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The Ballad of Black Tom

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  7,150 Ratings  ·  1,257 Reviews
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
Paperback, 149 pages
Published February 16th 2016 by
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James Moran Agreed. However, Horror at Red Hook is a wee short piece and you can finish it in 30 minutes and then have a rewarding read of Black Tom.

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Edward Lorn
Feb 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Lovecraft fans and damn near everyone else.
Shelves: ebook
Even before I found out Lovecraft was a humongous shitstain of a human being, I didn't like the way he wrote. His prose is a bit too antiquated for my tastes. So when I found out he hated all skin tones darker than Elmer's-glue, it didn't bother me because I already didn't like the guy. Am I dumb enough to think all his fans must be racist because he was? No. I know plenty of radically non-racist individuals who love his stuff. These folks can look past the artist to appreciate the mythos he cre ...more
Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin

Okay. I have never read Lovecraft's Cthulhu. I want to but there are so many different editions I don't know which one is the best. This book is supposed to be referenced but I wouldn't know. There is one quote from the book:

Malone finally heard the last words Black Tom whispered down in the basement.

I'll take Cthulhu over you devils any day.

I was a little bored with the book in the beginning because I couldn't figure out what was going on, but after awhile it clicked (somewhat) and it w
Dan Schwent
Feb 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Tommy Tester is a hustler, doing what he has to to make ends meet and support his ailing father. When he meets Robert Suydam, things will never be the same...

I've always been a bigger fan of things inspired by H.P. Lovecraft than the man's actual work. It's certainly been a good few months for H.P. Lovecraft-inspired fiction for me. First, there was Carter & Lovecraft, then Lovecraft Country, and now this novella, the Ballad of Black Tom.

Victor LaValle has taken The Horror at Red Hook, calle
Aug 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It seems to be my month for trying new authors not read prior, and also I noticed all of the good press, here on GR, from friends and others, so I thought I would give “The Ballad of Black Tom” by Victor LaValle a go.

I read the book in one sitting, and perhaps TMI, didn’t even take a bathroom break.

This should say something about author Victor LaValle’s ability to capture a reader and keep him enthralled.

The book begins by telling a story about a young black street hustler in the 1920’s New York
although lovecraft hails from the great state of rhode island and providence plantations, and we have few enough literary feathers in our tiny hat (and because there are apparently rules about who can be claimed and who cannot, and cormac mccarthy’s moving to memphis from his providence birthplace at four years old - an age where he was basically luggage and certainly not choosing to leave the ocean state behind, nonetheless renders him ineligible to be counted as one of us), i have never been a ...more
4.5 stars!

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

In The Ballad of Black Tom we have a Lovecraftian novella, written by a phenomenal black writer. It's set in the 20's which was not exactly the best time to be a black person in this country. LaValle has taken the Lovecraft story "The Horror at Red Hook" and turned it on its head. To that I say, Bravo!!

As a blues fan, I'll add an extra BRAVO for the Son House lyrics. "Don't you mind p
Nominated for '17 Hugos, I had to take it on, but like almost all of the stories nominated this year, I'm having a grand ole time.

This is a traditional tale of Cthulhu, only it's a damn sight less racist and the prose is as smooth as gin. It also doesn't fear to go the route of humanizing and demonizing at the very same time. Anti-hero? Oh, yes, please. Tommy is a real treat. I even got around to loving the detective. :)

Harlem in the 20's was a special time, and even a man with no musical talent
2.5ish stars

A weird, creepy, enjoyable little book. Equal parts historical fiction and horror, and more than just the natural horror of the historical setting.

LaValle provides a confident, well-written commentary on racism which, indeed, is dedicated to H.P. Lovecraft, infamously racist himself, and the man whose work this is based on: For H.P. Lovecraft, with all my conflicted feelings

Very atmospheric and strange, but a little too unfocused and murky with characters too distant to be particula
Kevin Kelsey
Feb 14, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2016
“Every time I was around them, they acted like I was a monster. So I said goddamnit, I’ll be the worst monster you ever saw!”

