Review of The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaVille


From the publisher, “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?”


  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Paperback 
  • 149 pages
  • Published February 16th 2016 by
  • Original Title The Ballad of Black Tom
  • ISBN0765387867 (ISBN13: 9780765387868)
  • Edition LanguageEnglish


  • Hugo Award Nominee for Best Novella (2017) 
  • Nebula Award Nominee for Best Novella (2016) 
  • World Fantasy Award Nominee for Long Fiction (2017) 
  • Shirley Jackson Award for Novella (2016) 
  • British Fantasy Award for Best Novella (2017)
  • Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Horror (2016)

My Thoughts

The Ballad of Black Tom is the reimagining of the Lovecraftian tale, “The Horror at Red Hook” and is one of those rare books that can straddle the dividing line of fiction and urban fantasy. It is a book of many hats.

The story is one of a street hustler named Charles Thomas Tester of Harlem in the 1920s. Charles, who goes by Tommy, makes his way as best as he can by a variety of hustling gigs. Whether it’s as a Delivery man or guitarist, Tommy does pretty much anything to make some money. Along with the hustles are the obvious and not so apparent undercurrents of racism present in 1920’s Harlem. Tommy is an African-American man and deals with Racism and prejudice on all sides. The writing about the racism of that era is poignant and well done. Tommy gets involved with some occult figures throughout the story, and different types of tragedy ensue. He begins to take matters in his own hands, and the story ends on a bit of a cliffhanger.

The original story “The Horror at Red Hook” was stunningly racist as was Lovecraft is as a person. It makes sense why LaVille would respond to that story from the angle of an African-American Protagonist. I think it is fitting. That being said, I have not read “The Horror of Red Hook.” Matter a fact, when I originally picked this up I was reading it blind having known nothing about the back story of this novella. I was familiar with the writer and the stories status as a Hugo award nominee which guided me in selecting it to read, but that’s it. I have got to tell you overall I was not impressed. I found LaVille’s writing to be excellent. He has a way with both the structure of his sentences and the imagery his sentences evokes. However, the pacing of the story was slow and frankly a bit boring for my tastes. That might be because I am unfamiliar with the original Lovecraft story and style. Or, I just was not in the right mind frame to read it. Either way, I am not the right reader for this story.

About The Author

Victor LaValle is the author of the short story collection Slapboxing with Jesus, four novels, The Ecstatic, Big Machine, The Devil in Silver, and The Changeling and two novellas, Lucretia and the Kroons and The Ballad of Black Tom. He is also the creator and writer of a comic book Victor LaValle’s DESTROYER.

He has been the recipient of numerous awards including a Whiting Writers’ Award, a United States Artists Ford Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Shirley Jackson Award, an American Book Award, and the key to Southeast Queens.

He was raised in Queens, New York. He now lives in Washington Heights with his wife and kids. He teaches at Columbia University.

He can be kind of hard to reach, but he still loves you.

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