Trouble the Saints
The dangerous magic of The Night Circus meets the powerful historical exploration of The Underground Railroad in this timely and unsettling novel, set against the darkly glamorous backdrop of New York City at the dawn of WWII.Amidst the whir of city life, a girl from Harlem is drawn into the glittering underworld of Manhattan, where she’s hired to use her knives to strike fear amongst its most dangerous denizens.But the ghosts from her past are always by her side—and history has appeared on her doorstep to threaten the people she loves most.Can one woman ever sacrifice enough to save an entire community?Trouble the Saints is a dazzling, daring novel—a magical love story, a compelling chronicle of interracial tension, and an altogether brilliant and deeply American saga.

Trouble the Saints Details

TitleTrouble the Saints
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseJul 21st, 2020
PublisherTor Books
ISBN-139781250175342
Rating
GenreFantasy, Historical, Historical Fiction, Fiction, Adult

Trouble the Saints Review

  • jenny✨
    January 1, 1970
    When we return to the wheel of life, you and I, we will find one another again and again... until the colonized and the enslaved and the abused will rise up with the holy strength of the gods behind them and, together, we will make it right. I feel really conflicted about Trouble the Saints. But I also think it's important to say off the bat: While it wasn't the book for me, I would absolutely still recommend this for its unique exploration into legacies of trauma in BIPOC communities, and to When we return to the wheel of life, you and I, we will find one another again and again... until the colonized and the enslaved and the abused will rise up with the holy strength of the gods behind them and, together, we will make it right. I feel really conflicted about Trouble the Saints. But I also think it's important to say off the bat: While it wasn't the book for me, I would absolutely still recommend this for its unique exploration into legacies of trauma in BIPOC communities, and to anyone intrigued by preternatural assassins grappling with morality and mortality.I confess that I struggled for a significant portion of the book. We're immediately thrown to the world-building wolves, launching into convoluted gangster conspiracies without fanfare or context. Often I'd catch myself drifting because the words on the page refused to cohere into any sort of plot in my head. And I had a hard time grasping the magic behind the hands and numbers, which made it difficult to connect with the characters and their stakes.◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️Trouble the Saints is a triptych of stories—three sections, three intertwined narrators—set in an alternate-history New York on the cusp of WWII. It's a noir, too: gritty, dark, embedded within the city's mobster underbelly. In this world, people of colour are occasionally bestowed strange powers called "hands" (which are indeed tied to their physical hands). Some hands parse out your darkest secrets. Some are lucky with lottery numbers. Others—like those of Dev Patil—sense threats. And the hands of Phyllis Green? Hers itch to mete out murderous justice.The book is definitely cerebral, more so than I was expecting—literary spec-fic on racial themes (very much like Stephen Graham Jones's The Only Good Indians, which I also highly recommend). And the hands themselves pose interesting questions: How are certain people blessed/cursed with these talents? From where do they arise? Why do the hands even exist? “Your hands are like the numbers,* aren’t they, Miss Green? A little luck the Lord gives us to let us get on top, just for a bit, even though they got all the power.”* “the numbers” refer to an ingenious and illegal lottery that originated in Black communities, and helped Black folks to not only survive but also flourish in the 20th centuryPerhaps the hands are a way to empower people who have for so long been disempowered. Perhaps they will tip the scales in favour of those marginalized by white supremacy. As the story unfolds, we come to understand that the hands are indelibly tied to histories of violence and inherited trauma that Black and brown folks faced (and still face) in America. The hands, like this history, are a complicated entity that empower as much as burden their bearers.To me, though, Trouble the Saints is above all a love story. Among a mostly hazy storyline, this stood out in sharp relief: the complex love that Phyllis, Dev, and Tamara hold for the people in their lives. Alaya Dawn Johnson's prose is so precise and perfect in these moments, it literally snatches my breath away. She writes: Sometimes I don’t know how we will survive each other. Sometimes the greatest violence you can do to another person is to love them. Her characters betray, protect, endear, and hurt in equal measure. They grapple with what they are willing to sacrifice in the name of love. Sometimes the price is too high—sometimes, being with someone means owning up to the ugliest truths about yourself. There would be no more revelations. No more holding my despised pieces to the light and finding them, improbably, precious. ◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️◻️ CONCLUSION: Even though I struggled to parse meaning from an often ambiguous plot, the meaning managed to find me anyway. That's the power of Trouble the Saints.Thank you NetGalley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge for this e-ARC in exchange for an honest review!
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  • Nenia ⚔️ Queen of Villainy ⚔️ Campbell
    January 1, 1970
    Assassin falls in love???? Don't need to hear any more thankssssAlso this is by the author of THE SUMMER PRINCE, which is amazing!
  •  *:・゚✧ Isabelle
    January 1, 1970
    3.5 starsEdit (7/21/20): Happy publishing day! Welcome to assassins and morally grey characters galore! Trouble the Saints is a story set in New York just as WWII begins to dawn on America. Phyllis, a notorious assassin, wants nothing more than to escape her killing life, but her past isn’t that set on letting her go just yet. Coupled with magic and a bit of supernatural, Trouble the Saints bases itself off a very intriguing premise. The story is split into three parts, each focusing on a diff 3.5 starsEdit (7/21/20): Happy publishing day! Welcome to assassins and morally grey characters galore! Trouble the Saints is a story set in New York just as WWII begins to dawn on America. Phyllis, a notorious assassin, wants nothing more than to escape her killing life, but her past isn’t that set on letting her go just yet. Coupled with magic and a bit of supernatural, Trouble the Saints bases itself off a very intriguing premise. The story is split into three parts, each focusing on a different character. At first, I was pretty averse to this format as it usually means that I won’t be able to develop any connection to each character, but Johnson’s characters are just impossible not to adore. They have lovable features, flaws, dual-sided characteristics and are just overall very complex characters. Many of them are very morally grey characters, teetering on the edge of evil, but just because they aren’t good people doesn’t mean they aren’t good characters.Our first part focuses on Phyllis and her internal struggle that her ‘hands’ makes for her. While she has able to live a somewhat peaceful life under the protection of Manhattan’s biggest mob boss, she now wants out. The second part focuses on Dev, a friend and lover who deals with leading a two-faced life and not knowing whether his love is justified. And finally, the third part, and also my personal favourite, focuses on Tamara, a cheerful, bubbly, friend of the prior two, who’s oracle calling leads her into a mortal dilemma. The characters are not your typical fantasy cast, but this isn’t your typical fantasy book either. Set more in realism, if you’re looking for a refreshing new take on the fantasy and historical fiction genres, Trouble the Saints is the book for you. Now while I love the spin Johnson puts on the genres, the fantasy aspect took a while for me to figure out. The book opens up with a card reading and dream sequence sort of scene which only left me confused during the following chapters. It was only until about halfway through when I finally saw what was going on. I wish that this aspect of the book was clarified at the