Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury #BookReview

Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury is the type of book I’ve been waiting for for over 25 years.

This futuristic fantasy about a family of Black witches made my inner tween squeal with joy when I first heard about its publication. From the practice of calling on the ancestors to guide you as you come into your magic to being reliant on the connection with family, Sambury weaves together a tale that’s Blackity Black Black Black.

Book Cover for "Blood Like Magic" by Liselle Sambury
Book Cover for Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury

Blood Like Magic follows Voya Thomas, a newly “called” teenage witch, who is given the task to “destroy her first love” to secure her family’s magic for generations to come. This task comes from her ancestor, Mama Jova, a New Orleans witch who suffered the trauma of being enslaved and wants Voya to learn from the past.

Unfortunately, Voya has two problems: she is plagued with anxiety making it hard to make decisions, and she’s never been in love before. This immediately lets her know that her task will not be an easy one to complete. 

Interpreting “destroy” to mean “kill,” Voya decides to scout out a love match using a “genetic matchmaking” program from the futuristic tech company, NuGene. And this is where she finds a match in Luc, a NuGene intern that’s being sponsored to work by the CEO, Justin Tremblay.

And this is where Sambury’s story got good…

As a lover of magic-themed books, Blood Like Magic is one of the few Black fantasy novels that I’ve encountered that not only centers on the Black experience but also provides a complex magic system. This system exists in a world much like ours where real-world issues, such as violence against the Black community, the plight of Black girls who go missing, and gentrification take place. 

The way Voya’s family is written reminded me of growing up in a multi-generational household with my grandparents, parents, and siblings. Like Voya, this made me hyper-aware of being a part of a family unit and being in tune with everyone around me. To see this aspect of my family reflected in Blood Like Magic made my heart sing.

Author, Liselle Sambury
Author, Liselle Sambury

The author was also obviously careful in easing the reader into her dark fantasy by giving content warnings early on in the print description. This showed me that Sambury cared about her reader’s experience. This extended to the author being mindful of being fully inclusive in the future she dreams up. At various points in Blood Like Magic, readers are shown a positive representation of different types of bodies, sexualities, and ethnic groups all living together harmoniously. 

The only thing that really gave me pause in this novel was the idea that even in the future that Sambury has imagined, being Black is still seen as a threat. 

The violence that came with reading about Voya’s friend, Lauren, who we learn early on has gone missing, is something that frustrated me. Same with the feelings of mistrust that happen between the Black witch families who are marked as “pure” and don’t use violence to yield magic versus the “impure” families who do. In these moments of the narrative, I became frustrated. Even though Sambury does try to clear this up by the end of the novel, it gave me pause when juxtaposed against the solidarity shown for other racial groups in the novel who shun Black witches for their aforementioned violent natures and discord that happens in their community.

When these scenes came up, It made me think that if Black people can’t get along even in the future, what does this say about us?

Overall, though, listening to Blood Like Magic on audiobook was a great way to pass my weekend. Joniece Abbott-Pratt delivers Sambury’s words in a way that had me glued to my headphones.

This book is one I’d recommend for everyone. 

If you enjoyed this novel, I’d recommend reading Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper Cypher trilogy and watching the online show, Juju.

Book Cover for "Shadowshaper" by Daniel José Older
Book Cover for Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

Older’s series, like Sambury, pairs ancestral knowledge with urban life and Caribbean magic to create a masterpiece. Shadowshaper follows Sierra Santiago, a teenager from Bed-Stuy whose family safeguards magic that connects them to spirits via paintings, music, and stories. When disappearances start to happen in her neighborhood and her Abuelo falls ill, Sierra powers are unearthed. This power is tied to a supernatural order her Abuelo is a part of. The only thing is that the anthropologist, Dr. Jonathan Wick, is now after Sierra and her newfound power.

For anyone who’s a fan of audiobooks, grab Older’s series on this medium. Anika Noni Rose performs the series.

If you have access to YouTube or Amazon Prime, check out Juju, a “mystical, dark fantasy” that Jhé “Moon” Ferguson wrote. Following three best friends, Ferguson’s script is a mix between Charmed and Insecure.

Juju is about Ally, Gigi, and Yaya, three Black millennials tackling “Adulting” and being Black women in America. On Ally’s 28th birthday, the women learn that they are the descendant of Yoruba witches who must break a generational curse placed on them by a Salem witch. 

