One of the Most Enchanting Stories You'll Read All Year!
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.
Jes is a self-proclaimed bookworm, who recently moved from the PNW back to the Midwest. When her nose isn’t in a book, she’s spending time with her husband, two kids, and her three fur babies, or exploring the globe. She also firmly believes that you should start the day with coffee, and end the day in bed with a good book.