One of the Most Enchanting Stories You'll Read All Year!
The Monsters We Defy Book Cover The Monsters We Defy
Leslye Penelope
Historical Fantasy, Black & African American Fantasy Fiction
August 9, 2022
ebook, paperback, audiobook

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.

"Never make a deal with shadows at night, especially ones that know your name.”

Washington D. C., 1925: Clara Johnson can talk to spirits—a gift that saved her during her darkest moments, now a curse that’s left her indebted to the cunning spirit world. So when a powerful spirit offers her an opportunity to gain her freedom, Clara seizes the chance, no questions asked. The task: steal a magical ring from the wealthiest woman in the District.

Clara can’t pull off this daring heist alone. She’ll need the help of an unlikely team, from a handsome jazz musician able to hypnotize with a melody to an aging actor who can change his face, to pull off the impossible. But as they race along DC’s legendary Black Broadway, conflict in the spirit world begins to leak into the human one—an insidious mystery is unfolding, one that could cost Clara her life and change the fate of an entire city.

Praise for The Monsters We Defy:

"Full of mesmerizing magic, The Monsters We Defy weaves together threads of real history with bits of the utterly fantastic." P. Djèli Clark, author of A Master of Djinn

"Masterfully crafted, with gorgeous prose, colourful characters, and a compelling plot. This smart and entertaining, magical heist novel hits all the right notes!" T.L. Huchu, author of The Library of the Dead

"Leslye Penelope blends magic, mystery, and mayhem in this deliciously complex historical fantasy.” Veronica Henry, author of Bacchanal 

The thing that was coming would play itself out, the way these things always did. Knowing something was going to happen and being able to stop it were two different things.

I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Leslye Penelope in Washington D.C. at Apollycon last month at the end of July. I can absolutely assure you that she is as lovely a person as she is a talented writer. I am forever grateful for being granted the chance at reading an early copy of her latest release, The Monsters We Defy, as this magical story will forever change how I look at historical fantasy from now on.

Set in 1920’s Washington D.C., The Monsters We Defy follows Clara Johnson a young Black woman who was born in caul and therefore possess a special kind of talent to converse with spirits called Enigmas. These Enigmas grant favors called a “Charm” but these favors also come with a “Trick.” Clara is reluctant to use her talents due to the tricky nature of the Enigmas, but when people start disappearing, her patron Enigma, called The Empress, offers Clara a way to help those who have gone missing and in return will help Clara get rid of the Charm and Trick she was bestowed when she was desperate for help of any kind.

“The Emancipation Proclamation freed our bodies, the end of the Civil War liberated us from bondage, but it is up to us to free our minds. Part of that freedom includes finally participating in the ideals of this country, ensuring they apply to us: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

During Clara’s journey to untangle the mystery of the disappearances and to discover who wields the ring that holds so much power, Clara finds others like her who have been given a Charm and a Trick by using her natural born gifts. The group that Clara brings together have different talents: there’s a pickpocket who used to be in the circus and also happens to her roommate, a kind-hearted gentleman who is a master of disguise, a veteran of the Great War who is also a manipulator of memories, and one of the most popular musicians of the D.C. scene who can also manipulate emotions with his music. Think of this motley crew like the gang from Six of Crows—thrown together against the odds but working together to making the impossible possible.

There’s so much more to The Monsters We Defy than the great heist plot. Leslye Penelope weaves African folklore and magic seamlessly with political and racial tensions of the time. There’s also the element of the spirits which are described in such vivid detail that it made made an already wonderfully thrilling plot that much more enticing. Clara’s character is wonderfully developed and written. She’s a woman who has had to carve a living for herself seemingly out of nothing. Clara has got so many things going against her, especially in the period of time where the story takes place.  As more of her history is revealed throughout the story, you’ll begin to realize that the strength in her character has been hard fought for over years. The struggles she has with control and showing her true self to her new friends aren’t out of fear of losing control, but fear for hurting and losing those she holds in the highest esteem.

“What do you want from me, Israel Lee?” He tilted his head and grabbed both her hands, uncurling them so they fit in his own. “Anything you’re willing to give. Your time…A smile…A scowl…I wouldn’t be opposed to a kiss.”

The culmination of The Monsters We Defy will have you at the edge of your seat. I couldn’t put this gorgeous book down. I absolutely loved getting to know Clara, her very spirited (get it? She’s a ghost) grandmother—Mama Octavia, roommate and friend —Zelda, charming musician and the man who steals Clara’s heart—Israel Lee, along with Jesse Lee, and Aristotle too. If I use my powers for good just once and tell you to go out and immediately buy this book, then I hope you listen. Leslye Penelope has created something truly magical with The Monsters We Defy. I fell under her spell, and I hope you will too.