Author,  Daniel José Older
Author, Daniel José Older

Ally is played by Cydni Jenkins and is a descendant of women who practices Santería from Cuba. Her character speaks to anxiety-ridden Millennials who compare themselves to each other. 

Nedge Victome portrays Gigi. This character is a powerful voodoo priestess from Haiti and Louisiana bayou. She’s a seductress who’s not afraid to speak her peace while tearing down the patriarchy. 

Yaya is played by Cassandra Borgella and is the backbone of her friend group. Her character is a descendant of an Obeah woman in the Jamaican mountains. By nature, she is a giver and empathetic healer.

Juju web series trailer

This series showcases the many facets of being a Black woman across the Diaspora with each of the main characters. Featuring themes, like Black mysticism, Black ancestral magic, Black sisterhood, and Black culture, Feguson’S show is a masterpiece.

Author Interview with Desmond Hall, author of “Your Corner Dark”

Thank you to @HearOurVoicesBT and @simonteen for an advanced copy of Your Corner Dark by Desmond Hall and the chance to interview the author!

Synopsis

American Street meets Long Way Down in this searing and gritty debut novel that takes an unflinching look at the harsh realities of gang life in Jamaica and how far a teen is willing to go for family.

Cover of Your Corner Dark by Desmond Hall

Things can change in a second:

The second Frankie Green gets that scholarship letter, he has his ticket out of Jamaica.

The second his longtime crush, Leah, asks him on a date, he’s in trouble.

The second his father gets shot, suddenly nothing else matters.

And the second Frankie joins his uncle’s gang in exchange for paying for his father’s medical bills, there’s no going back…or is there?

As Frankie does things he never thought he’d be capable of, he’s forced to confront the truth of the family and future he was born into—and the ones he wants to build for himself.

Author Interview with Desmond Hall

Adira: Congratulations on your debut novel, Your Corner Dark, Mr. Hall! 

I saw in your talk with Madeline Dyer for 2020’s YA Thriller Con that one of the inspirations behind this novel came from the loss of your uncle in Jamaica. I’d first like to extend my condolences for this personal loss. I know as an artist, drawing on personal pain is sometimes a source of inspiration. But, how were you able to balance grieving while also going through the writing process of telling such a detailed story about gang culture, police brutality, and political intrigue without being sucked back into that headspace?

Desmond Hall: I really like what the great actor Francis McDormand said about her art. She felt she had to figuratively pick at her wounds to keep them fresh, so she’d be able to access her pain, and apply it to her work. She actually dreaded the closing of her psychological wounds. This is a type of method acting that I think applies to writing as well. 

A: So often, the way that many people get introduced to Jamaica is as a country that’s akin to “paradise.” In my course on Globalization and Transnationalism, we watched the documentary Life and Debt, which spoke about how often we as tourists are never seeing the “real” Jamaica or partaking in the actual culture when we come to this island to visit. This made me think of how when reading your novel, readers are introduced to another viewpoint of your homeland that lingers just under Jamaica’s surface in the form of gang culture. Why did you feel that this story was important to talk about as a Jamaican?

DH: Your Corner Dark is a specific story, but also a universal one. The book touches on police brutality, gang culture, defining masculinity, and political intrigue. Those topics are just as relevant here in the States. I’m just telling the truth that I know. 

A: In your talk with Dyer, you mentioned that the title of your book is the Jamaican equivalent of the saying, “between a rock and a hard place.” In true fashion, Frankie is stuck between two worlds. On the one hand, he is a student who aspires to be an engineer and create things that will ease the hardships of he and his neighbors’ lives. Yet, Frankie is also living in a world that wants to box him in and make him become a part of gang culture even though everyone around him acknowledges that Frankie is “too smart” to go down this path. How did you balance telling Frankie’s story between these two realities while making it believable? 

Author Photo of Desmond Hall

DH: I think one of the keys is Frankie’s interiority. We get to know how he experiences the angst of having a father who he feels doesn’t understand him. We understand Frankie’s fear and admiration for a dangerous and charismatic uncle. We sympathize with the evil acts he feels compelled to commit. We also get to feel his shame when he ventures into a social class above his rank, and gets intimidated by sushi.  

