Action! Adventure! Swashbuckling! Spectral bazookas! Star-crossed, undead lovers, and a trans pirate ghost! This book has a little something for everyone and a lot of everything to love.
By some strange kismet, this January is full of new books in series I follow or by authors I enjoy, and this entertaining read is the first of the lot. Battle Hill Bolero is the third in Older’s Bone Street Rumba series and it wraps up some of the hanging plot threads, mysteries, and main character arcs that began in Half-Resurrection Blues. Not that everything’s wrapped up with a pretty bow, there are plenty of stories hanging out there in this universe, just ready to be told. But, by the end of the book, the main characters had reached a satisfying resting point, ready to pass the narrative torch to different characters with their own stories to tell.
Being an adolescent sci-fi/fantasy nerd in the 90’s (HS Class of ‘97 represent!) I pretty much came of age along with the urban fantasy genre. I devoured as many as I could get my greedy little hands on (Charles DeLint was a particular fave, though, huh, I haven’t read anything of his for a while now). Around two decades later, I headed in Older’s direction because, frankly, I was more than a little fed up with the old school urban fantasy format.
Every genre has formulas, that’s one of the reasons readers return to their favorite genres again and again; there’s something about it that satisfies that part of our brains that loves stories. And Older’s books tick off many of those same delightful boxes–magic hiding in the corners of our modern world, people who aren’t quite human but aren’t quite monster walking and working side-by-side with people who take their humanity for granted–but they do so through focusing on the people of color, the queer people, the vast and varied assortment of people that a lot of the rest of the genre seems to forget.
Yeah, I was pretty tired of the special, quirky white kids having adventures by appropriating the myths, beliefs, and practices of other cultures. Face it quirky white kids, we’re not that special.
In Battle Hill Bolero there’s nary a white person in sight, and it’s wonderful. This is a Brooklyn, a New York City, that breathes and lives, crackling with energy and life, even though some of its main characters are pretty much dead. Kind of dead. Both living and dead.
My biggest criticism of the book, and the series as a whole, is that I want more. The book moves at a sprinter’s pace, leaping over extraneous details and hinted side-plots as it speeds to its finish. As the plot pulled me along I could see so many intriguing hints, so many scenes that could have been given more time to breathe, moments mentioned in passing because the race was on and the tape was in sight.
As far as criticisms go, that’s not such a bad one to have.
The characters are what will hook you and the characters are what will keep you turning the pages. Each and every one is three dimensional and exploding with life. It was a real joy to open the book and meet again the people I already knew and be introduced to people I would quickly grow to love. Older also skillfully and subtly weaves history and social justice into the fabric of the story; there are allusions to Black Lives Matter, institutional racism, and queer rights throughout the book. Nobody preaches, paragraphs aren’t dedicated to telling the reader how or what they should believe, but the importance of dignity, diversity, and freedom are at the center of the conflicts that comprise the characters’ lives.
At the end of the day, when the last page was turned, Battle Hill Bolero was an exciting, satisfying read. I can’t wait to read what Older comes out with next.