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Publisher's Summary

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 black skin that attracts the eye of wealthy white folks and their trained cops.

But when he delivers an occult page 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?

©2016 Victor LaValle (P)2016 Macmillan Audio

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

One of the best books I've heard all year.

Utilizing some of the established Lovecraftian mythos almost as an afterthought, Victor LaValle spins his tale in a manner so engrossing that you lose yourself in the New York of yesteryear.

By the end of the tale, you're unsure exactly who to root for- Black Tom or the world he would destroy- and the story's monsters are so vile and detestable that you'll find yourself wishing they were supernatural.

My highest possible recommendation- both for story and for Kevin R. Free's nuanced storytelling.
Five of Five stars- in all categories.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Absorbing, sad, and uncanny Lovecraftian tale of an outsider from Harlem

This story does a lot in a short space but never loses its cool focus. The author played with all the tropes just right to dig into the atmosphere, the character, and the unknowable, untameable, supernatural forces at play. Having blues music (its lyrics, its power, its emotion, its loss, its use as plot lure for the protagonist as musician) merge with a well-paced Lovecraftian tale of temptations and mistakes was a treat, and that state of segregation and blatant racism from whites with blacks and chinese and whoever else deemed foreign and as low as a beast in society of that time is emphasized by, and helps to emphasize, the sense of dangerous boundaries, of being an outsider and of having outside forces lurking in the corner of our lives. But besides these societal and Lovecraftian forces at play, we also have the protagonist's personal relationships and self-awareness bringing in a sad, touching thread of humanity struggling to survive its fall. I also enjoyed having the story flip to another character's view in the middle to give us another layer to the horror. Highly recommended listen. The narrator was spot on, and gave justice to different character accents. Get it.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Great twist on a genre

This is well worthy your time. The author does a great job of using New York City as a backdrop for a complex story that takes Lovecraft racial hysteria and turns it on his head.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • R.
  • 04-22-17

Cosmic horror for the modern reader.

The story builds pace rather quickly and grips the reader. Very unlike the slow burn lovecraftian horror I was expecting. However, it slows down towards the mid point but picks up again a little later.

The prose is fantastically written, Victor Lavalle's prose is like poetry but never feels over done.

The only gripe I have with this book, is that it kind of fizzles out and never does end properly. But then again, it's horror on a cosmic scale, us puny humans wouldn't get it anyway.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Entertaining

I liked the idea and the writing was good. The narrative and the voice seemed at odds in some passages. Those looking for Lovecraftian horror should pass on this one. it is a supernatural detective story with some light 'old gods' backstory.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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great Lovecraftian story

Great Lovecraftian story that expands on the short story "Horror at Redhook.". Captures the mystery and thrill of the cosmic horror genre that H.P. Lovecraft created.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Well written, well voiced

This was a novel retelling of HP Lovecraft's "The Horror at Red Hook" from the perspective of Tom Tester. Kevin R Free is one of my all-time favorite readers and this performance does not disappoint. I would recommend this title to anyone looking for a quick and engaging horror story.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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great story!

great story, well written and I love the characters. I would definitely read or listen to more by this author.

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Lovecraft Reimagined

I've been meaning to get to this book for a while. The Ballad of Black Tom was released to immediate and widespread praise and it seems much of that is because of the admittedly clever idea of taking one of Lovecraft's most notorious stories and flipping it's inherent racism on it's head. LaValle's tale is subversive. He re-works and re-tells Lovecraft's tale from an African American point of view, turning the racism of the original story on it's head. It's a clever strategy but although LaValle's prose is strong, his message is heavy-handed. He brings his point home with a sledgehammer and the story suffers a bit for it.

The Horror at Red Hook is not just one of Lovecraft's most xenophobic stories, it's also one of his weakest. The author himself recognized that. He didn't think the story was very good. The Ballad of Black Tom reimagines Lovecraft's tale from another perspective and changes it significantly but it's hurt by the inherent weakness of it's source material and although it's clever, it never quite makes up for that weakness. Instead, the characters and story end up being subservient to the idea of using one of HPL's own stories as a contemporary response to his racist attitudes.

Kevin R. Free's reading of the story is a solid effort. I didn't feel it really enhanced or detracted from the book.

2 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

The Real Horror at Red Hook

The legacy of H.P. Lovecraft is such a difficult thing to unpack. The atmosphere he was able to evoke with his prose and style was horrific in the best sense of the word. His influence reaches out to some of our most celebrated contemporary horror writers. And yet, you also can't argue that he was horrifyingly racist. This racism infused several of his stories -- one of the most despicable being "The Horror at Red Hook," a story about a police officer who dabbles in writing and sees people with dark skin as horrific.

First and foremost, The Ballad of Black Tom is a response to "The Horror at Red Hook." It flips the narrative on its head, and tells us the real horror at red hook -- mainly that of a young black musician trying to make his way in Harlem. He's confronted with racism, murder, police corruption and brutality, and a great cosmic evil. It's a solid horror story on its own, but tied to Lovecraft's controversial story, it becomes something even sharper.

But you don't really need to be familiar with The Horror at Red Hook" to enjoy The Ballad of Black Tom -- to be honest, I was only familiar with its reputation prior to reading this, but about halfway through listening, I started to realize how Victor LaValle was meticulously retelling one of Lovecraft's most controversial stories from an African-American perspective, and decided to learn more about it. Yes, there are cosmic horrors. But also very human ones -- horrors of prejudice we're still dealing with to this very day.

At times I felt like some of Kevin R. Free's voices were a little too forced, but he does a particularly solid job as Charles Tester, one of the two main characters. At times the voices were distracting, but in the end, LaValle's story was so strong I went with it.

The Ballad of Black Tom is a short, sharp, horror novella that left me pondering cosmic horrors masquerading under the guise of every day prejudices we're still trying to overcome. Suffice to say, I'm very excited for what LaValle does next.

2 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Beccameriel
  • 12-01-16

Quirky Lovecraftian horror

An interesting short story that provides a corrective to the vile racism of Lovecraft's Horror at Red Hook. It's atmospheric and well-written but possibly best enjoyed if you are already a fan of Lovecraftian weird fiction.

Well narrated by Kevin R. Free

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Donna
  • 02-09-17

Different but in a good way.

Enjoyed reading something I had to think about especially the underlying story which was very sad but believable.

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  • Josh
  • 06-20-16

Amazing

Once again Lavalle delivers an awesome story. It’s weird and creepy and entertaining and a little messed up.

Definitely worth listening to!