(Disclosure: I met Alex aka @magicknegro at Under The Volcano 2022 and have been known to message him whiny existential writer complaints on occasion. This is still an honest review and I bought my own copy of this book because Paying Writers Cures Foolishness.)
The publisher blurbs for this book all say something about magical NOLA, nine songs of power, and a little boy named Perry who goes on a quest with his sister Brendy to recapture those songs in a magic piano and save the city. If you dig a little deeper, they might mention a trans man with a gift and a secret, a coming storm and a big bad Haint.
That’s totally what this book is about. It’s also totally not what this book is about.
I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like this but I want to read many, many more books in this vein. The lore here is deep, the themes expansive, and the callbacks legion. Ancient Central Asian myths rub elbows with hoodoo. Talking catfish and nutria go on side quests with Black American history. Jazz lives!–and hangs out regularly with Afro-Pippi Longstocking. Jennings isn’t afraid to get weird, and fortunately for us, he has the writing chops to make it work. I enjoyed not just the story and the creativity but the words themselves.
The quest itself is weird and wild. It takes a while to set up the story but once the building blocks are laid, I knew that it would go more or less where all good stories go. However, I had no idea how it would get there, which made for a sometimes confusing trip but one that held my attention relentlessly.
That said, I’m not sure I picked up everything that this was putting down. So much is woven through this that there were a few moments when even my nerd trivia brain had to stop and say–what?! That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. Even without getting everything, I still wanted to see the characters through to the end.
I don’t star writers I know, but I liked this and recommend reading it. After all, where else can you get jazz, Phonecian deities, Phantom Tollbooth references, and the mother of all mojo bags all at once?
Check out The Ballad of Perilous Graves.
(Beautiful people and fellow readers! I enjoyed this book, but it’s one of those where you can’t say a lot unless you want to spoil big surprises–and I’m not that person, not today. If you want to see more fantasy from global majority perspectives, take a look at this global fantasy booklist. If you want to purchase a copy of the book in this review, find it HERE. Please be aware that if you click and purchase anything from a link you find on this website, I may earn a commission from your purchase. I use it to buy more books, and somehow I doubt that’s a surprise. Peace!)