I have a blossoming habit of buying graphic novels, but rarely find the time to read them. I picked up House of Whispers Volume 1: Power Divided from the independent Black-owned bookstore, Sistah Sci-Fi. I wanted to support them on Indie Bookstore Day. I’ve been meaning to start the Sandman novels by Neil Gaiman, but it always felt so daunting! When I came across this volume, it was an instabuy since I’ve been meaning to read something by Nalo Hopkinson. House of Whispers kicked off the Sandman Universe seeing Gaiman work with literary authors to expand his original world.
This new universe story begins with a sort of prelude inside The Dreaming. I’m assuming this is the main world of Sandman where myths and legends all collide with sleeping humans. There is a library within the main castle where every story that may have been lives on thousands of shelves. The realm is in chaos due to a big rift appearing in the sky. Everyone is worried since King Matthew is nowhere to be found. Lucien recruits the Raven to go find the King. The bird can enter the real world by waking up a human and jumping to the other side. As he looks for someone to wake, we meet several characters of The Dreaming like Dora. Unfortunately, the King is no help and makes The Raven forget before delivering the message.
The main story centers around three Black sisters in New Orleans. Latoya tells her two younger sisters that she is moving in with her girlfriend, Maggie. Maggie has a mysterious book on loa and a charm bracelet to give to the sisters. Habibi the youngest flippantly throws the charm into the river. When it hits the water, the alligator god Uncle Monday emerges in chains. The Voodoo goddess Erzulie frees him and becomes connected to these girls. She invites Monday to her House of Dahomey. This is where she hosts a decadent and endless party. We meet an array of beautifully queer and ethnically diverse characters. Through Erzulie’s magic mirror, we watch the girls play a game of telephone. In the supernatural realm, we see the loa Shakpana possess Latoya. Erzulie senses something is off. She uses the power of gossip to locate her mischievous nephew.
Suddenly, the magic goes wrong and the House of Dahomey goes through the rift. After a very rough ride, it lands in The Dreaming near Cain and Abel’s house. In this realm, Erzulie is cut off from her worshippers and becomes weak. She must ask The Dreaming residents for help to figure out how to get back before she fades. Meanwhile, with Erzulie and King Matthew out of the picture, Shakpana releases a deadly disease through Latoya. The rift is affecting the loa, driving them a bit insane. He wants to spread the affliction, which causes souls to be trapped in The Dreaming. In the real world, humans become emotionless zombies. Through Latoya’s touch, this quickly spirals out of control through New Orleans. It’s up to Latoya’s sisters, Erzulie, and other mythical creatures to save the day.
This was my first book written by Nalo Hopkinson. I attended a virtual Afrofuturism panel where she spoke briefly about her collaboration with Gaiman. I’m glad I picked it up as this novel did not disappoint. I actually might need to read it again. The illustrations by Dominke Stanton are so intricate. There’s always so much going on in each panel. Hopkinson’s writing sucks you into Erzulie’s world of voodoo magic and loa gods. The story bounces between the real world and The Dreaming as Shakpana wreaks havoc. This world is brand new to me, but I can sense its expansive. I am excited for Volume 2 to see more of Erzulie before diving into the classic Sandman world from the beginning.
I’d recommend this House of Whispers to Neil Gaiman fans curious about Sandman, but not ready to commit like me. If you’re a big fan of myth retelling, magic, and ensemble fantasy stories, this will be right up your alley too.
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