A: One of my favorite parts of Your Corner Dark is the usage of Jamaican patois, the “unofficial language of Jamaica.” For me, the richness of this dialect draws from hearing Jamaicans speak their language out loud, similar to how I feel about hearing African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) being spoken. This got me thinking about Nate Marshall’s poetry collection, Finna, where he mentions that AAVE isn’t necessarily a dialect that’s meant to be written down but is meant to be spoken. Did you find a similar issue come up with your characters as you shaped their dialogue?

DH: I’m not familiar with Mr. Marshall’s thoughts on the matter, but I do believe It’s important to note that a lot of Jamaicans speak the Queens English as well as patois (Patwah in Jamaica). We have a lot of fun with the language, verbally, and in written form. In fact, a lot of the newspapers run social commentary cartoons, and the characters often speak in a thick patwah. 

A: I mention this because, at one point in the story, when Frankie hears Leah “chat patois,” he is shocked because he says that some Jamaicans aren’t comfortable with speaking in patois. As a reader who is not an #OwnVoices reviewer, I was unsure if this was indicative of the class issue between Leah and Frankie, which is a topic that comes up several times, or if there was a variation of the dialect that Frankie, a person from the country would speak, versus Leah, who is from the city. 

The Jamaican upper middle class has a tendency to be very conservative, even to the extent of reviling Rastafarians, even though Rastas are featured in our tourism advertising. This disdain also extends to speaking patwah. It’s similar to how some Americans look at the southern drawl (Dolly Parton actually points this out!). Frankie is aware that Leah is from the upper middle class as most kids are in his fancy school, and he worries that Leah may harbor some of those upper middle class tendencies. 

A: In your talk with Dyer, you also mention that Your Corner Dark is your “love letter to Jamaica.” What is the one thing you want your readers to take away from this story?

DH: I want them to understand more the complexity of Jamaica. Seven days and six nights at the resort won’t show people the real Jamaica, even with excursions. 

A: Your background as a screenwriter really shines in this novel! As I was reading Frankie’s story, I was in awe of the fact that so much of the story’s content’s felt as if they are primed to be on the “big screen.” Have you thought of turning this book into a screenplay?

DH: It’s funny you ask because I’d originally written this story as a screenplay, and back in the day, it was a runner up in the IFP Screenwriting contest in NYC.

Over the last few months, we’ve been having meetings with a few TV producers, so we’ll see. 

A: You also mentioned that you moved from Jamaica to Jamaica, Queens in New York City. Does this shift in geographical location have any bearings on the types of stories you write about?

DH: I think all my experiences come into play when I write. I remember talking to the great screenwriter, Budd Schulburg. I asked him how he came up with that great line from the awesome movie, ON THE WATERFRONT. “…I coulda been a contender…instead of a bum.” He said he was in Gleason’s boxing gym, and overheard a palooka saying those words to his manager. Mr. Schulburg said he quickly jotted down the line because he knew he would use it in a script one day. That day didn’t come until many years later, but he knew to catalogue the encounter. Essentially, he was telling me to draw from all my experiences, and use anything relevant to help render the story I want to tell.  

A: What are some of your writing influences or authors you deem as “must-read?”

I’m moved by Richard Price, and how he imbues crime stories with so much humanity. I wish I could be as harshly real as James Baldwin or as deep as Toni Morrison. 

In the YA space, I love reading Jason Reynolds and Courtney Summers.

A: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

DH: 

-Grubstreet is a great writing school. 

-There’s a famous quote about how published authors are the ones who didn’t give up. 

-The SAVE THE CAT book(s) are quick and easy ways to add the power of story structure to your arsenal. If you want a more in depth way, take the Mckee Story Class, and buckle up. 

Thank you so much for your time and for the opportunity to interview you, Mr. Hall!

Author Bio

Desmond Hall was born in Jamaica, West Indies, and moved to Jamaica, Queens. He has worked as a high school biology and English teacher; counseled teenage ex-cons after their release from Rikers Island; and served as Spike Lee’s creative director at Spike DDB. Desmond has served on the board of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and the Advertising Council and judged the One Show, the American Advertising Awards, and the NYC Downtown Short Film Festival. He’s also been named one of Variety magazine’s Top 50 Creatives to Watch. Desmond lives outside of Boston with his wife and two daughters.