The Monsters We Defy (2022) – Leslye Penelope

Orbit Books conjures a magical and engaging tale with Leslye Penelope’s The Monsters We Defy. While arguably a supernatural heist story, that descriptor merely scratches the surface of the tale as we are introduced to an array of characters, united by Clara Johnson in the vibrant setting of 1920s Washington, D.C.

Clara was born with the gift of second sight, and she helps those who come to her seeking it. She is able to see through to the Other Side, and the beings that inhabit it, including Enigmas who will grant the seeker a charm, but it always comes with a dangerous trick as well.

Penelope creates a vivid world, mentioning and tying in with historical moments and events, bringing to evocative life the fantasy aspects of her tale in a believable way that paints vivid pictures of an existence and a time that isn’t so far away as some would like to believe it is.

It seems there is something spreading through the historic Black Broadway district of Washington. They have become afflicted, disappearing from home and work, and it seems to be spreading. This event is compounded when Clara’s Enigma, calling herself The Empress, comes to her offering her a deal, she’ll be released from her charm (and trick) if she steals a powerful ring from a former opera singer.

Penelope tells a captivating tale, her characters springing to life fully realized form the page, there is humor, tragedy, love and fear, all blending in a compelling read that completely absorbs the reader.

As enjoyable as the tale is, I loved all the little character moments, their arcs, their goals, their needs. Those in the story that have their charm, also have to deal with the curse of their trick, and consequently they are stuck in a catch-22 of their own motivations and desires; Israel a jazz musician held in awe by everyone and consequently unable to connect with them on a human level, or Jessie Lee’s ability to manipulate anyone’s memories to forget or remember but never be remembered by the one he loves.

Combining folklore, magic, history and delightful characters, The Monsters We Defy is a wonderful escape, and the reveals in the final pages of the story, and not to mention those in the author’s notes, make the entire book all the more powerful.

I love how Penelope unfolds her tale, the characters who inhabit it, and the history of the world they live in. I found Clara to be such an instantly relatable character, funny, passionate, filled with self-doubt, and wanting the best for those she cares for.

Penelope tells a wonderful story, and I hope she revisits Clara, her times, and friends and invites us along for the ride.

The Monsters We Defy is a fun, engrossing, and oh so enjoyable read and is coming from Orbit Books on the 9th of August. Pick one up and enjoy!!

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