start, as that would’ve made the first part much easier to read. To give y’all a bit of a head start, the main fantasy aspect in this book revolves around a sort of power referred to as the ‘hands', in which different people are blessed (or perhaps cursed) with different powers through their hands. The power is most prominent in Black families, and not so much in white. It brings very important racial themes to the book as well, and considering the time we’re living in currently, very fitting. Not only racial themes are brought up through the fantasy of the book, but Johnson also deals with issues such as morality and choice. Again, Trouble the Saints sets itself apart from others in its genres through the themes and issues it tackles in its narrative. A fact that I think makes this an excellent and thought-provoking read. I’m a big sucker for books that make you think deeper and books with hidden messages, and this ticks all of those boxes.Anyways, continuing on the subject of confusing writing, the first part was filled with it. Complex sentence after complex sentence, purple prose, one too many adjectives, you name it. The writing in the first part was not only hard to read but also extremely difficult to absorb. I found myself rereading almost every sentence just to get a clear picture of what she was trying to say. The author seems to almost leave all that behind as soon as the second part starts, which was a relief. While I struggled with Johnson’s writing in the first part, I can’t deny that she is a good writer. This alternate world she has built is sparkling in all its grizzly and bloody glory. She deftly captures the vibe and aura of the 1940s and traps it in this book. Every single aspect, from the way the characters talk to the way they act, just completely immersed me into her world.The reason I’m giving this book a 3.5 star rating is because of how I rated each part. Part one for me is 3 stars; for all that it is good, I still can’t get over how hard it was for me to get through it. Part two is 3.5 stars; an improvement from part one, but the time jumps just made the writing and pacing too inconsistent for me to enjoy. And part three is 4 stars; I loved Tamara and the complex conundrum she faces. I could honestly read a whole book about her. In fact, I don’t think I would’ve minded if this whole book was set from her point of view!(For me, a 3.5 is a pretty good rating, so don’t let it convince you otherwise).Between the fantasy, the complex themes, and the realism, Trouble the Saints is a fascinating read that exceeds the confines of its identifying genres. Highly recommend you give this one a shot!I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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  • Terry
    January 1, 1970
    **NOW AVAILABLE**Set at the dawn of World War II, in New York City, Phyllis (Pea) is a mob boss's 'angel'. She had a dream come down and has the 'hands.' Basically, she's a hit woman whose weapon of choice is the knife. In Trouble the Saints, some non-white (black, Indian, Native American, etc.) people are gifted the 'hands' at some point in life. Each person's 'gift' is different. There is Pea's dexterity, her skill with the knives. Dev, her one true love, can sense threats. A minor character, **NOW AVAILABLE**Set at the dawn of World War II, in New York City, Phyllis (Pea) is a mob boss's 'angel'. She had a dream come down and has the 'hands.' Basically, she's a hit woman whose weapon of choice is the knife. In Trouble the Saints, some non-white (black, Indian, Native American, etc.) people are gifted the 'hands' at some point in life. Each person's 'gift' is different. There is Pea's dexterity, her skill with the knives. Dev, her one true love, can sense threats. A minor character, Alvin, immediately senses the darkest secret of the person he touches. Putting 'gift' in quotations is appropriate, though, for there is also a burden, or an obligation, a specific deed most people's hands want performed. Some would say the tale is about Pea's desire to escape her life as an assassin, but it's about so much more than that. The story is told from three perspectives, each narrated in first person in their own section. First is Pea's section. This section was confusing at first. It didn't grab me firmly and insist I keep reading. The second section is Dev's section. This is where I was grabbed, with the unspoken (but understood) message, "Keep reading." The third section, Tamara's (the girl who danced with the snake! woo), and it kept me firmly in its grasp as well. It becomes clearer in the second section that it's about -love- and what we will sacrifice and the extremes we will go to for those we love. Interwoven is the strain of racial tensions, the history of racism and terrible prejudice. The characters, even the minor characters, were nuanced and rich. The decisions they had to make felt real, and troubling. The stress of the dilemmas they faced came off the page in waves. I loved the setting, the language, the 40's vibes. I was transported. There were moments where it felt slow going. I won't lie. But I feel richer for having read this book. It's one I can see myself thinking about for some time to come, seeing how the author chose the 'hands', and the characters, and how it all ties together into a deeper message. Because it does. That I am certain of. But it's a multifaceted message, and I feel like I'm only seeing a small part of it right now. I adore books that leave me chewing them over like this. This book is also timely. Well, love and sacrifices we make for love are always timely. The racial tensions I can't describe as timely. Change is long overdue on that front.Highly recommend. I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. SEE ON MY BLOG: https://ispeakbooknerd.com/2020/07/09...
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  • Amy Imogene Reads
    January 1, 1970
    “The dangerous magic of The Night Circus meets the powerful historical exploration of The Underground Railroad in Alaya Dawn Johnson's timely and unsettling novel, set against the darkly glamorous backdrop of New York City at the dawn of World War II.”What more could you want in a book? Love this description.Thank you to TOR for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
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  • Karen
    January 1, 1970
    This sounded so promising: A book described as The Night Circus meets the Underground Railroad, set in New York on the eve of WW2. A girl from Harlem who works as an assassin, haunted by her past. If I have a single character weakness, it’s fierce girls with knives. I expected bloody murder, maybe a moral dilemma or two. It sounded fantastic.I did really like the characters and how Johnson explored race through Phyllis, the main character who can pass for white in order to work for a white mobst This sounded so promising: A book described as The Night Circus meets the Underground Railroad, set in New York on the eve of WW2. A girl from Harlem who works as an assassin, haunted by her past. If I have a single character weakness, it’s fierce girls with knives. I expected bloody murder, maybe a moral dilemma or two. It sounded fantastic.I did really like the characters and how Johnson explored race through Phyllis, the main character who can pass for white in order to work for a white mobster and get around in the criminal underworld. There have been many stories of girls who pass for boys to infiltrate certain communities, but I’ve never read about someone passing as a different ethnicity—at least not in such a memorable way as Johnson does here. However, I found it really hard to get into the story. The writing didn’t really click with me. It wasn’t bland or poorly written; I think the overall structure threw me off, and I really struggled to visualize and stay grounded in the story. It’s a pass for me, largely because of the writing style, but this is certainly a unique novel I wish I could have enjoyed more.An ARC was provided to me for free by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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  • Jules ✨
    January 1, 1970
    assassin from harlem who is drawn into the underworld of New York in the late 30s and will have to fight. magical realism meets historical fiction meets fantasy, again, what else do you need?01/04 UPDATE: Thank you Netgalley, Tor Books and Macmillan-Tor/Forge for the ARC.
