Review: The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

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 black skin that attracts the eye of wealthy white folks and their trained cops. But when he delivers an occult page 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?

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle. Narrated by Kevin R. Free. Published by MacMillan Audio, 2016. Run time of 3 hours.

Ok… I don’t exactly understand all the hype with this novella. :/ It started off pretty entertaining, but by the end of the book, I was left a little confused and feeling underwhelmed.

After a strong start, the story just gets choppy about halfway through the book. It was strange! It felt like parts of the story were missing. I just had so many questions. Did I miss something? It felt so… fan fictiony. Kind of like a first draft that is underdeveloped and a little inconsistent. I know some people don’t mind reading a book and then having a bunch of questions left over to think about. I do not. I want to know what I just read, not have to guess at it.

I liked the plot and the first part of the book was pretty good. I think it would have been more enjoyable if it had been a little bit longer? A great story is there, but it felt like it needed a little bit MORE. More development. More details. More Black Tom / cosmic horror. More flow. Less awkward transitions, questions, and confusion.

One final comment. The very, very end really irked me. Black Tom becomes this amazingly powerful, angry, magical entity (Wizard? Warlock? I don’t really know what…?) that chooses to raise hell with Cthulhu, chaos and carnage and madness ensues…. and then Black Tom is going to just go chill at lunch (or dinner?) with his friend at a restaurant and…… is back to normal? All in a short amount of time? Wha-? :/ That just didn’t make any sense to me! How was Black Tom back to normal? Like, in the ending climax, he really embraced anger and madness and the occult. And then him just showing up at a restaurant and having such a normal conversation with his friend…. I don’t know. It just didn’t feel realistic, I guess? How could someone embrace anger, madness and all powerful cosmic horror one minute and then just be so normal the next? We didn’t see anything that would convey a transition back to normality and not enough time really passed to heal on his own…. It just felt strange and inconsistent with the character.


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