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The Monsters We Defy

af Leslye Penelope

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MedlemmerAnmeldelserPopularitetGennemsnitlig vurderingOmtaler
2076133,684 (4.15)4
"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"--… (mere)
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Viser 1-5 af 6 (næste | vis alle)
Beautiful job bringing 1920's Washington DC to life, and in creating great characters. Love the magic, and that it's both set within existing traditions and reimagines them. Love the swinging, shining nightlife, and how the whole crew, but especially Zelda, refuse to let cranky Clara go it alone. Great twists, great hijinks. ( )
  jennybeast | Jul 1, 2024 |
From the first sentence, this book has a strong sense of voice, and we really get to see the protagonist's attitude and personality. There's a great cast of characters, an interesting magic system, and a good ending. The historical setting of 1920s DC adds a lot of depth to the characters' backgrounds and motivations. I liked it a lot! ( )
  lavaturtle | May 18, 2023 |
The Monsters We Defy starts with a birth at crossroads; this is an apt foreshadowing of what’s to come for the baby born at the turn of the twentieth century. Clara Johnson was born in a caul and yet, her life comes with none of the fabled luck of being born in her “veil.” Instead, she’s had a life filled with heartbreak and strife. Where she’s unlucky, she is equally headstrong and can be a fierce advocate or enemy. Despite this strength, she’s often at odds with her gift of connecting with the spirit realm. This ends up being the key challenge in the story — Clara’s interactions with the spirits drop a burden in her lap that she can’t afford to ignore but can’t resolve on her own.

In her attempt to free herself from a bad deal she made with a particularly powerful spirit, she finds other wayward souls who carry their own burdens and seek their own versions of freedom. There’s her roommate Zelda, an albino pickpocket; Aristotle, an actor whose skill overshadows his true self; and Israel, a beloved local jazz musician; and others. They all bring unique skills to the table, but it’s not always clear if the whole is greater than the sum — or in this case power — of its parts.

One of the central themes in this book is that of classism. Clara and others she connects with come from impoverished backgrounds, many of whom migrated north seeking better and safer economic and social opportunities. There is a constant lens on the interactions between the Black elite of the area and the working class, particularly those who migrated into the city. This is more acute when considering Clara’s interactions as a typist at an academic journal where she is working closely with intellectual celebrities of her day while still being snubbed by the some because she’s not one of them. That they’re all still coexisting in a small community provides an “us versus them” undercurrent that is interesting to see evolve.

The prominence of the “other world” and spirits is obvious in The Monsters We Defy, so it’s impossible to have a conversation about this book without considering the folklore around “crossroads.” There is certainly the connection of Clara being able to enter the spirit world at the crossroads of her world and theirs, but you can’t ignore the myths around “making a deal with the devil,” which took place at a crossroads for the person in need. The deals aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be and countless characters in this book learn that the hard way. Some of the fun, if it can be considered such, was in understanding how the “charms” and “tricks” worked to counterbalance each other. While reading, I found myself frequently questioning when is a price too high to pay, but when is a cost too much not to do so. That’s a tension that Clara struggles with when she is burdened by a task she doesn’t want, and I found how she reconciled her actions to be powerful.

I most enjoyed the author’s use of setting in The Monsters We Defy. Much of the story takes place along the famed U Street corridor of Washington, D.C. which for decades was a cultural hub for African Americans. Here, Penelope prominently features well-known landmarks, residents, and neighborhoods that highlight how vibrant a community U Street was in the 1920s. She didn’t just name-drop, though. When she referenced places like the Lincoln and Howard Theaters, the True Reformer Building, Republic Gardens, and the Whitelaw Hotel, they are central to the plot and simultaneously demonstrate why the area was known as the Black Broadway. As someone who has spent time in this area in recent years, there is a sense of nostalgia and historical appreciation that Penelope brings — many of the places still exist today, but she provides clarity to understand their historical significance.

