I received an ARC of this book from the publishers in exchange for an honest review.
“…white people were stultifyingly predictable; if they could not steal it, they would kill it, but they would never, ever let a colored person have it,” (Johnson 129).
I tried hard to like this book and to finish it in a reasonable amount of time, but when you can’t get into the story and have trouble understanding what kind of story you’re supposed to be reading it can be tricky. This is why it took me almost a month to finish this book.
The summary of Trouble the Saints promises a Night Circus-esque story about Phyllis LeBlanc, a former assassin with saints hands that have given her a gift with throwing knives. Ten years later Phyllis’ past has come to her as she’s asked by her former boss Victor to carry out one final kill and Phyllis will have to make a choice. This summary however is wrong as it really only details the Phyllis’ part, the first third of the book and doesn’t even hint at Dev’s and Tamara’s own parts. Reading the summary you might think that Phyllis is the main character, and while she holds an important place in Dev and Tamara’s lives they also get their own perspectives.
I’ll try to give the best summary I can but honestly it’s hard to with this book. All of that assassin stuff is there but the story is also about Dev, Phyllis’ former lover who also has saint’s hands and secrets of his own and Tamara, a snake dancer at a club called the Pelican and card reader.
And that’s all I can tell you really.
The book isn’t bad, it just isn’t executed well. Phyllis, Dev, and Tamara are all interesting characters but the description of the book explains such a small portion of the story as a whole. We get hardly any assassin, fighting, Harlem setting. In fact after the first third of the book we leave Harlem entirely for the country. It just seems like this book tempts readers into a story that isn’t there, and it’s not that the story is bad just that it was packaged wrong.
Phyllis’ part was interesting, though again I wanted more of the New York underworld and assassination that the book promised. Dev’s part was probably the most confusing, flipping between the past and present without any hint at what timeline readers are supposed to be following. Tamara’s part, as the only character without saint’s hands, was interesting but felt repetitious with her indecisiveness.
I usually like a certain amount of vagueness in the books I read, I like when things are a little murky and the reader has to be the one to understand motivations and symbolism, but this book was too vague. It felt like Johnson was attempting to create something mysterious and deep that just ended up feeling not thought out enough.
Trouble the Saints offers an interesting alternate history and a lot of important discussions on race which I really liked about the book, but as a whole it felt rushed. There was just so much information, history, and so much happening (and not happening) that it was hard to wrap my head around what exactly I was reading and it just felt like if this book could have been stretched out into a longer piece, or perhaps even as a part of a series of books a better story could have been told. Johnson has everything here in this book to tell a stellar story but it just needs another pair of eyes to make it perfect.
Overall Trouble the Saints wasn’t for me. There is so much in this book, had it not been so jam-packed together it could have been fantastic.
Publication: July 21st 2020
Publisher: Tor Books
Pages: 376 pages (ARC)
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Historical Fiction
My Rating: ⛤⛤
“Amidst the whir of city life, a girl from Harlem is drawn into the glittering underworld of Manhattan, where she’s hired to use her knives to strike fear amongst its most dangerous denizens.
But the ghosts from her past are always by her side—and history has appeared on her doorstep to threaten the people she loves most.
Can one woman ever sacrifice enough to save an entire community?”