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Assassins and Magic Collide in ‘Trouble the Saints’ – Book Review

In a fantasy world set against the backdrop of New York City at the dawn of WWII, a young woman named Phyllis (a.k.a. Pea) is drawn to the dangerous, yet glittering underworld of Manhattan. It is here that she starts to get hired to deal with the city’s most treacherous occupants. However, in this dark new world, her past still finds ways to catch up with her. 

While the past is something that some are able to forget (or at least pretend to), the same cannot be said for Phyllis. Continually dealing with the ghosts of her past, the assassin must make sure to keep those she loves the most out of harm’s way. Of course, this is something that’s easier said than done and Phyllis has to navigate and sacrifice in order to protect her community.

Cover for Trouble the Saints
Cover for Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson (Courtesy of Tor Books)

Alaya Dawn Johnson’s Trouble the Saints is an ambitious novel that I wasn’t expecting. Truth be told, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from the book’s entirety, but upon reading the synopsis, I was instantly intrigued. The moment I saw the book would have magic, a gritty underworld and assassins, I was drawn in. This being said, this was not the only thing to pull me into the book and keep me reading. While the world created by Johnson easily joined historical elements of the time with the fantasy of magic, it seamlessly blended together as though these two things were always meant to be together.

Aside from the history and magic, what really stood out to me in Trouble the Saints was the exploration of both familial and racial trauma. While these topics can be ones that some authors could steer away from or try to avoid, simply focusing on the magic and fantasy aspect of things, Johnson made sure that both were carefully examined, even going into themes of forbidden love. Without giving too much away because you will definitely want to read this book yourself, Johnson does an amazing job of delving into the various themes found within Trouble the Saints and making sure that they are fully fleshed out.  None are explored less than others and each plays an integral role in the overall book. 

By separating the books into different sections that each come from the point-of-views from the characters in the story Pea, Dev and Tamara, readers are fully immersed in their worlds. Not only was it interesting to see everything happen from the eyes of a different character, but I thoroughly enjoyed having that kind of insight and I believe this will be something that other readers of the book will be fond of as well. Johnson expertly depicts all that each character is going through, including the tension they experience and the struggles they each face.

The only element of the book that may be difficult for some readers to keep up with are the various timelines that happen due to visions or flashbacks occurring. While the grand scheme of things, this is not an element that deterred me from my reading. However, it is something that I could see being confusing for some readers. That said, Trouble the Saints has many things going for it.

So, if a noir thriller about assassins and magic, coupled with entertaining characters and a rough criminal underworld sounds like it might be for you, then this novel is definitely one you should read as soon as you can. 

Trouble the Saints is available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indigo and your local independent bookstores.

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