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A Book Review of "The Ballad of Black Tom" by Victor LaValle

Verity is a physics with teaching BSc (Hons) graduate. In her spare time, she likes to cook, read and play video games.

A review of "The Ballad of Black Tom" by Victor LaValle

A review of "The Ballad of Black Tom" by Victor LaValle

"The Ballad of Black Tom"

I have been trying to add more BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) authors and voices to my reading list, so I scoured some recommended reading lists online and made a shopping list on Amazon of books written by BIPOC. One that was repeatedly recommended to me was The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle.

I purchased a Kindle version of this book for £2.19 and read it over two sittings. I was not sent this book in return for a review. This spoiler-free review is my honest opinions and reflections.

About the Book

The Ballad of Black Tom is a 154-page, horror-fantasy-fiction novella set in New York in the 1920s. I would describe it as a Lovecraftian tale of horror and dread with social commentary from the black protagonist, Charles Thomas Tester. What happens when a grifter who is just trying to support his ailing father decides to dabble in the dangerous world of magic? A simple request to deliver a book to an address will send our protagonist down a twisting road that leaves the reader unsure of who the real 'bad guy' is.

"The Ballad of Black Tom" by Victor LaValle

"The Ballad of Black Tom" by Victor LaValle

Nobody ever thinks of himself as a villain, does he? Even monsters hold high opinions of themselves.

— Victor LaValle in "The Ballad of Black Tom"

Thoughts and Reflections

I adored this book. The style of writing was so encapsulating that I finished it across two sittings, only having to stop to sleep. The descriptive language used by the author had me feeling the same dread in the pit of my stomach as I imagine the characters must have felt.

The author makes the choice to switch the point of view between characters in various sections of the book, but this does not detract from the storytelling at all; in fact, it enhances the sense of anticipation and had me on the edge of my seat. I wanted to race through to see how the story would be concluded, but I also was a little bit scared of seeing what more would happen as the tale's gruesome events continued to reveal themselves.

Throughout the story, there were a number of poignant statements and observations made that stayed with me long after I switched off my Kindle. An apt and witty commentary on the way that people of color have been and continue to be treated in society is presented to the reader subtly through storytelling metaphors and overtly through character statements and thoughts.

I enjoyed Victor LaValle's style of storytelling so much that I have added some of his other works to my shopping list. The pain, magic, dread, and sheer wonder expressed by the characters are so well conveyed by the author that I felt as though I had been on an emotional rollercoaster by the end. The way that the story finished left me contemplating everything I had read and wondering who the real antagonist was throughout and who was to blame for the way the events had unfolded.

The Takeaway

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a delightful horror or fantasy experience, especially if you enjoy Lovecraftian-style tales. I found the social commentary to be especially poignant and relevant to the times that we live in.

Please comment below with your thoughts on the book if you have read it. If you have any recommendations based on this book, please add them below in the comments and I will be more than happy to look at them. Thank you for reading!

Buy This Book For Yourself

© 2020 VerityPrice


Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on July 28, 2020:

Interesting review. Well presented.