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Trouble the Saints

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3.45  ·  Rating details ·  949 ratings  ·  285 reviews
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
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Hardcover, 352 pages
Published July 21st 2020 by Tor Books
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Average rating 3.45  · 
Rating details
 ·  949 ratings  ·  285 reviews


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jenny✨
When we return to the wheel of life, you and I, we will find one another again and again... until the colonized and the enslaved and the abused will rise up with the holy strength of the gods behind them and, together, we will make it right.

I feel really conflicted about Trouble the Saints. But I also think it's important to say off the bat: While it wasn't the book for me, I would absolutely still recommend this for its unique exploration into legacies of trauma in BIPOC communities, and to
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Nenia ✨ I yeet my books back and forth ✨ Campbell
Assassin falls in love???? Don't need to hear any more thankssss

Also this is by the author of THE SUMMER PRINCE, which is amazing!
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 *:・゚✧ Isabelle (semi-hiatus)
3.5 stars

Edit (7/21/20): Happy publishing day!

Welcome to assassins and morally grey characters galore!

Trouble the Saints is a story set in New York just as WWII begins to dawn on America. Phyllis, a notorious assassin, wants nothing more than to escape her killing life, but her past isn’t that set on letting her go just yet. Coupled with magic and a bit of supernatural, Trouble the Saints bases itself off a very intriguing premise.

The story is split into three parts, each focusing on a diff
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Litzsiereads
Oh how bad I wanted to love this book!

I just couldn't connect with it. I was looking forward to reading about Phyllis, this bad-ass character who is a black assassin in Harlem that specializes in throwing knives but my interest kept slipping. The timeline, flashbacks and visions had me a bit confused so I couldn't follow the story easily. It also includes two other perspectives which didn't interest me. I think I pictured the story differently from how it turned out and that may be the reason i
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Sahitya
TW: Racism, description of a lynching that happened in the past, violence and murders, many scenes with descriptions of blood

It’s probably more of 3.5 but to be honest, I’m still unsure.

This historical fantasy noir with supernatural elements is so far away from my comfort zone or anything that I ever read, that even I’m surprised to see it on my tbr. But I was very intrigued when I first saw the cover because it’s super pretty and I guess I just wanted to try something different. But now I don’
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Mel (Epic Reading)
Written in three parts from three different POVs, Trouble the Saints is both a commentary on racism and societal rank; as well as a fantasy story that questions the ideas of fate, religion, and free will. Comparing it to The Night Circus really rubs me the wrong way as Night Circus is one of my favourite books ever. While Trouble the Saints was okay, it was no five star read.

Flow & Cohesiveness
The flow just isn't smooth, I believe I would have liked this better if Alaya Dawn Johnson flipped bet
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Lata
This book was challenging. Not because of the three PoV characters. Rather, I had some difficulty telling at times when in the characters' histories a particular event was occurring. However, I did like this book, and really liked characters Phyllis and Dev, the mob boss' assassin bartender, respectively.
The two are constantly skirting danger, using their abilities, their "hands", that allow Phyllis to be a scarily good assassin, and Dev, to sense if someone is targeting him with violence. The
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Mike Dillon
Aug 11, 2020 rated it liked it
Trouble the Saints troubled this reader. Even after reading other reviews, I did not find in this book anything close to what I was expecting. I was hoping for righteous women of color kicking ass and taking names. Or an alternate history of World War II, where soldiers wield magic along with rifles. Or a story of forbidden love, where our young lovers must overcome their obstacles and themselves to be together. I did not find any of these things in Trouble the Saints. What I did find was magnif ...more
ambyr
Me, a third of the way through this book: This really isn't grabbing me.
Me, at the end of this book: Sobbing my heart out.