A story juxtaposing Lovecraftian mythology against the racism and inequality of 1920s New York is so deliciously poetic; it left me amazed that no one had thought of it before now. I love that this constant inequality ends up being reason enough to justify drastic, desperate action to bring about its end, by dealing with forces the protagonist doesn’t fully understand, but
"The veil of ignorance has been set over your face since birth. Shall I pull it free?"
While I'm generally familiar with HP Lovecraft and his work, including his Cthulhu mythos, I haven't read that much from him. From what I gather though, he was a hardcore racist, and one must look past some of the uncomfortable material in his work to get to the good stuff and appreciate him. It seems like this has been the case with author Victor LaValle, who begrudgingly considers himself a fan. But he de
Richard Derus
Aug 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: 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 sorcer
Elena May
Jun 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Nobody ever thinks of himself as a villain, does he?

The Ballad of Black Tom is a retelling of H. P. Lovecraft’s story “The Horror at Red Hook.” Full disclaimer: I’m not familiar with Lovecraft’s works. I’ve read quite a bit about him but never read his actual writing. Fans will probably perceive this differently, but from my newbie point of view, this was an atmospheric, pleasantly weird page-turner that easily stood on its own.

I have to admit I liked the historical fiction elements much m
Jessica Woodbury
These days there's much discussion about what to do with the difficult legacy of H. P. Lovecraft. What do you do with one of the founders of modern horror who was not only racist but includes those views in his writing? If you're a person who reads widely or likes to deep dive, at some point you may find yourself confronting the question of whether you should read Lovecraft and what it means.

I have good news for you. You don't need to read Lovecraft anymore. Instead, you can read THE BALLAD OF B
Jul 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Amongst the unnamable and innumerable legion of books and stories who have been inspired by HP Lovecraft, a thoughtful reader can make divisions into “fan lit” in the lower shelves, akin to the discount whiskies and blended Scotches, to the middle shelves of Kentucky bourbons and Tennessee whiskies (Jack and George) with the motivated stand-alone stories paying subtle tribute, to the top shelf single malt Scotch and single barrels of truly amazing works who have used Lovecraft as a starting off ...more
Feb 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
The story of a black man in 1920s New York is pretty horrible even without fantastic elements.

Black musician and con-man Thomas Tester runs afoul of a witch-like creature and actions of the police afterwards drive him to a horrible fate and an even more horrible outcome for the world around him.

Another one of the many recent riffs on Lovecraft, and an excellent one at that, this is apparently a version of the Horror at Red Hook. Lovecraft himself was famously racist, and telling a story largely
Jun 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
LaValle's Hugo nominated novella is a reimagining of Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos through the eyes of a poor, Black street musician from Harlem. The story itself has a rhythm all its own, but also builds the kind of "creeping dread" plot structure that Lovecraft was famous for.
Thematically, The Ballad of Black Tom has more in common with Richard Wright's "Native Son" than anything the famously racist Lovecraft ever wrote, as the protagonist Tommy Tester is eventually browbeaten into becoming the
Nov 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: horror
Creepy and atmospheric novella. I really liked the style of writing and the Lovecraftian Cthulhu theme..
Aug 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: horror, mythos
A little too slow-going for me to really love it, this was nonetheless a pretty fun story.

I really enjoyed how Black Tom's descent into mythos madness wasn't because he was a mustache-twirling villain, but because the racism all around him was enough to make him want to wipe humanity out. It really put a new and interesting dimension on an old trope.
3-3.5 stars. I came into this story with no Lovecraft experience, except for what I knew about the man. I loved the feel of Victor Lavalle's 1920s Harlem; I could feel the music and the vibrancy of the neighbourhood. The historical details and general feel of this novella were wonderful. And every time the author spent time with Black Tom, the story felt alive for me. I could feel Tommy Tester dealing with life and the pervasive racism, and definitely felt the shame, anger and later fury he felt ...more
Mar 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: e-books, read-2016
4.5 Stars

The Ballad of Black Tom is a fantastic piece of short fiction by Victor LaValle. This is a suspenful novella that is part horror, part thriller, and completely atmospheric. It is a Lovecraftian tribute through and through. LaValle wastes no time with back story or world building. He drops us right into the life of Charles Thomas Tester and moves things along very quickly.

