Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Ballad of Black Tom” as Want to Read:
The Ballad of Black Tom
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Ballad of Black Tom

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  9,317 ratings  ·  1,591 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
...more
Paperback, 149 pages
Published February 16th 2016 by Tor.com
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Ballad of Black Tom, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Eden No, it is not necessary but a familiarity with Lovecraft's work would help in gaining the most from this great novella. Obviously, if you have to…moreNo, it is not necessary but a familiarity with Lovecraft's work would help in gaining the most from this great novella. Obviously, if you have to choose one Lovecraft this is basically a retelling of "The Horror of Red Hook".(less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
3.91  · 
Rating details
 ·  9,317 ratings  ·  1,591 reviews


Filter
 | 
Sort order
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
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 w
...more
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
...more
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
...more
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
...more
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
...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
...more
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
...more
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
...more
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 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
...more
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. But he de
...more
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
...more
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
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
...more
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
...more
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
...more
Miriam
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
...more
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..
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.
Jason
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
...more
Malum
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.
Lata
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
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!
Jonfaith
Mar 15, 2019 rated it liked it
Walking through Harlem first thing in the morning was like being a single drop of blood inside an enormous body that was waking up. Brick and mortar, elevated train tracks, and miles of underground pipe, this city lived; day and night it thrived.


3.5 stars

An Angel Heart without the sex and hardboiled eggs. Disturbing but without excessive detail. An interminable crescendo, one which truly began to annoy me, despite a line for the ages. Undoubtedly this would have benefitted from length. The decis
...more
Gianfranco Mancini




Uno splendido remake di "Orrore a Red Hook", uno dei più xenofobi racconti di Lovecraft ma anche uno dei più visionari.
Il Solitario di Providence ha infatti il merito di aver influenzato quasi ogni racconto, libro o film dell'orrore moderno (non ci credete? Facciamo un esempio: Pennywise il clown di It è senza dubbio uno dei Grandi Antichi lovecraftiani, ed alla fine si rivela in tutta la sua grandiosa essenza... resa malissimo nella vecchia serie tv, ma all'epoca gli effetti speciali erano quel
...more
Obsidian
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
...more
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
...more
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
...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
  • Hammers on Bone (Persons Non Grata, #1)
  • The Litany of Earth (The Innsmouth Legacy, #0.5)
  • The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe
  • Hounacier (Valducan, #2)
  • Experimental Film
  • Mapping the Interior
  • A Taste of Honey
  • Agents of Dreamland
  • X's For Eyes
  • Harrison Squared
  • A Crown of Dragons (Unicorne Files, #3)
  • The Broken Hours
  • The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion (Danielle Cain, #1)
  • Autumn Cthulhu
  • The Fisherman
  • Lovecraft Country
  • Uncanny Magazine Issue 10: May/June 2016
  • The Book of Cthulhu II
1,108 followers
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
...more
“Nobody ever thinks of himself as a villain, does he? Even monsters hold high opinions of themselves.” 56 likes
“I'll take Cthulhu over you devils any day.” 16 likes
More quotes…