Look: I have a compulsion to never abandon a book unfinished, and I realize more often than not that this compulsion results in me spending hours of my life slogging through things to no purpose. But every once in a while . . . every once in a while, the need to see things through the end pays off. And that's why I keep doing it.
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Ms. Woc Reader
Jul 23, 2020 rated it it was ok
Assassins? Old Harlem? Noir feel? Sounds like the ingredients to a great story. Instead what I got was a dense and endless tale. I knew this book wasn't for me when I was only 15% in after having read it on and off for a few hours. I did not expect the book to be this disappointing. Pea wasn't even an interesting assassin. She's already given up killing at the start of this book and refuses to kill a woman who is clearly trying to and almost does take her out. Dev was a love sick puppy over Pea. ...more
Trike
A brutally effective and affecting character study in a noir setting, where the issues faced by minorities and immigrants today are focused through the lens of a fantastical alternate bygone era. The metaphor of people of color possessing special abilities being exploited by those in power works incredibly well to underscore the issues of racism and power in our society.

Setting this in New York City just before America enters WWII allows us some distance from the horrors visited upon the main ch
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Sana
Jan 24, 2020 marked it as anti-library  ·  review of another edition
An assassin fighting her fate in an alternate history novel, I WANT
Lauren Stoolfire
I wanted to love Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson so much more than what I did. There are so many elements that practically call my name, especially noir, assassins, and magic. By the time I got to the end of the audiobook though I think I preferred the concept more than the final product. My main issues are that it's much too slow too slow even for me to call a decent slow burn noir, the magic system is not clear enough, and right from the beginning I felt out of the loop as if I were m ...more
Corey
Jun 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
I absolutely loved the entire vibe of this book. Captivating and vividly written, this novel revolves around the themes of racism and forbidden love. Trouble the saints has definitely lived up to the hype and deserves to be one of the most anticipated reads of the year.
Adam
Jul 15, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The world-building in this story is truly fantastic, and easily my favorite aspect of the story. Johnson has also developed the three POV's quite well, and the ill-fated love story is emotionally appealing. The racial issues that were spotlighted were thought-provoking, and made me pause to reflect several times.

However, there were a couple of things I couldn't connect with. There were a few plot choices that I think could have been rearranged that would have made the earlier sections of the boo
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Isa King
Jul 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Fans of Catherynne Valente, Carmen Maria Machado, Rivers Solomon
Truly, what can I say about this book? It's unflinching, gorgeously written, deeply nuanced and deeply felt. Alaya Dawn Johnson has prose that reads like poetry, and a talent for breaking your heart.

Set in 1940s New York, TROUBLE THE SAINTS is divided into three sections that follow three different—but deeply interconnected—characters. Phyllis LeBlanc is an assassin, an angel of justice, for the biggest mob boss in the city. Devajyoti is her barkeep-informant ex-lover. Tamara is his ex-lover, an
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Taryn
Aug 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
A dreamlike fantasy/alternate WWII history about people with magic hands, and the ways they’re forced to use their gifts to benefit the rich, crooked, and powerful. Harlem girl Phyllis’s hands are gifted with deadly speed and accuracy, and she’s been pressed into service as an assassin for a mob boss. She’s ambivalent about her career but soothes her conscience by telling herself she only kills bad people--her boss always gives her the background on her proposed victims and the choice is hers. W ...more
Rachel
Oct 16, 2020 rated it liked it
This was a weird one for me. I almost DNF it in the beginning because it wasn't holding my attention, then in the middle it started to get interesting enough for me to want to keep reading it to find out what was going to happen and then the last third was able to hold my interest and pull on all the emotional strings. I wish that I had felt all the emotions throughout the entire story because honestly, it was a good one.
The magic system was fascinating, the examination of the concept of passin
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Jordan
Mar 30, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2020
*3.5
Find this review at Forever Lost in Literature!

If you're looking for something new in the fantasy genre, then Alaya Dawn Johnson's Trouble the Saints is probably exactly what you're looking for.

Trouble the Saints is an alternate fantasy that takes place right around the beginning of WWII and focuses on Phyllis, a girl from alternate history-Harlem who wants nothing more than to run from her past life and begin anew. The first thing that comes to mind when I think about this book is how immer
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Amanda
Apr 15, 2020 rated it did not like it
I received a copy of this book in a Goodreads giveaway.

