This is the story of three kids from Nola—an alternate, post-apocalyptic New Orleans, where music is magic, the dead drive taxis, and graffiti comes alive—who fight a great evil in the form of a devastating Storm. The Storm is Hurricane Katrina and also possibly a metaphor for generational trauma. It is eternal, but this time it is being brought about by a dangerous rogue Song and an undead bureaucrat. It is killing, one by one, all the other Songs whose magics power the city, and Nola is disappearing.
Perilous Antoine Graves is a young magician who is afraid of his budding power and his music. His sister Brendy, is young enough to have that childlike, illogical ability to see the truth. Perry’s best friend, Peaches, is a semi-magical girl who is very strong and virtually indestructible (and who seems to be based on Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking). Perry is probably in love with her. They are sent on a fairytale-ish quest and must find the courage to make the right choices even when it is not clear what they are choosing between.
The kids are not the only people whose choices effect the Storm. There is Casey who has different lives in different cities, Jaylon who first makes graffiti live, Mama Lisa the Wise Woman, and the ghost of Lafcadio Hearn. They are aided or hindered by the embodiments, or perhaps performers, of the archetypal Songs. But unlike in European fairy tales, they can rely on their family and the songs that are their history and heart. And everyone seems to know that there are no real grown-ups, only big kids, pretending. Everyone has room to grow.
The writing is as magical as Nola. Alex Jennings jumps seamlessly between street dialog and prose with the cadence of myth and music. A quote might be the best description.The kids have never ridden a “dead taxi” before, and perhaps it should be scary. But this is the description of its arrival, from page 157: “Perry heard hoofbeats clopping down the street. The sound didn’t seem quite right to him, though. It sounded—not dishonest, not exactly—but like it was pretending to be hoofbeats so as not to worry anyone.”
The author’s acknowledgments state that he was challenged to write “the Blackest fantasy he could concoct.” I think he succeeded, and now there is a new version of my childhood heroine, who is strong enough to carry a horse, and confident enough to believe her Pirate King father into existence, and has become indisputably Black.