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  • Sana
    January 1, 1970
    An assassin fighting her fate in an alternate history novel, I WANT
  • Corey
    January 1, 1970
    I absolutely loved the entire vibe of this book. Captivating and vividly written, this novel revolves around the themes of racism and forbidden love. Trouble the saints has definitely lived up to the hype and deserves to be one of the most anticipated reads of the year.
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  • Adam
    January 1, 1970
    The world-building in this story is truly fantastic, and easily my favorite aspect of the story. Johnson has also developed the three POV's quite well, and the ill-fated love story is emotionally appealing. The racial issues that were spotlighted were thought-provoking, and made me pause to reflect several times.However, there were a couple of things I couldn't connect with. There were a few plot choices that I think could have been rearranged that would have made the earlier sections of the boo The world-building in this story is truly fantastic, and easily my favorite aspect of the story. Johnson has also developed the three POV's quite well, and the ill-fated love story is emotionally appealing. The racial issues that were spotlighted were thought-provoking, and made me pause to reflect several times.However, there were a couple of things I couldn't connect with. There were a few plot choices that I think could have been rearranged that would have made the earlier sections of the book easier to interpret, and potentially more enjoyable. I love a good mystery, but this crossed the line more than toed it. And the prose itself... let's call it 'dense.' At times lyrical, other times confusing at best. Sometimes I wasn't sure what kind of message Johnson was aiming for with some of her deep dives into the characters' philosophies, but it was difficult to ascertain what points she was trying to make.It's hard not to recommend this book, as it contains so many good talking points and strong character depth. But be warned that you'll need patience to push through the first act and will likely spend more time that usual on a book this size. 3.5 / 5
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  • Sharonda Isadora
    January 1, 1970
    In Trouble the Saints, the same story is being told BUT from three different POVs. Phyllis (Pea), Dev and Tamara. All have “the hands” in some form or fashion. This story is set in New York after WW2 with the backdrop of Harlem, gangsters, crooked cops and magic...hoodoo, voodoo depending on who’s naming it. Even though the story is broken up into its separate three parts, all three of our protagonists are involved with one another in some way. We read the struggles of our protagonists as they t In Trouble the Saints, the same story is being told BUT from three different POVs. Phyllis (Pea), Dev and Tamara. All have “the hands” in some form or fashion. This story is set in New York after WW2 with the backdrop of Harlem, gangsters, crooked cops and magic...hoodoo, voodoo depending on who’s naming it. Even though the story is broken up into its separate three parts, all three of our protagonists are involved with one another in some way. We read the struggles of our protagonists as they try to make their lives as livable as possible in a America that will always see them as other. But then when you add their gifts into the fray…Trouble the Saints is a interestingly woven story. The world building was at times a bit convoluted especially the Phyllis’s part BUT I truly did enjoy the way this author set it up. With magic as the backdrop and History at its doorstep, Trouble the Saints is wonderfully enriching and I believe any lover of historical fiction will love it for what it is.
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  • Jordan
    January 1, 1970
    *3.5Find this review at Forever Lost in Literature!If you're looking for something new in the fantasy genre, then Alaya Dawn Johnson's Trouble the Saints is probably exactly what you're looking for.Trouble the Saints is an alternate fantasy that takes place right around the beginning of WWII and focuses on Phyllis, a girl from alternate history-Harlem who wants nothing more than to run from her past life and begin anew. The first thing that comes to mind when I think about this book is how immer *3.5Find this review at Forever Lost in Literature!If you're looking for something new in the fantasy genre, then Alaya Dawn Johnson's Trouble the Saints is probably exactly what you're looking for.Trouble the Saints is an alternate fantasy that takes place right around the beginning of WWII and focuses on Phyllis, a girl from alternate history-Harlem who wants nothing more than to run from her past life and begin anew. The first thing that comes to mind when I think about this book is how immersive it was. I really felt like I was a part of this world and the way that Johnson sets up the world makes it feel vivid and and alive, though in a sort of noir quiet manner. There's also a plentiful amount of references and word choices that really convey the time period that Johnson is aiming for and made me feel sucked into the setting.Don't let the comparison to The Night Circus fool you because this book really has nothing to do with it and that's to it's own benefit. I thought The Night Circus was a beautiful story, but Trouble the Saints was beautiful in its own right and doesn't need any comparisons. Although I had some trouble with the execution of the plot and XXX, I never put this book down because I thought the prose was beautiful enough in its own right to keep reading. There's a very noir-style feel to the atmosphere and I think Johnson did an excellent job of conveying this dark, mysterious sense that wasn't overwhelming, but that was constantly present in the background. This book also tackles some really important topics such as sexism, misogyny, race, and others, all of which are vital components of this story and really help to convey some interesting discussions and ideas.Unfortunately, now we must move to discuss the elements of this book that I didn't like and which ultimately brought the star rating down. I do want to preface this by saying that I completely believe this is a 'it's not the book, it's me' situation in that I can see where it could easily be someone's new favorite read, so keep an open mind. The biggest issue I had was that I found the plot itself fairly boring. I mentioned that the prose was so beautiful that I kept reading, which is true, but the content of that prose just didn't grab me. I found the events that occurred a bit disjointed and there weren't a whole lot of events that made me strongly desire to pick up this book against after putting it down.Additionally, I didn't really care for any of the characters themselves. Phyllis and the other characters were all interesting enough, but something about the way in which they were written always left me feeling as though I were being held at arm's length from them. In a way, this sort of fit the dark atmosphere that makes me feel like these characters wouldn't want to connect with others, but as a reader, there needs to be something that keeps me hooked. I also didn't care the multi-POV situation in this book, and I really felt like Phyllis should have stayed the sole narrator.Overall, I've settled on 3.5 stars for Trouble the Saints! I initially gave it three, but honestly, I really like the direction and style Johnson took this book in, and I think it really did play with something new in the fantasy genre. I recommend this one to anyone who likes noir, alternate history, or simply trying new things in fantasy!
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  • Amanda
    January 1, 1970
    I received a copy of this book in a Goodreads giveaway. Between the comparisons to The Night Circus and the WWII setting, I was really looking forward to reading this book. Turned out I couldn't get away from it fast enough. I was averse to the main character almost immediately and the writing style was so boring it was nearly unreadable. I generally try to give a book at least 50 pages before giving up, but I could not stomach even that much of this one.
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  • James Wade
    January 1, 1970
    Some books are just undeniably cool— like, assassins and alternate history cool 😎 Great prose, story, and characters. Loved it!
