Jude is a musician who’s trying to earn enough money to take care of herself and her father. They live in Baton Noir, a city divided into magical Royalty, Subjects and ordinary Citizens (or Scraps, as the slur goes). If you visit Baton Noir you’re likely to cross paths with Pearls, descendants, witches and vampires, and you may even come across some fairies.
When Ivory Monette, the cajou queen, is murdered, she’s determined to find her killer. Ivory can’t investigate her murder alone (on account of her body being interred in her family crypt at St Clémence Cemetery) so she enlists Jude’s help. Not that Jude consented, or was even consulted, before Ivory’s spirit possessed her.
As she looks deeper into this corrupt world of dark magic, superstitions and curses, where charms can make you beautiful, where swamps are home to alligators and nightmares that bite, and jazz music accompanies you wherever you go, Jude finds herself caught up in a whirlwind (hurricane? 😜) of secrets, lies and ghosts of the past.
I connected with Jude, who is an interesting mix of angry, insecure and resilient. I liked Jude’s best friend, Sharkey, and his grandmother, Mops; I wish they had more page time and hope to get to know them better in the sequel. I empathised with Jude’s self destructive father but also wanted to steer clear of him and I searched the pages for an appropriate curse for Jude’s abusive ex-boyfriend, Leeroy.
While I liked Ivory I didn’t feel she reached her villainous potential and instead found myself drawn to the Phantom’s tragic backstory. André, the Phantom of Moonfleet, became my favourite character. I’m always intrigued by a story’s ‘monster’. I love underdogs and want to do a deep dive into their psychology, history, motivations and personality. While I enjoyed getting to know the man behind the mask, I need more; I’d happily curl up with a book that focused solely on his family’s disturbing history.
Characters are trying to cope with a lot of pain in this book as a result of so many difficult experiences including loss, abuse, poverty, mental health, torture and murder. One of my favourite quotes, which I found both difficult to read and oddly beautiful, was
She found herself sinking down under the weight of an old familiar gloom – that big black octopus of despair, pushing its oily tentacles into her heart, mind and soul, looking for weaknesses to be exploited, cracks it might shatter apart and fears to be dwelt on and agonized over.
I could feel the music echoing off the pages from the first song but the music seemed to fade into the background as Jude became more entrenched in Ivory’s mission. The atmosphere was almost tangible in this book and I’m a sucker for mythology so soaked up every snippet of information I found about the various legba and the magical snakes that allow the cajou queen to interact with them. I’m hoping to read a review written by someone from New Orleans, who can comment on its culture and atmosphere with some credibility; that person is not me.
I adored Charlotte Says so would have picked up this book anyway but the amazing cover drew me to it before I knew who wrote it or what it was about. I loved the inclusion of some charms in the design and the snakes were a great choice, especially considering their importance to the story. It would have been perfect if the colours of the snakes matched the pythons in the book; Betty is black and Beau is albino.
I found some of the language used in this book problematic and at times downright cringeworthy. Characters’ skin tones were likened to food items, including “chocolate-coloured”, “creamy”, and “peach”. There was also some antiquated mental health terminology, like “madhouse”, “madness”, “lunatic”, and “madmen”.
Even though I found some of the bigger reveals in the book predictable and the potential romance icky (I’m never a fan of age gaps that exceed half a century) I am definitely interested in reading the sequel. Readers who aren’t a fan of info dumps may find some sections tedious; personally, I came away from this book wanting more history, more mythology, more Phantom!
Thank you to NetGalley and Stripes Publishing, an imprint of Little Tiger Group, for the opportunity to read this book.
Once Upon a Blurb
Jude Lomax scrapes a living playing the trumpet on the neon streets of Baton Noir. Then she is invited to play at the funeral of the infamous cajou queen, Ivory Monette. Passing through the cemetery gates, Jude finds herself possessed by the murdered queen’s spirit. And Ivory won’t rest until she’s found the person responsible for her death.
If Jude wants to be rid of the vengeful spirit, she must take a journey deep into the dangerous underbelly of the city, from the swampy depths of the Black Bayou to the velvet opulence of the vampires’ secret jazz clubs. But as Jude untangles Ivory’s web of secrets, she is confronted with a few dark truths from her own past …