It’s also clear that Penelope did her research for this book. I don’t often find a great deal of attention paid to alley communities anywhere, despite how large a population they housed in various cities. Washington, D.C. was no exception and she does a solid job of juxtaposing the wealth that literally hides these alleys with the impoverished communities nestled in their shadows. In the afterword, she references some key literature on these communities and it’s clear that this effort influenced her portrayal of the neighborhoods and those who live within them. I think it is very telling how critical these citizens are to the central plot of the story — it serves to turn their perceived insignificance on its head.

On its surface, The Monsters We Defy is a captivating story with elements of the supernatural, crime, and even romance. But it also offers social commentary about social stratification and who is considered invisible or expendable. It also has its share of history that highlights not just the well-known but also the too-long ignored. Tlhis book t like a treat for someone familiar with the D.C. area, and for newcomers, it gives a great overview of what made Black Broadway special. I didn’t even wait to finish reading this book before I recommended it, and it held up well from start to finish. ( )
  words_reviews | Oct 6, 2022 |
The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope is set in Washington DC during the prohibition era of the 1920s. Clara Johnson was born with a caul giving her the gift of second sight although Clara’s not convinced that it’s a gift. When she was younger, harrowing circumstances forced her to make a deal with an Enigma, a being more powerful even than a demon. Enigmas would grant ‘charms’ but these were a two-edged sword. They were always accompanied by a ‘trick’, worded in such a way that it was inevitably much much worse than it sounded. Now, thanks to her own deal, Clara must ‘help’ desperate people make their own deals despite the heavy cost.

Then Clara starts to hear rumours that people from the poorer neighbourhoods, people who likely wouldn’t be missed by the powers-that-be.are disappearing, first a few, then a flood. Clara, at first, resists any effort to contact the Empress for help knowing that it would likely come with a huge cost. But when a boy who works with her disappears, Clara knows she has to do something. The Empress, the Enigma who she has always dealt with, agrees to help but, of course, there’s a catch - Clara must steal something for her and, if she does, not only will she help, she will remove Clara’s debt and the debt of all others Clara has bargained for.

Clara doesn’t fully trust the Empress but, without any other options, she agrees. She gathers together a talented crew of people who also have a debt they wish ended as well as Zelda, Clara’s roommate and a talented thief to plan what should be a simple heist for someone as skilled as Zelda. But, like every other bargain Clara has made with an Enigma, things are a lot more complicated than the Empress has hinted. In fact, they are downright deadly.

The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope is, dare I say, brilliant. It’s a well-written, fascinating and original story and it is nigh impossible to put down. It combines a heist story with a complex magic system, interesting and mostly likeable characters, many with their own backstories. But, for me, it was how Penelope weaved real history seamlessly into the story that kept me glued to the page throughout and made this one of the best books I have read this year. I’d like to thank Netgalley and the publishers for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review. ( )
  lostinalibrary | Aug 17, 2022 |
Few Good Choices

Leslye Penelope delves into ghost lore, and hard choices in The Monsters We Defy. Clara Johnson was born in a cross roads, and her life has been a series of crossing places. She was born with a gift, and a hard choice has left her with a cursed Charm. She calls on the Enigmas to help those in dreadful situations, and tries to mitigate the Tricks they play. When a series of strange afflictions start, Clara might not have a choice but to intervene. With the help of her talented friend Zelda, ghost Mama Octavia, and other unique characters Clara will have to use her true gifts to save her community.

Life is harsh for Clara, but she hasn’t lost her compassion for people’s losses, and troubles. People come to her for help, and she can’t help but think she has cursed them instead. Clara lives with a lot of guilt, and an anger at not being able to express the needs of ghosts and people. What motivates Clara to act, is her concern for the missing people in her community. She is willing to even to face her past to solve this mystery.

Leslye Penelope builds a complex system of spiritual magic, as Clara explains how seeing, and entreating spirits work. As well as the rich history of 1920s Washington, with all its many interesting people. Including the complexities of race, class structure, and poverty. Each character in the heist has a chapter outlining their births, and general history. Which is helpful to understand their individual motivations, and what they fight for. Working together they may make the right choices to fix their destinies. ( )
  VictoriaGD | Aug 9, 2022 |
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"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"--

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