  • Juan Manuel Sarmiento
    January 1, 1970
    What would happen if in the beginning of WWII in New York City, Black families possessed magical abilities best used for murdering?Enter Phyllis, a black woman wo works as an enforcer and assassin to a mobster. She has the ability to throw knives and always get her target and her wish is to start a new life and get away from her currently life. At least that's the first third of the book because the other two parts focuses on other characters with their own abilities and desires.Early on we get What would happen if in the beginning of WWII in New York City, Black families possessed magical abilities best used for murdering?Enter Phyllis, a black woman wo works as an enforcer and assassin to a mobster. She has the ability to throw knives and always get her target and her wish is to start a new life and get away from her currently life. At least that's the first third of the book because the other two parts focuses on other characters with their own abilities and desires.Early on we get to discover how immersive the story is and how easy is to think you're watching film noir instead of reading a book. The author's style and words chosen fit so well with the ambiance, time period and setting of the novel.I know this book is recommended for fans of The Night Circus; while I hadn't read it I did read A Starless Sea, by the same author, and I can easily make the comparison here because it has a beautiful story and lyrical scenes but the execution is so troublesome and confusing... But it's thanks to its atmosphere and way of putting words together that you're sucked into the book no matter what.Trouble the Saints also get into other topics like misogyny, race and other important social troubles that are vital for the story as well as for the situation we're living in our own society nowadays.Although I said before the style was beautiful I had so much trouble trying to focus on the plot because I didn't manage to care for any of the characters; while I think their characterization fits the dark atmosphere, their way of proceeding felt somewhat disjointed and the multi-POV just makes it harder to feel some sort of attachment for any of them.I give this a 3.5 stars out of five 'cause I really like the direction and style the author took this book in. It also is a really original novel in the fantasy genre and we need more diverse books like this. The noir elements, the alternate history chosen and the magic system are all so interesting and I guess some other readers might enjoy this story more than I did. But keep an eye on Alaya Dawn Johnson cause she's going places.
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  • Danielle
    January 1, 1970
    I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it's a unique premise and setting that I liked - early WWII-era NYC, complete with mob bosses and sketchy nightclubs, where certain nonwhite people have been blessed with magical "saint's hands" that give them each different abilities. And, our protagonists and POV narrators Phyllis, Dev, and Tamara, are all complex, interesting, and fully realized characters.However. The magic of the saint's hands and what Phyllis has done with hers is so I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it's a unique premise and setting that I liked - early WWII-era NYC, complete with mob bosses and sketchy nightclubs, where certain nonwhite people have been blessed with magical "saint's hands" that give them each different abilities. And, our protagonists and POV narrators Phyllis, Dev, and Tamara, are all complex, interesting, and fully realized characters.However. The magic of the saint's hands and what Phyllis has done with hers is so purposefully obscured in the beginning as to be frustrating and confusing rather than intriguing, and the narrative often shifts back and forth from present to past without warning, which took a lot of getting used to. I didn't feel "hooked" until well past 25% of the book, a point to which I'd never have persevered if this weren't an arc that I felt obligated to finish to review.
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  • Maria Tane
    January 1, 1970
    Hidden sharp knives, questionable morals, doomed love, and a drop of magic imbue an alternate version of Harlem, making for a deliciously dangerous, submersive tale. I might not have fully clicked with the writing and with the way it was structured, but oh this was fun and the first protagonist we get introduced to is splendidly kicking ass in her mid-thirties which is something we need more of in stories since in real life it happens all the time.
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  • Karena
    January 1, 1970
    I liked the concept of this book. I'm not sure it was executed well. I definitely did not see The Night Circus comp I kept seeing on Edelweiss. It needed a bit of fine tuning.
  • Jacquelyn
    January 1, 1970
    My request for an ARC on NetGalley, for some blessed reason unknown to me, was accepted and I'm so frick fracking excited to read this.
  • Isa King
    January 1, 1970
    Truly, what can I say about this book? It's unflinching, gorgeously written, deeply nuanced and deeply felt. Alaya Dawn Johnson has prose that reads like poetry, and a talent for breaking your heart.Set in 1940s New York, TROUBLE THE SAINTS is divided into three sections that follow three different—but deeply interconnected—characters. Phyllis LeBlanc is an assassin, an angel of justice, for the biggest mob boss in the city. Devajyoti is her barkeep-informant ex-lover. Tamara is his ex-lover, an Truly, what can I say about this book? It's unflinching, gorgeously written, deeply nuanced and deeply felt. Alaya Dawn Johnson has prose that reads like poetry, and a talent for breaking your heart.Set in 1940s New York, TROUBLE THE SAINTS is divided into three sections that follow three different—but deeply interconnected—characters. Phyllis LeBlanc is an assassin, an angel of justice, for the biggest mob boss in the city. Devajyoti is her barkeep-informant ex-lover. Tamara is his ex-lover, and her best friend. The three of them are blessed with certain talents, believed to be God-given or its exact opposite, and the each of them must reconcile how they've made use of said talents—what true purpose those gifts might serve, and if they have done enough to deserve them. The stakes are high from the beginning, and with each section, they keep rising.If this plot sounds confusing or vague, it's because it is. This isn't really a book with a clear end game, so I don't recommend going into it with that kind of mindset. Rather, it is a more philosophical book that meanders between the choices these three characters make, or are forced to make, and how they carry those choices with them through to their bitter end.This book is not a happy one, as you may have well guessed from the subject matter—the characters in this book are mobsters and assassins, who are on the darker end of morally gray, and they get the kinds of endings that one might expect from that life. Johnson doesn't pull punches about the kinds of violence that exists in this world, and moreover the kinds of violence that exists in the world in general for people who aren't white. This is a book about power and trauma, about the endless cycles of violence that people suffer—and sometimes, that they choose in order to feel like something other than the victims. This is a book about how history has a long and bloody reach, one that cannot be outrun or rejected, only embraced.Johnson doesn't hold your hand through this novel. Her writing is incredibly immersive and opaque, with worldbuilding so tightly woven into a plot that the reader is just dropped into with no real footing. That might put some readers off, but I urge you to slow down and continue, because it is definitely worth it. I think it really captures the ways in which our cultural histories, their stories and their legacies, are so deeply embedded in how we live our lives that it can't be explained except through the act of living them.If I could give this more than 5 stars, I would. I honestly think the comps are way off—this is not really a book for readers of Erin Morgenstern, who I also love, but is a little more fluffy in terms of the topics she tackles. Johnson has written something more gritty and raw, not to be taken lightly.Highly recommended for fans of Catherynne M. Valente's DEATHLESS, Lara Elena Donnelly's AMBERLOUGH Dossier, Carmen Maria Machado's HER BODY AND OTHER PARTIES, or River Solomon's THE DEEP. Dark and dazzling, and full of very cool vibes. Literally could not recommend enough.Thank you to NetGalley and Tor Books for a free e-copy of this ARC.
