The Ballad of Black Tom might be the perfect book to get you started with horror novels this month. Photo: Courtesy of Tom Doherty Associates.
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Novels are a unique and fun way to tell a story. In well-written books, readers can feel like they’ve been transported into the story alongside the protagonist, living through their trials, tribulations, and celebrations.

However, as the sun sets earlier each day, and the Halloween season encourages an increasing number of people to grab flashlights and crack open scary novels, readers who like to live through the lives of characters are faced with an added challenge—surviving the dark twists and turns of the horror novel’s protagonist, which are ever-present in LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom.

Admittedly, I am not an avid reader of horror literature myself—yet, LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom caught my interest and attention.

Despite being asked to read it for a literature class at the U of O, I found that the novel’s easy writing style and whimsy was enjoyable enough to recommend it for those who are not required to read it.

So, if you’re like me—and want to expand your literature horizons and start adding horror novels to your bookshelf, but are wary of tackling 1,000-page novels by Stephen King, or more classic works by Mary Shelley or Bram Stoker—LaValle’s short novel, at an easy-to-read 150 pages, might be a good starting point.

In this fictional novel, we are taken alongside Tommy Tester as he descends into a destructive downward spiral that builds off of an unfortunate series of decisions and actions, and leads to world of dark magic and scares.

The story opens in Harlem in 1924, where our lower-class protagonist lives, while travelling to and from his work as a self-styled entertainer.

Based on the notorious dwellings and doings of Mr. Charles Thomas Tester—better known as Tommy Tester, and later as the hustler, and con artist, Black Tom—the novel turns sour as deals continue to be made, and cheated by the renegade protagonist.

Soon Tommy lands himself in a sticky situation where he must partake in a dark, and magical, ritual that kicks off a bone-chilling adventure for the mischievous protagonist.

The founder and fanatic believer of the occult, Robert Suydam, takes Tommy on as his right-hand man for his nefarious schemes, and the pair then go through a series of events which feature portals to otherworldly dimensions, power struggles, black magic, and death.

In this sobering and thought-provoking novel that is littered with accurate geographical, historical, and contemporary societal issues, the reader gets to be immersed in the cult-classic genres of supernatural, paranormal, and murder.

Even if the horror genre is not quite your cup of tea, I would still recommend giving this novel a go and braving the possible startle and scare.


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