ARC Review: Trouble The Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Thank you to Tor Books for an advance copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. All quotes are taken from an advance readers copy and might change upon publication.

Title: Trouble the Saints
Author: Alaya Dawn Johnson
Publisher: Tor Books
Publishing Date: July 21, 2020
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction

The dangerous magic of The Night Circus meets the powerful historical exploration of The Underground Railroad in this timely and unsettling novel, set against the darkly glamorous backdrop of New York City at the dawn of WWII.

Amidst the whir of city life, a girl from Harlem is drawn into the glittering underworld of Manhattan, where she’s hired to use her knives to strike fear amongst its most dangerous denizens.

But the ghosts from her past are always by her side—and history has appeared on her doorstep to threaten the people she loves most.

Can one woman ever sacrifice enough to save an entire community?

Trouble the Saints is a dazzling, daring novel—a magical love story, a compelling chronicle of interracial tension, and an altogether brilliant and deeply American saga.


“Sometimes, the greatest violence you can do to another person is to love them.” ✨

Trouble the Saints, Alaya Dawn Johnson

Trouble the Saints is a historical fiction with magical realism elements in it. Set in pre-WWII, this book is like a film noir on paper with Alaya Dawn Johnson’s brilliant and captivating writing style, plus her nuanced deeply layered characters. The setting is dark and gritty, with morally gray characters and insinuated topics that are very relevant to the present.

Some people are gifted with hands. From being lucky, highly skilled, removing memories, etc. Phyllis Green, has a talent for knives. Most, if not all, of who has gifted hands are people of color, and they are visited in their dreams by saints and bear them the heavy burden of special hands. And Phyllis wields it for a mafia boss named Victor. She takes lives because she is told it is for justice when she realizes that maybe her version of the truth was slightly skewed.

We are posed with a book with 3 main parts and point of views which the author tied in so perfectly. The story is also very heavily character driven and gives us an important discussion about morality and mortality, racism and prejudice. The hands are bestowed to people of color only and slowly they are getting killed, their hands literally taken from them. And this is such a beautiful euphemism to empower the opressed by giving them literal powers with their hands to push back from white supremacy.

But above all, Trouble the Saints is also a beautiful love story across three characters. Phyllis, Dev and Tamara are imperfect and morally gray characters who are willing to sacrifice for their loved ones. They are eager to do anything for the people around them, even if the price is too high.

Thank you to Tor Books for an advance copy of the book. Literally stole my breath away. I will definitely be watching out for more from Alaya Dawn Johnson.

Book Links:
Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Indiebound

Author information

Alaya Dawn Johnson

Alaya Johnson graduated from Columbia University in 2004 with a BA in East Asian Languages and Cultures. She lives in New York City.

Author Links:
Goodreads | Website | Twitter | Instagram

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