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  • Miss Kindly (Sanna)
    January 1, 1970
    Thanks to Macmillan-Tor/Forge and Netgalley for giving me a digital copy to review!Trouble the Saints is truly unique and original in writing style, atmosphere and plot. It's an ambitious book and even though it may not always hit the mark I really admire the skill and effort going into creating something that is different and tackles important issues like race and morality. We follow Pea, Dev and Tamara as they live, kill and love in a underground criminal network that is thriving in New York's Thanks to Macmillan-Tor/Forge and Netgalley for giving me a digital copy to review!Trouble the Saints is truly unique and original in writing style, atmosphere and plot. It's an ambitious book and even though it may not always hit the mark I really admire the skill and effort going into creating something that is different and tackles important issues like race and morality. We follow Pea, Dev and Tamara as they live, kill and love in a underground criminal network that is thriving in New York's dark corners during world WWII. Pea got hands that never misses a target, Dev can feel threats with a touch and Tamara uses a deck of cards to read the world and people around her. They have all made different choices to survive a deeply segregated society and will have to face the consequences. As I stated from the beginning the writing style in Trouble the Saints is really unique. At it's best is hard hitting and beautiful, at it's worst... it's really hard to wrap your head around and a bit frustrating. You may have to give it some effort and patience and it will probably not be for everyone. But it's also refreshing and interesting. The magic elements are unique as well and interwoven with America's history with racial oppression in a way that make it about more than just supernatural abilities. The story is divided into thirds, one part from the point of view from each character even though we continue to follow the same narrative. It's a really cool way to build up the story. I think this book shines in the way it portrays strong and conflicting emotions in morally grey areas as well as the interracial tension. Here the story really benefit from the writing style that is sometimes very symbolic. In the heart of it all is a story about love that is unwavering but never ever easy. The reason I don't give this book a higher rating is mostly personal, I had a hard time getting into it and it was quite a slow read even though it's not that long. Objectively I really admired the concept, but just couldn't enjoy it so much at the time. Now that I have finished it I really think it will stay with me for a long time though. Also cried so hard during the end. It was harsh people.
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  • Jennifer
    January 1, 1970
    Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review!Two buzzwords for me that makes me want to pick up a book are grey characters and assassins - and wow, this books is filled with those. While I struggled the first part to really understand the plot, to get the setting and to be able to, in some capacity, know what was going on - the later part of the books had my eyes read as fast as I possibly could. I read half the book in one sitting cause I Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review!Two buzzwords for me that makes me want to pick up a book are grey characters and assassins - and wow, this books is filled with those. While I struggled the first part to really understand the plot, to get the setting and to be able to, in some capacity, know what was going on - the later part of the books had my eyes read as fast as I possibly could. I read half the book in one sitting cause I couldn't put it down. Even though, I at some times, felt the book went over my head and I didn't really understand what was happening, it stills manage to left me intrigued to continue to read. I really liked the three kind of main characters; Dev, Pea and Tamara. For me to enjoy characters I do really want them to feel human, to be gray and to have some undergoing problems. And these characters were full of those gems. Even though, I would have liked more backstory for all of them and even to get a little more understanding over how they met and what makes them who they were. I tho very much didn't understand the magic system, and I'm unsure if I even do it now even though I've finished the book. The writing style is the thing that really keeps you continuing this book. It gripped me in a way that no other writing style has done before, and I can't wait to pick up more books by Johnson. This book also very much deals with what it meant to be black during the upcoming of World War Two, but also handling a bit of colorism, racism and sexism. This is a book that is split up in three sections and follows a different characters thoughts - and I think that this book is built to be reread.
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  • Ms. Woc Reader
    January 1, 1970
    Assassins? Old Harlem? Noir feel? Sounds like the ingredients to a great story. Instead what I got was a dense and endless tale. I knew this book wasn't for me when I was only 15% in after having read it on and off for a few hours. I did not expect the book to be this disappointing. Pea wasn't even an interesting assassin. She's already given up killing at the start of this book and refuses to kill a woman who is clearly trying to and almost does take her out. Dev was a love sick puppy over Pea. Assassins? Old Harlem? Noir feel? Sounds like the ingredients to a great story. Instead what I got was a dense and endless tale. I knew this book wasn't for me when I was only 15% in after having read it on and off for a few hours. I did not expect the book to be this disappointing. Pea wasn't even an interesting assassin. She's already given up killing at the start of this book and refuses to kill a woman who is clearly trying to and almost does take her out. Dev was a love sick puppy over Pea. Tamara had the most interesting story of them all with her powers as an oracle however this book was so convoluted that by the end I was weary and ready for it to end. Please see longer more detailed review on my blog. Thank you Tor Books and Netgalley for the opportunity to read this book.https://womenofcolorreadtoo.blogspot....
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  • Kristen Beverly
    January 1, 1970
    This book has a very film noir feel to it and I loved that. It’s so different than everything else I’ve been reading. Trouble the Saints is about the journey of a woman assassin, Phyllis, who is trying to leave that life and lead a normal one during World War II in an alternate history. With some fantasy elements, the themes of this book are racism, forbidden love, and the question of what is right and what is wrong. I kept imagining Jessica Rabbit as Phyllis and it seemed like I was watching a This book has a very film noir feel to it and I loved that. It’s so different than everything else I’ve been reading. Trouble the Saints is about the journey of a woman assassin, Phyllis, who is trying to leave that life and lead a normal one during World War II in an alternate history. With some fantasy elements, the themes of this book are racism, forbidden love, and the question of what is right and what is wrong. I kept imagining Jessica Rabbit as Phyllis and it seemed like I was watching a black and white movie as I read. It’s so vivid, just a total experience to read, and beautifully written.
