Last Updated on December 20, 2022 by ThoughtsStained
Y’all, it has been TOO LONG since I read an ARC. We’re not going to dive into how trash I am at that (at least, not right now) the past few years. Instead, I give my eternal gratitude to Orbit Books for always being so understanding and kind. When I discovered that Leslye Penelope was getting a book published by Orbit, I was ecstatic. I truly enjoyed the first book of her previous series, Song of Blood and Stone. And I own and am stoked to read Savage City. So, pairing an author I already love with my favorite publisher? This was a recipe for success. And I am thrilled to report that The Monsters We Defy DELIVERS.
Read on. Spoiler warning: lots of gushing ahead.
An ARC copy was given to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!
Publisher: Orbit Books | Release Date: August 2022 | Pages: 384
Age Range: Adult | Genre: Fantasy | Format: Paperback | Source: ARC
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.
In the summer of 1925, along Washington, DC’s “Black Broadway”, a malevolent entity has begun preying on Negro residents. Twenty-three-year-old Clara Johnson is determined to discover what’s going on in her community. Using her natural ability to talk with spirits, she begins to investigate, but a powerful spirit tasks her with a difficult quest: steal an ancient, magical ring from the finger of a wealthy socialite.
When Clara meets Israel Lee, a supernaturally enhanced jazz musician also vying for the ring, the two decide to work together. They put together an unlikely team including a former circus freak, a pickpocketing Pullman Porter, and an aging vaudeville actor to pull off an impossible heist.
But a dangerous spirit interferes at every turn and conflict in the spirit world is leaking out into the human world. With different agendas, even if Clara and Israel pull off the heist, only one of them can truly win.
On the Page
- Ahcohol consumption
- Disappearances (multiple)
- Mind control and possession
- Police brutality
- Poverty themes
- Gang violence
- Klu Klux Klan
Content warnings are written up by me, unless specified. Subject to being an incomplete list, though guided by referencing this list and trying to highlight as many as I can identify.
- The writing: We already know I’m a fan of Penelope’s writing and it continued to shine through here. Like I mentioned on Twitter, I haven’t flown through a book like this in ages. It was just so engrossing.
- The complexity of Clara: Oooh, we love us a main character that you can pin down h ow you feel about them. With Clara, she frustrated me to no end. Yet whenever someone went against her, I was ready to punch. I absolutely loved getting to see Clara’s journey, seeing her slowly open up and learn to trust, when that has been so hard from her. Also, the slow unveiling of her backstory? Brilliant.
- Romance: Y’all, I won’t say much because of spoilers, but the romance in this? If it didn’t pan out, I was going to be genuinely upset. That’s how invested I was.
The Monsters We Defy is a gorgeous novel that threads together the history of the 1920s America with fantastic (and dangerous magic). It follows a complex heroine fighting her own demons (sometimes quite literally) who slowly learns to trust the group she selects to help fight her biggest battle yet, in the hopes of winning her freedom from the Engima who holds her captive. It doesn’t shy away from the racism of the time, nor the complexities of the Black experience, showing us just how challenging and multifaceted it is to be human.
This is a must read, friends. And, after you read Monsters, do yourself a favor and pick up Penelope’s backlog, too. I really can’t imagine you’d regret it!