Between the comparisons to The Night Circus and the WWII setting, I was really looking forward to reading this book. Turned out I couldn't get away from it fast enough. I was averse to the main character almost immediately and the writing style was so boring it was nearly unreadable. I generally try to give a book at least 50 pages before giving up, but I could not stomach even that much of this one.
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James Wade
Mar 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Some books are just undeniably cool— like, assassins and alternate history cool 😎
Great prose, story, and characters. Loved it!
Jacqie
Feb 10, 2021 rated it liked it
Popsugar 2021: a book with fewer than 1000 reviews

This book is split into three parts with three different POV characters. How much I liked the characters was how much I liked their stories, and I liked the characters in varying degrees. That made it hard to rate this book. I liked Phyllis's part ( the first part) the best, and I'd rate that four stars easily. I really disliked Dev, the second POV, and I had mixed feelings about Tamara's part of the book.

All three of these characters work for a
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Jennifer
Jul 20, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2020, netgalley
Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review!

Two buzzwords for me that makes me want to pick up a book are grey characters and assassins - and wow, this books is filled with those.

While I struggled the first part to really understand the plot, to get the setting and to be able to, in some capacity, know what was going on - the later part of the books had my eyes read as fast as I possibly could. I read half the book in one sitting cause I
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Juan Manuel Sarmiento
Jun 29, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 3-5-stars
What would happen if in the beginning of WWII in New York City, Black families possessed magical abilities best used for murdering?
Enter Phyllis, a black woman wo works as an enforcer and assassin to a mobster. She has the ability to throw knives and always get her target and her wish is to start a new life and get away from her currently life. At least that's the first third of the book because the other two parts focuses on other characters with their own abilities and desires.

Early on we get
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Leah Rachel von Essen
Aug 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: did-not-finish
Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson is a compelling book with fascinating antiheroes. Told in triptych form, covering the perspectives of Pea, an assassin for a mob boss, her former lover Dev, and her best friend Tamara, the novel focuses on an alt history where people of color inherit powers called the "hands", signaled by dreams—powers include a skill for knives and balance, a gift for sensing threats, and more. Johnson paints a rich world featuring Black, Indian, and Native American char ...more
Grace W
Aug 11, 2020 rated it liked it
(C/p from my review on TheStoryGraph) 3.75 I liked it well enough but the pacing was off. I kept getting distracted because while there are moments when it pulls you in, there’s also a lot of moments when it doesn’t and you’re sort of waiting for things to get moving. Just not as great as I hoped.
Emily
Jan 03, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, spec-fic
basically I agree with everything in this review. It was a struggle to "see" the plot and which events were important. Beautifully written, but always like reading through a bit of a fog, so not quite as compelling as it could have been. But in the end, the big questions and ideas do shine through. ...more
Christine Yen
Jan 16, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My heart both hurts and is full. Starts kind of slow, but worth the slog for the angst around morality and the struggle of nonwhite characters existing in a WWII-era America. (Minor complaint: I don't think I like urban fantasy/magical realism much in the best of times, and the "juju" vibes from the era don't help.) ...more
Danielle
I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it's a unique premise and setting that I liked - early WWII-era NYC, complete with mob bosses and sketchy nightclubs, where certain nonwhite people have been blessed with magical "saint's hands" that give them each different abilities. And, our protagonists and POV narrators Phyllis, Dev, and Tamara, are all complex, interesting, and fully realized characters.

However. The magic of the saint's hands and what Phyllis has done with hers is so
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Maria Tane
Hidden sharp knives, questionable morals, doomed love, and a drop of magic imbue an alternate version of Harlem, making for a deliciously dangerous, submersive tale. I might not have fully clicked with the writing and with the way it was structured, but oh this was fun and the first protagonist we get introduced to is splendidly kicking ass in her mid-thirties which is something we need more of in stories since in real life it happens all the time.
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Alaya Johnson graduated from Columbia University in 2004 with a BA in East Asian Languages and Cultures. She lives in New York City.

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