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  • Emily
    January 1, 1970
    The oppressively hot days of summer are here. It is a perfect time to crank up the AC, and read through all of the books I've acquired over the past few months. The sluggish heat and the sultry evenings are a perfect companion to Alaya Dawn Johnson's new novel Trouble The Saints. Set in a vaguely alternate history NYC on the brink of World War 2. The novel follows three characters who are entangled with a dangerous mob boss.In this world, people of color are sometimes gifted (or cursed) with the The oppressively hot days of summer are here. It is a perfect time to crank up the AC, and read through all of the books I've acquired over the past few months. The sluggish heat and the sultry evenings are a perfect companion to Alaya Dawn Johnson's new novel Trouble The Saints. Set in a vaguely alternate history NYC on the brink of World War 2. The novel follows three characters who are entangled with a dangerous mob boss.In this world, people of color are sometimes gifted (or cursed) with the saint's hands. The hands give them mysterious powers. An uncanny ability to throw knives and assassinate. The ability to sense threats, or to take away pain. Someone has been hunting the hands however, murdering people of color in an attempt to claim these mysterious powers for their own. The story that unfolds is an unexpected meditation on magic, morality, and what people must do to survive. It is a fascinating character study, not only of the protagonists but also of a time and place that feels highly relevant. Trouble The Saints is a haunting tale of love, loss, and what it means to move through the world as a person of color.The book is divided into three sections, each following the point of view of one of the main characters. This format leads to some uneven pacing over the course of the book. But each character and point of view is integral to the overall weave of the narrative. Within each section there is a definitive climax, that made me feel like the book was about to end multiple times only to discover that there were still hundreds of pages left.However what this format does do is build up each character to a breaking point. Like waves cresting in the ocean. The waves of emotion and tension build to break against the steady shore of the reader's expectations, before slowly receding and allowing you a space to breathe. Then the wave returns stronger than before, to break once more and in the end it washes everything away.We begin with Phyllis, or 'Pea' as her friends call her. She is the primary protagonist of Trouble The Saints. A light-skinned black woman from Harlem, she can pass well enough for most people to accept her into white inner circles. Phyliss works as an assassin for Victor, a Russian mob boss. Victor also runs a nightclub where her best friend Tamara works as a dancer, and her former lover Dev is a bartender. Tamara and Dev are the two other point of view characters in the book. Each of them contain their own mysteries that are revealed as the story unfolds.Pea's saint's hands give her uncanny agility and a knack for throwing knives (and other objects) perfectly. This power has made her the ideal assassin, and she believes that she has been killing for a good cause. Dubbed 'Victor's Angel' she is convinced that she took down the man that had been killing people to steal their saint's hands. Until a new murder happens, and everything she believes is upended.The twists in the first part of the book are a bit predictable, but that does not lessen their impact on the story. The noir nature of the murder mystery is highly effective, but I do think that there could have been a bit more time building it up. However, once Phyllis learns the truth, she is like an arrow shot from a bow. She sets her mind on vengeance, on justice, and will see it done no matter the cost.The character of Phyliss is an intriguing one to start the novel with. She is not an innocent by any stretch of the imagination, but there is something innocent about her all the same. She believes that she has been doing good, but she has been blinded to the reality of her circumstances. Her desires are relatively simple, she wants to stop killing but her saint's hands will not let her rest. She longs to reunite with her former lover Dev, but she fears that her brutality has chased him away for good. Phyliss wants to be valued, respected, and remembered. She struggles with the morality of what she has done, and how to move forward past all of the death she has brought.The first part of the book from Phyliss's point of view is a part fast paced action story, and part murder-mystery noir. Johnson excels at her descriptive language that brings this era of New York City to life. The gritty violence and murder contrasts with the sumptuous world of the Pelican - the nightclub that is Victor's base of operations. The world of the Pelican is dazzling, but some of those bright jewels are beads of blood waiting to spill.The second section of the book brings Dev's point of view, and details his journey into the heart of the mob. It is here where the love story of Trouble The Saints really starts to shine. Dev and Phyliss have a very complicated relationship, but the love between them is powerful. There is death and danger haunting their every move. But there is a sweetness to their love that outshines all of the darkness surrounding them. These characters have done unthinkable things to protect one another. Their relationship feels real, and their love is not idealized. They get angry with one another, they keep secrets, hold onto bitterness. But that doesn't make their love any less true, only more realistic.Each section also gives us a new setting, although the glimmer of New York City is never far from our characters. The second section takes the characters to a quiet cottage outside of the city. They attempt to live some semblance of a normal life. But their past is never far from them. Nor is the everyday dangers of racism and prejudice. On top of that, there is the saint's hands that seem to bring trouble no matter where they go. This part of the story does eloquent work in bringing in new characters who also have the hands. It deftly demonstrates that no matter what gifts people of color have, they are always subject to prejudice and fear.Each Section Adds Layers To The CharactersAlthough the second part of the book does an excellent job at building the world that these characters inhabit, the plot does get a bit muddled here. Dev and Phyllis are pulled into intrigue that is not of their own making. But it says something about their characters that they choose to help. These characters cannot turn a blind eye to the pain of people in their community. They are also struggling to redeem themselves for what they have done in the past.They try to use their saint's hands to do good, but they find that their own powers can turn on them at a moment's notice. And that there is a limit to their power. The plot is less important here than the character building. Although there is a fair amount of tension and intrigue in this section, it is the moment when the waves recede only to build up higher than before and come crashing down.The third section of the book is the slowest, after two climaxes in each of the previous sections it almost feels like an extended epilogue. However it was also one of my favorite parts of the book. This section brings the character of Tamara into the foreground. It also focuses on the close relationship between Phyllis and Tamara. Despite not having the saint's hands, Tammy has unique abilities of her own. She can see the dead, and read fate in her deck of cards. Unlike the other characters, Tamara has never killed anyone and she believes herself to be good and innocent. But she is still haunted by mistakes that she has made, and pain that she brought upon others.Much of the conflict throughout Trouble The Saints is internal, before manifesting externally in a dramatic death. This is most prevalent in the final section of the book, where Tamara can clearly see the paths laid out before her and Phyllis. She struggles with a decision that will drastically affect both of them. And in the end, things unfold in a manner both unexpected and also all too familiar. Tragedy follows the characters wherever they go. They cannot outrun their fate, no matter how much they try to change their circumstances.I was unsure how to feel about Trouble The Saints after I finished reading. The story has lingered with me for days, haunting me the way that the characters were themselves haunted by so much. The world-building is excellent, bringing this mobster era of New York City vividly to life. The writing is beautiful, lyrical and evocative. The characters are complex anti-heroes with blood on their hands and shadows in their hearts. It is truly a character-driven novel, with the plot often being secondary to the character development.Initially I felt like I wanted Johnson to delve more into the idea of the saint's hands. I wanted these characters to be able to control their abilities and utilize them to wage epic battles and mete out justice. (But then again, I read a lot of epic fantasy or comic book stories where this type of thing would happen.) I realize now that the saint's hands work as a powerful metaphor. No matter what gifts these characters possess, that does not protect them from the abuse of the white world around them. That power, these gifts, are threatening to the white majority and draw even more abuse and prejudice down upon them.In the end, Trouble The Saints is a compelling character-driven story about power and powerlessness. It is a story about the lengths we go to to protect the ones we love. And it is timely reminder about the struggles facing a person of color in the world, at any point in history. It will haunt you long after the characters are gone.
