Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Review: The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope

The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope
Publication Date: August 9th, 2022
Hardcover. 384 pages.

About The Monsters We Defy:

"A woman able to communicate with spirits must assemble a ragtag crew to pull off a daring heist to save her community in this timely and dazzling historical fantasy that weaves together African American folk magic, history, and romance. 

Washington D. C., 1925 

Clara Johnson talks to spirits, a gift that saved her during her darkest moments in a Washington D. C. jail. Now a curse that’s left her indebted to the cunning spirit world. So, when the Empress, the powerful spirit who holds her debt, offers her an opportunity to gain her freedom, a desperate Clara seizes the chance. The task: steal a magical ring from the wealthiest woman in the District. 

Clara can’t pull off this daring heist alone. She’ll need help from an unlikely team, from a jazz musician capable of hypnotizing with a melody to an aging vaudeville actor who can change his face, to pull off the impossible. But as they encounter increasingly difficult obstacles, a dangerous spirit interferes at every turn. Conflict in the spirit world is leaking into the human one and along D.C’.s legendary Black Broadway, a mystery unfolds—one that not only has repercussions for Clara but all of the city’s residents."

The Monsters We Defy is a delightful, compelling, and creative story filled with spirits, magic, and a captivating 1920s D.C. setting. I  listened to the audiobook format of The Monsters We Defy, narrated by Shayna Small, and I was instantly transported to both the setting and Clara Johnson's world because of how incredibly talented Small's narrative voice as for the characters. 

This book follows Clara Johnson is a strong-willed woman who has the ability to speak with spirits, though she prefers not to when possible, and who occasionally helps people who come to her looking for help with their problems in addition to her own regular job. People are able to receive "gifts" from various willing spirits, but every gift comes with a cost, something that Clara is unfortunately all too familiar with, as she is saddled with her own hefty debt to a spirit known as the Empress for a past request from Clara. 

Our story really kicks off when Clara starts noticing people going missing in her community and, after speaking with the Empress, discovers that she can embark upon a heist to obtain a missing ring for Empire to get the people back and to free Clara from her debt to the Empress. And thus we have our heist plot! Every good heist needs a quirky team to pull it off, and The Monsters We Defy definitely delivers on that front with some truly memorable and charismatic characters such as Zelda, Isaac, and Aristotle who really added so much vibrancy to each scene they were in. 

Clara is a truly stellar protagonist. I loved following her throughout this book because of her bold and confident personality that made her a true joy (and inspiration, at times!) to read about. She hasn't always had the easiest time in her life, but she really does seem to do the best she can and help out those who need it, such as with taking in her friend Zelda and providing her a safe place to stay, despite her claims that they aren't actually friends. It was really fun watching Clara interact with such a wide variety of characters, each with exceptionally unique personalities that really seemed to keep Clara on her toes and showed just how capable and engaging she is as a character. 

The magic and more supernatural elements of The Monsters We Defy were incorporated really well into the story and were so interesting to explore. As mentioned, there are spirits that exist and that only some characters, such as Clara, are able to converse with an really be aware of their existence. Others interact with the spirits through Clara's abilities and receive various favors from them in return for their own favors that often have hidden costs. These abilities come in a variety of different forms, such as Aristotle's ability to shift identities and faces at will, but with the cost that no one will ever be able to remember the real Aristotle. There are a lot of other elements played with in this story that I had a great time learning about, and I think Leslye Penelope really utilized her creativity in an amazing way to develop it. 

As mentioned, I listened to the audiobook format of The Monsters We Defy and absolutely loved it. Shayna Small has a beautiful narrative voice and used her ability to switch up accents and speaking styles to their greatest effect for all of the colorful characters in this book. I always looked forward to settling in with this book because I knew I would be instantly captivated through Small's narration into this story and get to continue following along with Clara on her ever-twisting journey. 

I would like to note that a lot of the general descriptions of this book that I've seen around seem to really highlight the heist aspect of the plot, and while it is there, this really is not a traditional "heist" novel all the way through. However, it is still an incredibly fun, wonderfully paced mini-adventure in D.C. that follows an incredibly memorable cast of characters that are so much fun to follow. I sincerely hope that there will be some sort of sequel because I am just not ready to say goodbye to Clara and the rest of these characters!

Overall, I've given The Monsters We Defy 4.5 stars! I thoroughly enjoyed this book and had an amazing time listening to Shayna Small's narration. Whether you go physical, audio, or ebook, I don't think you can go wrong checking this book out and I highly recommend it! It feels like a great fall read to sink into.

*I received a copy of The Monsters We Defy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Buy the book: Amazon | Bookshop.org


  1. I love the sound of this! I wish I had time to read everything I want to, but there are just too many books😁