Review: Battle Hill Bolero (Bone Street Rumba #3) by Daniel José Older

Trouble is brewing between the Council of the Dead and the ghostly, half-dead, spiritual, and supernatural community they claim to represent. One too many shady deals have gone down in New York City’s streets, and those caught in the crossfire have had enough. It’s time for the Council to be brought down; this time for good.

Carlos Delacruz is used to being caught in the middle of things: both as an inbetweener, trapped somewhere between life and death, and as a double agent for the Council. But as his friends begin preparing for an unnatural war against the ghouls in charge, he realizes that more is on the line than ever before not only for the people he cares about, but for every single soul in Brooklyn, alive or otherwise … — [X]

Thoughts

Unless you’ve only just joined us at The Book Wars, you already know I really enjoy Older’s writing. Like, would-probably-stand-in-line-in-the-cold-for-a-midnight-release-because-my-love-for-his-characters-will-keep-me-warm, kind of enjoyment. I’ve already raved about his YA debut Shadowshaper on here, the companion novella “Ghost Girl In The Corner” over at Book Riot, and I’m eagerly awaiting the second book in the series, Shadowhouse Fall, which is due for a fall release this year!

Until that time, however, I’ve immersed myself in his crossover–okay, it isn’t marketed as crossover, but it totally could be–urban fantasy series: Bone Street Rumba. “Battle Hill Bolero” is the third book in the series, so if you’re even vaguely enticed by the cover and synopsis, you may want to start with “Half-Ressurection Blues” and “Midnight Taxi Tango”. You won’t regret it. I’m not sure if BHB was meant to be the last book in the series–there’s certainly a note of finality in the ending–but regardless of whether or not you like series, I promise you’ll want more once you’re done with this one.

Everything that I have loved in the previous two books, has come back full-force in this third instalment. Older’s love of music and rhythm continues to shine through in the narrative and the dialogue, his deeply nuanced world-building continues to entice and inspire, and his characters–his lovely, flawed, beautiful, brave characters–are guaranteed to stick around in your head for a good long while. It also helps that overthrowing a corrupt council is the main objective of the book; it doesn’t get anymore gripping than that.

If I had to pick a flaw, it would simply be that the book just isn’t long enough. Except, even if it were twice as long, I’d still have the same complaint. It’s rare that I love a book from cover to cover, but yes, “Battle Hill Bolero” is pure, unadulterated awesome.

If I had to pick a thing I loved about the series? Just one? It’s this:

As the covers indicate, the series starts off with Carlos as the protagonist, but ends with Carlos sharing the novel’s narrative with POVs from Sasha and Krys, as well as the villainous Caitlin. And aside from having several incredible female characters be the focus of the novel, we get the return of characters like Kia and Mama Esther and Reza, as well as the addition of brilliant new characters like Redd. We get so many wonderful voices, voices that aren’t typically allowed to speak in most fantasies.

Like the diversity represented in the book, there isn’t a single aspect of Older’s fantasy that isn’t rooted in real life injustices and heroism. Honestly, Bone Street Rumba puts a lot of urban/fantasy writers to shame. If you don’t mind (supposedly) non-YA things like horror/gore and sexuality, I highly recommend “Battle Hill Bolero” and the rest of this fantastic series.

Favourite Quotes

Or perhaps this part should be called: Hey, you, the one who likes writing fantasy! Pay attention, please!

… the fools upstairs been beating us all down with their regulations, brutality, and corruption for long as anyone can remember. We’ve lost more souls than we can count. We’ve petitioned for change and demanded change and in reply they spat in our faces, ransacked our communities, murdered our living relatives. […] We have played by their rules long enough.

Any of this sound familiar? It should. And it’s what I meant by “there isn’t a single aspect of Older’s fantasy that isn’t rooted in real life injustices and heroism”.

Listen, Krys, babychild. You beautiful. You more than fine–you reinvent grace.”

Krys, who has an inconvenient crush on Kia, has a moment of crisis regarding her body. I love the way Mama Esther deals with it, I love the idea of reinventing grace. “Beauty” and all the words that come with it, such as “grace”, are words that are utterly void of diversity, until that is, Mama Esther speaks up.

Like me, Vincent died so violently it tore every memory of his life away. But it was a high-profile case … [Remote District 12] showed him his family, the corner he’d stood on when the cops blew him away, took him to the protests that had erupted in his name. Soon other spirits who’d been killed by cops gathered to him, and the Black Hoodies were born–one of the most badass ghost crews in open defiance of the Council.

Do I need to explain why I love this bit?

*sigh* I have nine more pages that have been dog-eared and I’m already at 868 words and counting, so I’m going to stop now. Basically, if you want to know what a great urban fantasy looks like, this is it. This is the series you need to read. It deals with everything from colonialism, to racism, to transphobia, to body positivity, and much more–and it does all of this without once missing a beat.

Pick. It. Up.

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