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The Ballad of Black Tom

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  13,887 ratings  ·  2,279 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
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Paperback, 149 pages
Published February 16th 2016 by Tor.com
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NekroRider I know this is a two year-old question, but for others looking for the answer I would say: yes, it's definitely necessary to understanding the full me…moreI know this is a two year-old question, but for others looking for the answer I would say: yes, it's definitely necessary to understanding the full meaning of the story. This story is a re-writing/alternate version of The Horror at Red Hook that specifically plays off the racism in Lovecraft's story (possibly one of his most racist stories). Even the conclusion is modified to the original, so to see the differences and understand why LaValle wrote the ending the way he did you'd need to read Lovecraft's version. Just to see the full beauty of how LaValle flips it on its head I think its necessary to read the original.(less)

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Average rating 3.90  · 
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 ·  13,887 ratings  ·  2,279 reviews


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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 eleme
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Kat
Feb 11, 2020 rated it liked it
yeah, so anyway, if any of u horror lovers out there haven't read this yet DO IT.
Edward Lorn
Feb 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Lovecraft fans and damn near everyone else.
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
Emily (Books with Emily Fox)
Jun 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
I don't know what I was expecting but certainly not that.... in a good way!

I have a complicated relationship which shorter books. Too often I feel dissatisfy with them as they're simply missing something... probably content.

It wasn't the case at all with the dark fantasy set in New York. A lot of people compare it to Lovecraft, which I have yet to read but I'm now looking forward to.

Would recommend!
Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin
3.5

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
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Karl
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
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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, called Lo
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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
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karen
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
Char
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
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carol.
Oct 19, 2018 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: fans of bloody urban myths
Nominated for a Hugo, Nebula, and Shirley Jackson Awards,* The Ballad of Black Tom is a fine little novella, made accessible to horror dilettantes by the graciousness of Tor.com. Set in New York City in the 1920s, it is apparently the author's answer to a more than vaguely racist Lovecraft classic where he lamented all those immigrants in NYC.

https://www.tor.com/2015/03/03/lovecr...

For me, some transitions felt extremely choppy, and now that I read an analysis of the source material, my suspicio
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Justin Tate
Jul 20, 2019 rated it liked it
Didn't work for me, unfortunately. I admire the idea of interacting with the good and bad of Lovecraft, and the novel probably does work as creative literary criticism, but since I'm not that interested in Lovecraft I think I missed a lot of the wit. As a stand alone story I struggled to connect with the characters or feel any sense of awe or fear when the beasties show up. For the most part, the mystical portions seem to show up just for the sake of being monstrous and doesn't add to the story. ...more
Philip
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
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Beverly
Jun 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: modern-fable
A wondrous modern fable, The Ballad of Black Tom is the story of Charles Thomas Tester, a small time hustler in New York in the 1920s. He deals in magic and helps his poor, crippled father live as comfortably as possible. Soon he meets someone who promises riches and power, but what does Tom have to give up to get these riches?
Bradley
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
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Lyn
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
Tim
May 24, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: horror, 2010s, reviewed
"For H.P. Lovecraft, with all my conflicted feelings"

I had just finished Lovecraft Country, and decided that apparently I needed more examination of racism in horror fiction in my life. This one is less than half the size, yet I read it at a much slower pace. That was not because it was bad by any means, but unlike Lovecraft Country, there was no comic relief to help you. This one was uncomfortable from start to finish, and LaValle didn't want you to take comfort from humor at an point.

While it
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Spencer Orey
Jan 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
I picked this novella up for free and slowly read it on my phone whenever I was waiting for the bus.

What will stick with me is the good focus on the racially charged New York of the early 1900s and the sketchy world of exploitatively evil white people doing magic within that.
Richard
"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. B
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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
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¸¸.•*¨*•♫♪SomeBunny Reads (Phoenix)•*¨*•♫♪
I’ll take Cthulhu over you devils any day.



This little book felt like reading a shorter version of The Great and Secret Show by Clive Barker. Unfortunately, I didn't like that book very much and so I wasn't entirely satisfied with this one either. In my opinion, even though these books are, more or less explicitly, inspired by the work of H. P. Lovecraft, I don't think they can quite deliver like he does in one very specific point.

You see, when I read a book about occultism, mysteries of horrif
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ALet
Dec 25, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2019
I do not know why, but this simply wasn’t for me.
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
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Sadie Hartmann Mother Horror
Dec 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was the first book I downloaded to my Kindle. What a way to break into the world of digital reading! At this point, it needs to be said that I've only read Lovecraftian-inspired literature but never any actual Lovecraft. Does this bother me? Not in the slightest.
You don't need any prior knowledge of Lovecraft's work other than a slight brush against some of the more identifiable attributes of his mythos: An overarching cosmic ambiguity that is so massive or foreign to our understanding, it
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Lindsay
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
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Gary
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
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Mark
May 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
There has been backlash against H.P. Lovecraft in recent years, mostly due to the man's racism and other hateful views...which were, by many accounts, extreme even for his time. This leads to some conflicted feelings among fans of horror and fantasy. Without a doubt, Lovecraft was one of the 20th century's most influential and important writers of dark fiction. I read him quite a bit as a teenager, and enjoyed many of the stories; there was just something really, really fascinating about his wor ...more
Mir
Sep 10, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy, lovecrafty
[Edit: Need to reread and rerate. Now that I've read the HPL story on which this was based, I think some of the flaws are intentional and indicate a desire to mirror traits of the original story.]

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 chara
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Emma
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..
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!
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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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"Horror fiction has traditionally dealt in taboo.… It makes monsters of household pets and begs our affection for psychos. It...
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“Nobody ever thinks of himself as a villain, does he? Even monsters hold high opinions of themselves.” 76 likes
“I'll take Cthulhu over you devils any day.” 26 likes
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