Monsters We Defy

English language

Published Sept. 25, 2022 by Orbit.


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5 stars (1 review)

Washington D. C., 1925

Clara Johnson talks to spirits, a gift that saved her during her darkest moments in a Washington D. C. jail. Now a curse that’s left her indebted to the cunning spirit world. So, when the Empress, the powerful spirit who holds her debt, offers her an opportunity to gain her freedom, a desperate Clara seizes the chance. The task: steal a magical ring from the wealthiest woman in the District.

Clara can’t pull off this daring heist alone. She’ll need help from an unlikely team, from a jazz musician capable of hypnotizing with a melody to an aging vaudeville actor who can change his face, to pull off the impossible. But as they encounter increasingly difficult obstacles, a dangerous spirit interferes at every turn. Conflict in the spirit world is leaking into the human one and along D.C’.s legendary Black Broadway, a mystery unfolds—one that not …

5 editions

Fascinating view of black DC in the 1920s, along with a decent fantasy novel.

5 stars

First, I really appreciated that this book was not set in NYC, despite the author's initial intentions. NYC is cool and all, but not the only city.

The hero is based on a real young black woman who killed a cop in self defense during the 1919 riots in Washington. That incident is not central to the plot, but it does play an important part in explaining how the protagonist got to be who she is.

The book really centers the black characters, both heroes and villains. In a broader sense it includes a lot of discussion of the divisions of colourism and classism within the black community at that time. The external structural causes (hello white people!) are noted, but people have agency for good and ill.

Politics and history aside, the characters are fun and the plotting solid. If you squint at it the right way it turns …