Should ‘Ring Shout’ Have Won the Hugo?

Teeth on the eyes are just soo creepy

It’s been a while since I added anything to my long list of posts about the Hugos. To me this is somewhat understandable, as the 2021 Hugo Awards have come and gone, and already people are nominating for the 2022 awards in Chicago this September (sadly I’ve read almost zero books published in 2021 so my nomination list will probably be light or non-existent. If you want to see which ones I have read though, check out my reviews for Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor, Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir, and Jade Legacy by Fonda Lee).

However, I am determined to make it through the list eventually, and so I’m continuing on. This week, Ring Shout by P. Djeli Clark.

Ring Shout is in essence, a great period piece that does not shy away from a point in our (American) history that is usually downplayed and sometimes forgotten all together. It puts racism, internalized hate, and body horror in its cross hairs, and does not flinch at pulling the trigger, over and over again.

Set in 1922, an all female and African American group of monster hunters kill “Ku Kluxes”, people who have let their hate grow so strong that they become literal monsters. Djeli’s writing is very visceral and evocative, which really allows the reader to become immersed in the world, and feel the horror that the characters experience in their everyday lives. Through the lens of the supernatural, we’re able to experience the horror as a metaphor for being black in the 1920’s.

To me, Ring Shout was very reminiscent of books like Lovecraft Country (by Matt Ruff), or The Ballad of Black Tom (by Victor LaValle). I could see this title doing well with fans of Get Out or Sorry to Bother You (though I’ll admit StBY maybe doesn’t quite fit as it’s more surreal than horror, although there is definitely a good dose of horror too).

And while these moments of shock and horror were incredible in their own right, I think what really made Ring Shout sing, was the more normal moments in which we saw the characters thriving in small ways despite the constant struggle they must put up with in this weird world. For instance, Maryse stealing upstairs with her man after an night out, or Sadie disregarding her one-night rule for slightly overweight gent who says black people once ruled the world. Mama Jean turning a neat profit selling Mama’s Water (I was definitely curious about the Gullah and their magic in this book! Will have to do some research own someday). Each of these characters felt real in a way that I feel is very difficult to achieve even in a longer novel, let alone a novella.

My only complaint was that I felt the ending dragged a little bit. Like the main thrust of the plot ended too soon, and we still had a sizeable amount of reading after that kind of lacked urgency as a result. But this was a complex tale, with many threads to tidy up at the end and so I can understand why it had to be so.

Should it have won then?

I think I probably would have picked this one over Empress of Salt and Fortune which took the award, but I still think Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi is my favorite. This piece is comparable in a lot of ways and I wondered while reading it, if I had read Ring Shout first, if Riot Baby would have lacked a bit of its luster, but as it is, I got to Ring Shout second and so it would probably be second in my estimation.

What do you all think of this piece? Should it have won? What were your favorite parts? What might you like to see in a sequel? Excited to talk about this one!

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you next time!!

2 thoughts on “Should ‘Ring Shout’ Have Won the Hugo?

  1. I currently have this checked out from the library – haven’t started it yet. It sounds like a strong read for a book of its size! I haven’t read The Empress of Salt and Fortune. However, I have read a different book by the same author (Nghi Vo) and I can imagine why The Empress of Salt and Fortune would have won the Hugo. I will have to see how this compares.

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