The Monsters We Defy

Redhook: Orbit. Aug. 2022. 384p. ISBN 9780316377911. pap. $17.99. FANTASY
The otherworldly elements of Penelope’s (“Bliss Wars” series) new historical fantasy are grounded by the novel’s setting in a largely Black society in 1925 Washington, DC. Protagonist Clara Johnson, who can communicate with spirits, should have been dead: A last-minute deal with a spirit freed her from a DC jail, but left her accountable for her future. Forced to help other people who are seeking aid from the spirit world, Clara finds herself brokering deals with a heavy price. When the spirit who holds Clara’s debt offers her a way to free herself, Clara recklessly accepts, though it requires her to steal a magic ring from the District’s wealthiest woman. As Clara pursues her bounty, she finds herself working with other people who hold interesting powers, including a jazz musician who hypnotizes with his music and an older actor who can dramatically change his appearance.
VERDICT This engaging fantasy heist tale, inspired by historical events and people, will please readers who enjoyed C. L. Polk’s “Kingston Cycle” and fans of Penelope (a past winner of the BCALA Self-Publishing EBook Award who also has a title on Time’s list of the “100 Best Fantasy Books of All Time.”
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