within the Lovecraft universe. Without spoiling, by the middle of the story, most readers of Lovecraft will recognize the references to creatures and places from the Mythos. There is even a very brief 'cameo' appearance of a character from 'The Curious Case of Dexter Ward'.

All in all, it's a very short (almost a short story), enjoyable read.

Aug 25, 2016

Part of the burden of loving the highly influential weird tale master H.P. Lovecraft is contending with his virulent racism, which sometimes crept into his stories. This year, we've had two books use Lovecraft as a jumping off point to explore race and racism: Matt Ruff's "Lovecraft Country" and Victor LaValle's "The Ballad of Black Tom." Ruff's book was a little more political, while LaValle's is a little more horror. Both are worth reading, especially if you're familiar with Lovecraft. LaValle's reworks a Lovecraft store, but with a black protagonist and Harlem setting.

Aug 09, 2016

The Ballad of Black Tom is based on the H.P. Lovecraft story The Horror at Red Hook. Victor LaValle has managed to take a plodding and shockingly racist story, and spin it into a nuanced exploration both of Lovecraft’s continued influence on the horror genre, and its correlation to the continued strain on race relations in America today. Full review:

There's a slow, winding rhythm to this story. If you take your time and let it, that rhythm will draw you right in, carry you through magic, horror, and heartbreak, and let you out the other side awed and profoundly moved.

CMLibrary_gjd Jun 07, 2016

This was a perfect bus read; short, sweet (not really-too scary) & easy to get in and out of. This story is a take off on the HP Lovecraft story Murder at Red Hook. Beware this historical fiction uses language that would have been used during the time. This can grate on our senses, but is historically accurate. Nice little horror/thriller story.

Mar 28, 2016

memorable characters, haunting.


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Aug 09, 2016

Mankind didn’t make messes; mankind was the mess.

Aug 09, 2016

At the sight of the heavy machine guns the whole neighborhood gasped as one. These guns were designed to shoot airplanes out of the sky. Much of the local population had fled countries under siege, in the midst of war, and had not expected to find such artillery used against citizens of the United States.

Aug 09, 2016

Becoming unremarkable, invisible, compliant—these were useful tricks for a black man in an all-white neighbourhood. Survival techniques.

Aug 09, 2016

People who move to New York always make the same mistake. They can’t see the place. This is true of Manhattan, but even the outer boroughs, too, be it Flatbush Meadows in Queens or Red Hook in Brooklyn. They come looking for magic, whether evil or good, and nothing will convince them it isn’t here.


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Aug 09, 2016

Charles Thomas Tester could be called a scammer, a swindler, a con, or a charlatan. He calls himself an entertainer, and hustles for room and board for himself and his father, a middle-aged man made old by back-breaking labour as a bricklayer. Tommy puts on a good appearance in his second-hand suit, hustling the arcane by skirting the rules without ever breaking them. But when he catches the attention of Robert Suydam, a wealthy, reclusive scholar of ancient traditions, he finds himself in deep with New York’s magical underworld. Human and supernatural forces are descending on Red Hook, and Black Tom is caught in the middle.


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