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  • Maureen
    January 1, 1970
    This is my first foray into mashup of magical realism, fantasy and historical fiction. Trouble With Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson is the story of Phyllis Leblanc who as the story opens is a young woman from Harlem New York who is drawn into the underworld of New York York City in the late 1930s. Phyllis becomes an assasin using her knives to defend against her opponents. This book was an enjoyable read for me and I gave it a rating of 5 stars. Very entertaining and well written. I will definitely This is my first foray into mashup of magical realism, fantasy and historical fiction. Trouble With Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson is the story of Phyllis Leblanc who as the story opens is a young woman from Harlem New York who is drawn into the underworld of New York York City in the late 1930s. Phyllis becomes an assasin using her knives to defend against her opponents. This book was an enjoyable read for me and I gave it a rating of 5 stars. Very entertaining and well written. I will definitely be reading this author again in future. I was sent an advanced reader copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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  • Bookerwocky
    January 1, 1970
    The Honest Review - Have you ever listened to the track, "Sinnerman" (the Nina Simone version)? I first heard Nina's powerful and hypnotic voice singing, "O Sinnerman, where you gonna run to" as a background score in the pivotal scene of the movie, "The Thomas Crown Affair" (Pierce Brosnan as rich playboy and a daring art heist! What's not to love?) 🎶.In case you are wondering that I have started reviewing movies or music instead of books🙈 well, that's not the case. I remembered Sinnerman when I The Honest Review - Have you ever listened to the track, "Sinnerman" (the Nina Simone version)? I first heard Nina's powerful and hypnotic voice singing, "O Sinnerman, where you gonna run to" as a background score in the pivotal scene of the movie, "The Thomas Crown Affair" (Pierce Brosnan as rich playboy and a daring art heist! What's not to love?) 🎶.In case you are wondering that I have started reviewing movies or music instead of books🙈 well, that's not the case. I remembered Sinnerman when I was reading this brilliant book by Alaya Dawn Johnson because the theme of this book gravitate towards sins and sinners.🎶.🎶🎶"Sometimes I don't know how we will survive each other. Sometimes the greatest violence you can do to another person is to love them".🎶🎶.Some books have a great story, some have memorable characters and some like 'Trouble The Saints' have mesmerising writing. This is not a fast read. Specially in the first part, I was rereading various sentences as I savored their intricacy. Just like a melancholic melody where the ghost of the music lingers even after its ending. 🎶.This book is divided into three parts. First part is told from the PoV of Phyllis Green a.k.a Pea, a gifted woman from Harlem who is given the gift(?) of 'hands'. There's a backstory of these gifted 'hands'. Some people (from the oppressed races) were blessed with certain dreams around puberty after which they can perform unusual things with their hands. Pea acquires uncanny marksmanship with knives and becomes an assassin for a White mob boss - Victor. Victor is a racist mobster who wants to get the power of 'hands' for himself and he manipulates Pea into killing many people just to get their 'gifts'. This part reads like a poem. There are so many subtexts and layers of meaning to each sentence. Pea realizes at last that she has misused her power and maybe her 'hands' will now turn against her. She wants a safe haven with Dev but also knows that dream of such life is ephemeral at best.🎶.Second part details the story of Devajyoti a.k.a Dev, biracial lover of Pea. Dev is born of British mother and Hindu father who is deeply in touch with his Indian roots. Dev works for Victor and is madly in love with Pea even if he knows that this love has the power to bring him down. He also has the gift of 'hands'. His hands can detect threats. I was enthralled by the meticulous research undertaken by the author to bring the character of Dev to life in these pages. Very few books by non-Indian authors feature any character of Indian origin prominently. Apart from the stereotypical Indian, I rarely see any book where such character is pivotal to the story. Kudos to Alaya Dawn Johnson for that. 🎶. Third part is narrated by Tamara. She is an exotic dancer at the club owned by Victor and she is an Oracle too. Her cards speak to her. Her desire for self-preservation competes with the burden which the cards foretell for her. She grapples with fate, unwilling to shoulder the guilt till she can't fight her destiny anymore.🎶.Set in New York just at the advent of WWII, this book brings alive that era in mannerisms, prevalent racism and people's desire to get better in life. While it is a slow read, it makes up in writing. For first few pages I struggled to get the gist as it detailed dreams and numbers (a lottery system) but I think that is because I am not versed with the culture. I would be happy to read #ownvoices reviews for this as they can describe it better than me.🎶.The first part is the most lyrical. The setting of the integrated club, Pelican which is owned by Victor provides a glimpse into the NY mob scene. The scene of how Victor snatched the reins of an already running operation from Barkley Brothers is a ruthless depiction of owning control just because "they are ni***rs in a nice suit", and the silence of Pea at her first witnessing of gruesome violence is masterfully crafted. Even with three main characters, Alaya Johnson has meticulously rendered the character of Victor and his second in command - Red Man, peeling layers of their characteristics slowly. 🎶.This book is best enjoyed with a bottle of wine and a generous helping of R&B.🎶Thanks to the publishers and netgalley for providing me with an eARC.
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  • Roxana
    January 1, 1970
    Trouble the Saints is an ambitious novel, but one that doesn’t quite reach all of its aspirations. While I was drawn in by the glittering, dangerous world, with its blend of unearthly magics and rich historical reality, as well as by the intriguingly complex characters, the meandering, uneven pace and confusing structure left me cold until the strong ending. The book is divided into three parts, each from a different character’s perspective, each concerned with a different character's choices an Trouble the Saints is an ambitious novel, but one that doesn’t quite reach all of its aspirations. While I was drawn in by the glittering, dangerous world, with its blend of unearthly magics and rich historical reality, as well as by the intriguingly complex characters, the meandering, uneven pace and confusing structure left me cold until the strong ending. The book is divided into three parts, each from a different character’s perspective, each concerned with a different character's choices and destiny, though all follow the same story. We start with Phyllis LeBlanc, Phyllis Green, Pea, as she is variously known, a world-weary assassin with saint’s hands (the fantastical element that is left unexplained for large swaths of the book, tantalizing but unsatisfied until near the end) that give her supernatural dexterity with knives, a skill she puts to use as a mob boss’s “angel of justice.” In Pea’s part of the story, we meet the other two characters who will take up the storytelling mantle eventually, namely Dev, Pea’s half-Indian erstwhile lover whose magical hands give him the ability to trace threats of danger and violence to himself or others, and Tamara, a dancer with a penchant for fortune-telling and aspirations of being the next Josephine Baker. These three, along with a few other memorable characters, wind their narrative way through Manhattan’s violent underworld, the smaller-scale but no less violent politics of small town upstate New York, and the impending doom of America’s entrance into World War II. But the winding narrative doesn’t lay out a course as easily visible or predicable as that makes it sound, and the off-kilter pacing made it hard to get a grip on the story’s bones for far too long; for example, just as I thought I could see the direction things were taking, what I thought would be the major story line was abruptly resolved, only a quarter into the book. Pea’s narrative would have been more enjoyable if it hadn’t come first, but it’s spent too much in just trying to figure out what’s going on and where we’re going from here, leaving little chance to really get to know Phyllis, the lethal angel, who's been passing for white to work for a white mob. It’s Dev’s turn next, and his section is the messiest of the three, with jumps in time that aren’t signified quite well enough, and a sometimes overly would-be poetic voice that was a bit off-putting. By the time we get to Tamara’s story, on the other hand (pardon the pun), we’ve seen her through Pea’s and Dev’s eyes, and that may be why her character and her story are the easiest to grasp and sink into. Tamara’s character feels the most wholly drawn, her struggles and flaws the most real, shot through with a thread of cohesive characterization that Pea and Dev seem to lack. By this time, too, the stylized language feels deliciously dreamy again, as it did in Pea’s first section but not so much in Dev’s; it feels like it serves a purpose, rather than being vaguely symbol-heavy just for its own sake. By the end of Tamara’s section, which is the end of the book, I felt like I’d finally gotten a hold of what Trouble the Saints really is, and what it’s trying to do, and was far more fond of it than I’d been for the first two thirds. The ending, finally, at last, really got me in its hooks, and felt genuinely earned, satisfyingly tragic, heartbreaking and enraging all at once. Trouble the Saints is ultimately an uneven book, both in the range of quality between its three sections and in the literal pacing of the back-and-forth plotlines, but it’s one that still has a lot of strength in it. The world is captivating, the characters are complicated and sharply drawn, and some of the narrative’s turns of phrases are legitimately exquisite. Its supernatural approach to interracial violence and oppression is both original and fascinating, and gives the whole book an electrifying muscularity despite its slippery plotting and uneven structure. It’s one I’d recommend, albeit with reservations.
