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The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle eARC {4 Stars}

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle is a novella set in an alternative 1920 New York where magic has more of an influence on the world than people think. The writing is artistic and lovely and portrays a young man struggling with racism and being forced to make difficult decisions. There is also a touch of Lovecraft, and I always love Lovecraftian elements in my fantasy!

Note: I received an advanced copy of The Ballad of Black Tom from the publisher. Some things may have changed in the final version.

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle eARC {4 Stars}

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
Published by on Feb. 16th, 2016
Genres: Adult, Historical Fantasy, Novella
Page Length: 160 pages
How I got my copy: Publisher
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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 sorceress in the heart of Queens, Tom opens a door to a deeper realm of magic, and earns the attention of things best left sleeping.

A storm that might swallow the world is building in Brooklyn. Will Black Tom live to see it break?

4 Stars


  • I don’t read enough alternative history with fantasy elements, mostly because I worry about how much fantasy there will be. Therefore, I was immediately excited to get to know this time period in New York through a fantastical lens.
  • The magic that Tom gets involved in has definite Lovecraftian references and for some reason that kind of horror just works for me as long as it is based in a fantasy story. Not too scary, but creepy enough to be interesting!
  • I challenge you to decide who the hero of this story is when you are finished. No one is perfect, no one makes only the right or moral decisions, turns out the world isn’t cut cleanly into good and evil. I love grey characters, so I was quite happy with this anti-hero.
  • It would be hard to have a story set in 1920 New York with a black protagonist and not discuss racism. I’m continuously working to see the world from perspectives far different from my own, and this story did that quite well for me. You know a book is doing its job when you want to scream at the unfairness a protagonist is going through.


  • While overall I appreciated the discussion of racism, there were points when it became pretty difficult for me to read. The n-word is used once, which is always jarring, but of course it is historically accurate. I don’t think this is truly a bad thing for the story, but it did affect my reading experience.
  • The point-of-view completely switches halfway through this novella and I wasn’t a fan. Especially for such a short story, why couldn’t the ending just be seen through Tom’s eyes with perhaps interjections from other characters’ perspectives?


The Ballad of Black Tom is an excellent novella if you are looking for alternative history that is quite different than most you’ve probably read. If you’re trying to read diversely, this is also a great novella because it portrays a difficult time in American history from a black man’s perspective, but there is also magic, yey!

Anya from On Starships and Dragonwings

Have you read this one? What did you think? Are you excited for it if you haven’t gotten to it yet?
– Anya


 The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

© 2016, Anya. All rights reserved.


  1. I was interested in this book when I saw it was coming out and your review has only made me more excited about it. The way the magical realism/fantasy aspects seem to relate to the idea of racism particularly intrigues me.
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  2. 1920s NYC with morally ambiguous characters and a fantasy flair? AND it features a black protagonist? Sign me up, please! Thanks for the warning about the racism in the novel, though- I will steel myself.
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  3. This is next up on my pile! I read a novel by LaValle and loved it, so I’m excited to read more by him.
    Tammy @Books, Bones & Buffy recently posted…Waiting on Wednesday [186] BRIGHT SMOKE, COLD FIRE by Rosamund HodgeMy Profile

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