Review: Bone Street Rumba (Books 1 And 2) by Daniel José Older

Carlos Delacruz is one of the New York Council of the Dead’s most unusual agents—an inbetweener, partially resurrected from a death he barely recalls suffering, after a life that’s missing from his memory. He thinks he is one of a kind—until he encounters other entities walking the fine line between life and death.

One inbetweener is a sorcerer. He’s summoned a horde of implike ngks capable of eliminating spirits, and they’re spreading through the city like a plague. They’ve already taken out some of NYCOD’s finest, leaving Carlos desperate to stop their master before he opens up the entrada to the Underworld—which would destroy the balance between the living and the dead.

But in uncovering this man’s identity, Carlos confronts the truth of his own life—and death … — [X]

Okay, this is my problem with Daniel José Older: why doesn’t he have fifteen hundred books out like my other faves? Why does he insist on creating these incredible worlds and then making me wait. I just …

Yeah, okay, my rant is already too half-hearted and that’s not a real problem anyway.

Basically, I fell in love with Older’s YA debut Shadowshaper, and it began with me being unable to look away from the cover and then, having read the book, being unwilling to leave that world. The sequel is due to be out sometime in 2017 and the wait is agony! So, it’s just as well that Brooklyn is also the setting for Older’s Not-So-YA series*, Bone Street Rumba. (In fact, I believe the second book in this series does mention one of the minor characters from Shadowshaper by her stage name.) And really, there could not have been a better setting, or a better written one. Even if half of the descriptions mention ghosts, Older’s Brooklyn feels like a paper and ink portal to the real deal.

Given Carlos’ unique position in his world, he serves as the perfect mediator between the readers and Brooklyn’s in-between spaces. It also helps that Carlos himself is a pretty fun character to read. He starts off as a less annoying version of a character from some film noir. I say “less annoying” because he isn’t really very broody (mostly just awkward), he isn’t an anti-hero (he shuttles between impulsive behaviour and being frozen by indecision), and he isn’t an emotionless drunk (he’s actually quite expressive, unless he’s in a state of confusion). This is not, of course, to imply that he is flawless–one need only examine the state of his romantic affairs to discern his flaws–but at the same time, these aren’t flaws that are sprinkled in to make Carlos’ character seem interesting. They are part and parcel of Carlos, part of who he is, how he works, and how he lives. As a result, Carlos feels real. His flaws feel real. He doesn’t seem interesting, he is interesting.

That said, I was extremely happy to see that in the sequel to Half-Resurrection Blues–Midnight Taxi Tango–Carlos’ voice isn’t the only one narrating the story. Kia, who we are introduced to in book one, is the second voice and she brings a vitality and depth that no other character possesses. In Carlos’ own words:

Kia is sixteen and will probably rule the world one day.

The moment I met her–um, read her–I knew I wanted a book for Kia, but then Reza happened and … look, we are introduced to a whole slew of fantastic characters in the first book, so really, Older could have picked anyone from that bunch and it might have worked just as well. Instead, he went with a whole new character and I am so glad he did. Reza is just … magnetic. And between her and Kia, you’d expect Carlos to fade away–for a while, he does–but somewhere along the line, hanging out with them actually makes him way more fun to read. Carlos’ character development is almost entirely affected by the women who surround him, and yet, not once do the female characters feel like plot devices to aid the male character on his journey. Kia, Reza, Mama Esther, Sasha–each of them have their own lives and their own priorities.

Now, that said, my only complaint is related to a female character named Angie. For once I am happy with how much/little the Goodreads summary gives away, so without going into the plot too much: Angie is Reza’s once lover. Angie is, also, very much dead. And honestly, there are so many dead people in this series that I wouldn’t have cared very much, except Angie was targeted because she lived on the margins of society and wouldn’t have been missed. It’s tricky because I know that it should be enough that someone died and no one seems to care, but a part of me also feels like more more details on Angie would have worked better–we certainly get more on other dead characters. However! Reza’s grief is still very fresh in her mind. It’s easy to see that the rawness of her pain eclipses any clear memories of Angie–not that she had a lot of quiet moments to reflect anyway**–so I do understand why we couldn’t have more about this character.

Now, in case this wasn’t already clear, this isn’t a YA book. I think it has great crossover appeal, especially for older teen (17/18+?) readers who can stomach some swearing, a fair bit of gore, cockroaches attacking people, and the odd sex scene. (BTW, none of it seemed too graphic, but then maybe I am not the best judge. Hm.) Basically, if you like horror, or mystery, or urban fantasy, or just reading about some wonderfully real relationships born out of some pretty unreal adversities, you had better be reaching for this series. And in case you need more incentive: Older’s writing? Pretty close to poetic. It certainly carries that combination of quiet courage and gentle honesty that, in my opinion, all good poetry contains. Highly recommended!

EDIT! Buy [AudiobookEbook / Print

*I just cannot bring myself to say “adult fiction” anymore. I just. No.

**Have I mentioned that the pacing of these books is quite perfect? Because it is. Just when you feel like you can relax, you’re being strangled by a ghost toddler.

  • Im so happy to see this review, because I’ve become really interested in reading his books in the last few months. He’s super active and smart on twitter, which is a big thing for me.

    • Yash

      Agreed. Older’s Twitter is all kinds of good. And I’m glad the review made you happy. I couldn’t fit in all the things I loved about it, so you’re probably going to be in for a few nice surprises! 🙂 Thank you for taking the time to comment!

  • Pingback: World of Word Craft: Daniel José Older | The Book Wars()