Book Review

The Monsters We Defy – Leslye Penelope

Book Title: The Monsters We Defy

Series: 

Author:  Leslye Penelope

Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/60376516-the-monsters-we-defy

Release Date:  08/09/22

Star Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A woman able to communicate with spirits must assemble a ragtag crew to pull off a daring heist to save her community in this timely and dazzling historical fantasy that weaves together African American folk magic, history, and romance.

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 only has repercussions for Clara but all of the city’s residents. – Goodreads

What a great read. A fantasy book that can simultaneously evoke strong emotions, amuse, entertain and teach a person about history.

Clara is a great character, she is flawed and vulnerable but with a strong value system that informs her decisions. She is also beset with guilt and fear over an incident from her past that ultimately led her to make a deal with the spirits. She has always been able to see and hear spirits but they also gifted her with a special ability that has terrible consequences. As a result this she has become increasingly isolated, but getting involved with this heist is forcing her to put herself out into the world and make connections with others in her community. This is the real strength of this novel. The magic system is quite excellent but as usual what I’m really drawn to are the characters and interactions.

The novel also brought an actual historical event to light for me. I love when a book moves me to go down a google rabbit hole. While I was reading I needed to know if this was based on something that actually happened IRL. I found out that it was! Based partly on the Washington DC riots of 1919, which of course I’d never heard of before because of this country’s severe allergy to self awareness (rolls eyes), it is another instance of white supremacy attempting to control and dominate the black community. I’m not going into detail because it will completely spoil parts of the book, but I will provide a link to an article that you should read after you’ve finished this book. (Imagine my glee when I read the afterward of the book and the author references this article I had googled too hehehe).

I love when a book can lead you to better understanding and knowledge of the world around us.

Besides the historical ties it is an excellent paranormal/fantasy novel and I fully recommend it. You’re going to like this one!

Link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/magazine/wp/2019/07/17/feature/the-d-c-race-war-of-1919-and-the-forgotten-story-of-one-african-american-girl-accused-of-murder/

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