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  • Not Sarah Connor Writes
    January 1, 1970
    I received an ARC of this book from the publishers in exchange for an honest review."...white people were stultifyingly predictable; if they could not steal it, they would kill it, but they would never, ever let a colored person have it," (Johnson 129).I tried hard to like this book and to finish it in a reasonable amount of time, but when you can't get into the story and have trouble understanding what kind of story you're supposed to be reading it can be tricky. This is why it took me almost a I received an ARC of this book from the publishers in exchange for an honest review."...white people were stultifyingly predictable; if they could not steal it, they would kill it, but they would never, ever let a colored person have it," (Johnson 129).I tried hard to like this book and to finish it in a reasonable amount of time, but when you can't get into the story and have trouble understanding what kind of story you're supposed to be reading it can be tricky. This is why it took me almost a month to finish this book.The summary of Trouble the Saints promises a Night Circus-esque story about Phyllis LeBlanc, a former assassin with saints hands that have given her a gift with throwing knives. Ten years later Phyllis' past has come to her as she's asked by her former boss Victor to carry out one final kill and Phyllis will have to make a choice. This summary however is wrong as it really only details the Phyllis' part, the first third of the book and doesn't even hint at Dev's and Tamara's own parts. Reading the summary you might think that Phyllis is the main character, and while she holds an important place in Dev and Tamara's lives they also get their own perspectives.I'll try to give the best summary I can but honestly it's hard to with this book. All of that assassin stuff is there but the story is also about Dev, Phyllis' former lover who also has saint’s hands and secrets of his own and Tamara, a snake dancer at a club called the Pelican and card reader.And that's all I can tell you really.The book isn't bad, it just isn't executed well. Phyllis, Dev, and Tamara are all interesting characters but the description of the book explains such a small portion of the story as a whole. We get hardly any assassin, fighting, Harlem setting. In fact after the first third of the book we leave Harlem entirely for the country. It just seems like this book tempts readers into a story that isn't there, and it's not that the story is bad just that it was packaged wrong.Phyllis' part was interesting, though again I wanted more of the New York underworld and assassination that the book promised. Dev's part was probably the most confusing, flipping between the past and present without any hint at what timeline readers are supposed to be following. Tamara's part, as the only character without saint's hands, was interesting but felt repetitious with her indecisiveness. I usually like a certain amount of vagueness in the books I read, I like when things are a little murky and the reader has to be the one to understand motivations and symbolism, but this book was too vague. It felt like Johnson was attempting to create something mysterious and deep that just ended up feeling not thought out enough.Trouble the Saints offers an interesting alternate history and a lot of important discussions on race which I really liked about the book, but as a whole it felt rushed. There was just so much information, history, and so much happening (and not happening) that it was hard to wrap my head around what exactly I was reading and it just felt like if this book could have been stretched out into a longer piece, or perhaps even as a part of a series of books a better story could have been told. Johnson has everything here in this book to tell a stellar story but it just needs another pair of eyes to make it perfect.Overall Trouble the Saints wasn't for me. There is so much in this book, had it not been so jam-packed together it could have been fantastic.
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  • Summer
    January 1, 1970
    3.5 Stars. This novel lost a little something for me when it stepped away from Pea’s point of view, had it stuck with her until closer to the end this may have been five stars, as it is, it’s still a memorable read with an ending that packs an emotional punch.Blessed or perhaps cursed with magic hands that make her an elite assassin, Pea spent years believing that the hits she did for a mafia kingpin had honor in them, that she had only killed those truly deserving of it, but as the book unfolds 3.5 Stars. This novel lost a little something for me when it stepped away from Pea’s point of view, had it stuck with her until closer to the end this may have been five stars, as it is, it’s still a memorable read with an ending that packs an emotional punch.Blessed or perhaps cursed with magic hands that make her an elite assassin, Pea spent years believing that the hits she did for a mafia kingpin had honor in them, that she had only killed those truly deserving of it, but as the book unfolds she learns that everything wasn’t as it seemed. While it didn’t bother me that the magic often takes a backseat to other aspects of the story, it should be noted for those readers expecting more of a fantasy novel, there are elements of fantasy but this doesn’t entirely fall into that category. The magic is tied into race and race is very much explored here, the difference between the way light skinned and dark skinned people are treated, how hair and speech affect the way Pea is seen and heard, there’s segregation in hospitals and restaurants and neighborhoods and the prejudice that Pea and Dev experience in their quest for a quiet small town life. There are smaller though still hurtful everyday indignities like a white woman refusing to shake Tamara’s hand and there’s a harrowing atrocity at the end of this book that will stay with you long after you close it.I was interested in Dev attempting to reconcile his and Pea’s violent acts with his Hindu beliefs and I was interested in Tamara wrestling with her conscience, in Walter’s home (Walter is at times referred to as Redman, which is obviously problematic and the book addresses that), those pages were particularly gripping as Tamara came to the realization of what she needed to do. But the thing is, even with the intrigue going on in country life, even with Dev and Tamara’s internal battles, as interesting as section two from Dev’s point of view was and section three from Tamara’s point of view was, I had first met Pea and I was so much more interested in her. That opening section, Pea’s bravery, her swagger, her vulnerability, the dual life she led as a black woman passing for white, as a mafia assassin who is also a loving aunt and sister, and also just even how much more noir everything felt in her POV, I missed all that when we started seeing things through Dev and then Tamara’s eyes. Most of all I missed Pea. Throughout the final two thirds of the novel I found myself going well, where’s Pea? Or when she did appear I craved answers about her, what’s she thinking here? What’s she feeling here? Unfortunately, I couldn’t get those firsthand answers when the book had been given over to Dev and then Tamara, who I liked, but to me, they were thoughtfully crafted secondary characters not main characters, this story much more belonged to Pea and I wish it had been structured to reflect that. I received this ARC through a goodreads giveaway.
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