Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark is a novella set in 1922 Georgia, mostly in Macon with a set piece at Stone Mountain. It’s a dark fantasy that includes body horror, in which white supremacists use the initial release of “Birth of a Nation” in 1915 to enact a ritual bringing demons into the world. The human racism and racist actions of these white supremacists are subsequently exacerbated by these monstrous creatures who devour both hatred and people, including some of the supremacists. As always with Clark, a historian, the significant details of the time period are skillfully deployed, lending deep resonance to the story’s thematic concerns.
I particularly enjoyed the wide range of women characters. The protagonist, Maryse Boudreaux, was called to become a monster-hunter first via trauma at the hands of white supremacists, then by a supernatural weapon gifted to her by ambivalent otherworldly beings. She brings the mystical sword with her when called to fight “Ku Kluxes” by the wise old Gullah woman, Nana Jean, who serves as the group’s mentor and counsels Maryse not to be led by her hatred of those who harmed her. (I loved that Nana Jean and Uncle Will, who leads the Shouts that raise power, have a romantic relationship.) Maryse’s hunting companions include Sadie, a brash, fearless sharpshooter, and an older woman, Chef, a butch lesbian who dresses as a man, is an explosives expert, and fought in the Great War with the Harlem Hellfighters. German Jewish widow Emma Krauss, the only sympathetic White character, is a socialist who provides both similarity and counterpoint views to the Black characters she lives among.
The book isn’t long, but it packs in a lot of history with its examination of hatred’s harm to both haters and hated, leaving them in a vicious cycle that allows no relief or resolution.