Four gifted women of color inhabit a multigenerational saga of slavery, rebellion, and magic.
The novel begins in present-day Cleveland, as nursing home worker Gaelle is tending to a mysterious resident, known to staff only as Jane Doe, who has an uncanny ability to generate heat—an ability that Gaelle shares. The mute, ancient woman seems to understand Gaelle’s Creole. Gaelle’s story will recur, but the past predominates here. In 1791, Haiti’s slave rebellion is beginning, as escaped slaves known as maroons are mustering forces. Abigail, whose husband, a rebel, is executed by the whites, is taken by her mistress, Ninette, to New Orleans. Soon after arriving, though, Abigail is rescued from slavery by an ancient crone and a seemingly ageless man named Josiah, who educate her in the dark arts. As yellow fever grips 1850s New Orleans, the Hannigan family repairs to their summer residence, Far Water, with enslaved sisters Veronique and Margot in tow. However, the Hannigan fortunes fail thanks to the feckless husband of Catherine, Ninette’s granddaughter, and Veronique and Margot are sold. They embark on the Underground Railroad but only Margot survives the trek to Ohio. There, Margot is ushered into a magical, Shangri-La–like realm called Remembrance, which was founded by Abigail, now a fearsome priestess. She has erected the Edge, an invisible force field around the black community of Remembrance, barring any whites from entry. Josiah is now her chief henchman. However, white bounty hunters are near, and the Edge, due to Abigail’s increasing dementia, is fraying. Abigail strives to pass the torch to her adopted daughter, 18-year-old Winter, who exhibits powers of psychokinesis. (Margot too has a gift, for visceral empathy.) But before Winter is ready, disaster looms. Scenes drag on as characters ruminate over various courses of action. Plans are too often interrupted by happenstance, which, though realistic, is not all that interesting. And the novel subverts its own suspense by revealing crucial facts way too early.
Despite a few rookie missteps, the novel's originality makes it worth reading.