The writing style was perfect for what this novella set out to be. An homage to Lovecraft the writer not like Lovecr
F. Paul
Jul 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Using the Lovecraft mythos to examine racism in NYC in 1924 (and using racism as a plot point), is as daring as it is brilliant. If you know HPL's biography, you'll know this is when he was living in Red Hook, Brooklyn, one of the lowest points in a life with many low points. Even if you've never heard of HPL, "The Ballad of Black Tom" is a compelling read. If you're familiar with HPL's work and his life, you'll find yourself smiling and nodding all the way through.
Montzalee Wittmann
Wow, well written and creepy

The Ballad of Black Tom is an amazing book. Just the way it is written pulls you in and smothers you with the atmosphere. Creepy, scary, gory, hypnotic, and page turning...magic, suspense, corruption, racism, revenge, and more swirls around in this post of emotions to make it stir up an awesome read!
Sep 10, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy
Good, but also disappointing.

As a reworking of the Lovecraft mythos, it was excellent, creative and original, if lacking the depth of Emrys' "Winter Tide". (4 stars) The historical setting was very well done (4 stars) as was the incorporation of real-life social and political issues (4 stars).

The characters had a lot of potential (3 stars) but it wasn't developed enough, partly due to the short length of the book (2 stars), and partly due to the prose being very telling-rather-than-showing (2 s
Paul O'Neill
Jan 09, 2017 rated it it was ok
This was all a bit scrambled. I think this is one of those rare occasions where it might have turned out better as a longer book. Instead the weak characters and their motivations are just shoe-horned at the convenience of the plot.
Jan 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
What a wonderful novella. Obviously a very quick read, but packed with a whole lot of awesome.
Nancy Oakes
Feb 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
The Ballad of Black Tom is a book that takes H.P. Lovecraft's story "The Horror at Red Hook" and stands it on its head.

LaValle says in an interview that he started reading Lovecraft around age 11, and found himself "hooked." He says that while he liked Lovecraft's monsters, he "loved the ideas even more, the scale of his imagination. Cosmic as fuck." This all changed when he turned sixteen, when, as he notes,

"I lost youthful innocence, I guess. Or I began to see things I'd once missed. Or ignor
Michael Hicks
Dec 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bought, horror
H.P. Lovecraft was a giant racist and all-around shitty human being, but it’s utterly impossible to deny the man’s tremendous influence on the modern horror genre, his ability to craft some damn fine stories, and the legacy his Cthulhu mythos has borne on many a reader and writer. There’s a degree of freshness then, and certainly a bit of satisfaction, in Victor LaValle reinterpreting Lovecraft’s short story The Horror at Red Hook to produce The Ballad of Black Tom.

Tom has been tasked with retri
Mar 12, 2017 added it
*Long low whistle*

A really great, careful, creeping story—unpacking the deep bonds between Lovecraft and American racial violence. I love the layered ending. I've never read The Horror at Red Hook, so sometimes felt that jazz show feeling, when the pianist plays six bars and the folks in the crowd who know them go wild, and you're not quite sure what happened. But the book stands alone very well. Zig zag zig.
Jan 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Blazed through this over the space of a morning... LOVED IT... a wicked combination of tension, intrigue and weirdness... it kept me hooked and on edge from start to finish.
Mar 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, tbr-2017
I've said before I'm not a Lovecraft fan. Besides his personal beliefs that are repugnant, I find most of his stories hard to get into. I did read him though due to his being the creator of Chulthu. Most modern horror writers pay homage to him in their works so it's nice to get a good base of what they are drawing from.

LaValle's "The Ballad of Black Tom" takes one of Lovecraft's short stories "The Horror at Red Hook" and twists it. I want to high five LaValle for having the main character to be
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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

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“Nobody ever thinks of himself as a villain, does he? Even monsters hold high opinions of themselves.” 41 likes
“I'll take Cthulhu over you devils any day.” 12 likes
More quotes…