A spoiler free endorsement.
Daniel José Older is the type of writer that forces you to reevaluate your likes and dislikes for particular (sub)-genres. Up until I read Half-Resurrection Blues, I declared a moratorium on anything even resembling urban fantasy. Most urban fantasy almost supernaturally privileges European myth/folk/legend and leaves zero room for stories or influences from other cultures. Fairy court intrigues, battles amongst the Sidhe, and some kind of blonde or “flowing raven haired” chosen one or outcast or bi-species offspring rule the urban fantasy space to such a degree that reading these books feels like looking at a “No Melanin Allowed” billboard written in fairy dust. With Half-Resurrection Blues, though, Older makes a very bold departure.
Older’s voice is the voice of a writer who is both talented and accomplished, but still enamored of language and how it can be used. While there may be too much profanity for some, there is a playfulness and curiosity to Older’s words that illustrates the author’s dedication to his craft, his narratives, this world.
For more thorough example of what I mentioned, check this out.
Our setting: Brooklyn, NYC. Our hero: Carlos Delacruz. Older’s Brooklyn is contemporary and ancient. It is holding tightly to its multi-cultural past, as it manages the growing pains of rampant gentrification. But amongst the artisanal mayonnaise, handlebar mustaches, and neo-filthy faux dive bars stalks Delacruz — an inbetweener. He straddles the liminal space between life and death, just like the Brooklyn he inhabits.Carlos is a newly resurrected agent for New York’s Council of the Dead. The Council is a spectral bureaucracy tasked with managing the affairs of the dead — and Delacruz is their instrument. Armed with a bravado and recklessness that is both admirable and maddening — not to mention his trusty cane sword — Delacruz dispatches the dead whom the Council deems unfit for the afterlife. Older describes the permanent death of the dead in ways that invited me to think more about death, undeath, halfdeath, and any and every position on the death spectrum — this lead to me really seeing the genuine creepiness and unease beneath the alpha-male testosterone bravado of Half-Resurrection Blues. Underneath the action and adventure, Daniel José Older is asking some of the Big Questions, and presenting some unsettling answers.
The story itself isn’t anything new or revolutionary (the setting and characters are), but it is written in such a way that you cannot help but become engrossed. Carlos, who thinks he is the only inbetweener, is ordered to kill another of his kind. This assassination is the trigger point to a tale that works in multiple genres: urban fantasy, horror, action/adventure, detective, and a love story that is lightweight twisted. The villain, Sarco, who Delacruz and the other inbetweeners are connected to, is what a villain should be. While I had some initial doubts about how Sarco was first introduced, once I saw how he set his plans in motion, I was convinced that he was what Carlos needed to test his resolve. It is easy to show the villain as histrionic, over-the-top, and have them descend into a central bad guy-casting archetype. But Sarco was believable to a point where I almost started to root for him. He was charismatic, brutal, and convicted — like the best villains are. I don’t want to give anything away, but there is a scene with Sarco, a Hasidic Jew, Carlos, and these little demon things called Ngks that made me not ever want to step into another basement.
My only complaint is that Carlos’ love/lust interest, Sasha, is a tad underdeveloped. There is so much to her that I felt cheated that I wasn’t allowed to get to know her better. She was strong, fierce, sexy, and smarter and more connected to the world that Carlos had to play the one down position whenever they shared a scene. Their relationship, as I stated earlier, is twisted. There is one scene that made me say, “damn!” out loud. And there is a revelation near the end of the book that demands a sequel. Hell, the characters and the readers deserve a sequel. There is just too much flavor and WTFs for this to be one book.
But from what I hear, Half-Resurrection Blues is just the beginning of Daniel José Older’s Bone Street Rumba. Whether this is the name of the interconnecting stories of Spectral Brooklyn, or the name of a new urban fantasy movement, us readers will be the better for having more books in this series.
I whole-heartedly endorse Half-Resurrection Blues. Get your copy today.
6 thoughts on “Half-Resurrection Blues: An Endorsement”
I was having the same problem. I was avoiding anything that had fairies, vampires,or a woman, holding a weapon, with a tattoo, anywhere on the cover. I had to make a serious effort to find Urban Fantasy set in other places, with other mythologies.
I found some weird, awesome and excellently written stuff out there:
– Stephen Blackmoore’s Dead Things – Aztec mythology
– Elizabeth Bear- One Eyed Jack- set in modern LA, and a lot like American Gods.
– Neil Gaiman -Anansi Boys
– James Lovegroves has an entire series written about various mythologies called The Pantheon Series
– Kylie Chan’s series, set in modern day China with lots of Martial Arts.
– Liz Williams’ Demon in the City Books, set in China and surrounding countries and no Martial skills at all.
– Cameron Haley- Mob Rules and Skeleton Crew, has a Black/ Hispanic protagonist who is a Sorceress and set in alternate LA.
– Tim Pratt- no fairies
– Ben Aaronovitch’s books have a Black protagonist and a complete lack of Celtic anything, even though it’s set in London.
– Kate Griffin- whose Matthew Swift series is one of the most Urban Urban Fantasy series there is. It’s set in modern London but the magic in these books isn’t based on Celtic mythology but all of modern technology, from cell phones to electricity to traffic noise.
I still read about lots of White American guys cuz they’re a lot of fun but if it involves Celtic mythology, of any kind, I’ve had enough. If it has fairies in it, then at the very least, it better have a unique slant, like being set in Edwardian England ( Marie Brennan) or the American Wild West ( Genma Files’ Spellslinger series, and Emma Bull’s Territory, which btw, contain no fairies and are truly weird westerns. There’s even a series out there about a gunslinger who practices Jewish mysticism. It’s very fine.)
I put everything else in the category of War for The Oaks or Harry Dresden rip offs.
And oh yeah! I bought Older’s book, too.
I really want to read that Aaronvitch stuff. I heard it was really good.
I’ve tended to have the same problem with urban fantasy — I can even forgive all the plots being legal thrillers/detective fiction since I love Max Gladstone, but all the sanitized, white-dominated big cities with the same stereotypical character archetypes . . . When I heard about this, I just knew it was going to be important. Good to see it’s good — he honestly just about won me over with the way he reads out his prose, like it’s slam poetry. There’s so much passion in his work; I think this could be the next Dresden files in terms of hype.
Though above else, I’m just waiting for Shadowshaper — a brown girl with thick hair in a multicultural urban fantasy area with unique magic? Why won’t it come out sooner?
P.S. I love what you guys do here — you articulate diversity in a way that I never could.
Thanks for writing this post. I read Older’s Salsa Nocturna Stories after seeing Older on a panel. Then of course I had to read Half-Resurrection Blues, and now I can’t wait for the next one!
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