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Outlaw Saints #1

Ballad & Dagger

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Best-selling author Rick Riordan presents Daniel José Older's music-and-magic-filled YA urban fantasy about two teens who discover each other and their powers during a political battle within a unique diaspora community.

"Brimming with mystery, mayhem, and heart, Ballad and Dagger gives us wondrous new magic steeped in deep traditions. It's a gorgeous romance, a wild adventure, and a powerful story that unravels not only the pain of diaspora, but the strength of community and the ways we provide refuge for one another."--Leigh Bardugo, New York Times #1 best-selling author of Shadow and Bone

Almost sixteen years ago, Mateo Matisse's island homeland disappeared into the sea. Weary and hopeless, the survivors of San Madrigal's sinking escaped to New York.

While the rest of his tight-knit Brooklyn diaspora community dreams of someday finding a way back home, Mateo--now a high school junior and piano prodigy living with his two aunts (one who's alive, the other not so much)--is focused on one thing: getting the attention of locally-grown musical legend Gerval. Mateo finally gets his chance on the night of the Grand Fete, an annual party celebrating the blended culture of pirates, Cuban Santeros, and Sephardic Jews that created San Madrigal all those centuries ago.

But the evil that sank their island has finally caught up with them, and on the night of the celebration, Mateo's life is forever changed when he witnesses a brutal murder by a person he thought he knew.

Suddenly Mateo is thrust into an ancient battle that spans years and oceans. Deadly secrets are unraveled and Mateo awakens a power within himself--a power that not only links him to the killer but could also hold the key to unlocking the dark mystery behind his lost homeland.

From the author of the award-winning Shadowshaper Cypher series comes the first novel in the Outlaw Saints duology--a brilliant story that will transport readers to a world where magic, myth, and gods reign over the streets of Brooklyn.

Don't miss these other Rick Riordan Presents titles for all ages:

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia

Paola Santiago and the River of Tears by Tehlor Kay Mejia

384 pages, Hardcover

First published May 3, 2022

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About the author

Daniel José Older

142 books1,905 followers
Daniel José Older is the New York Times bestselling author of the Young Adult series the Shadowshaper Cypher (Scholastic), the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series (Penguin), and the upcoming Middle Grade sci-fi adventure Flood City (Scholastic). He won the International Latino Book Award and has been nominated for the Kirkus Prize, the Mythopoeic Award, the Locus Award, the Andre Norton Award, and yes, the World Fantasy Award. Shadowshaper was named one of Esquire’s 80 Books Every Person Should Read. You can find his thoughts on writing, read dispatches from his decade-long career as an NYC paramedic and hear his music at http://danieljoseolder.net/, on youtube and @djolder on twitter.

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5 stars
343 (23%)
4 stars
582 (40%)
3 stars
408 (28%)
2 stars
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31 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 335 reviews
Profile Image for Rick Riordan.
Author 260 books409k followers
March 3, 2022
Do you remember San Madrigal?

Oh, that beautiful island swallowed by the sea . . . the Atlantis of the Caribbean! The irresistible music of the kameros electrified the tropical evenings. The Grand Fetes swirled with color and joyful chaos: dancing, singing, and drumming; gifts and prayers for the spirits. Platters overflowed with luscious seafood.

Nowhere else in the world had that particularly wonderful mix of humanity—the three “founding” groups of Sefaradim, Santeros, and pirates, and also Indigenous peoples, dispossessed European Jews, and freed West Africans. San Madrigal was a haven from persecution, slavery, and colonial rule. It wasn’t perfect, no, but it was fiercely, proudly independent. A tiny jewel of a country!

And then, fifteen years ago, it disappeared beneath the waves, leaving behind only the diaspora community of Little Madrigal in Brooklyn, New York. I still ache with sorrow when I think about such a loss to the world.

Wait, you say.

You check a map. You Google “San Madrigal.”

Uh, Rick? San Madrigal isn’t real. It never existed.

Balderdash! I say. (Because I am the kind of person who says “Balderdash.”)

Just because a place is fictional doesn’t mean it isn’t real. San Madrigal is a real as Wakanda or the Shire or Earthsea. Once you read Ballad & Dagger, you will see what I mean. Only the best authors can make me feel nostalgic for a place that never existed but needs to exist, and Daniel José Older is one of the best.

In Ballad & Dagger he gives us not only amazing characters, not only a compelling story, not only beautiful prose, humor, and heart—all of which come standard with every Older novel. He also gives us an entire culture—the heritage of a lost island we didn’t know we needed until it had sunk beneath the sea. That, my friends, is powerful writing.

Like all San Madrigaleros, our hero Mateo Matisse is many things. He’s a musician, a healer, a young man in search of his place in the world. He’s also going to be your new best friend as he guides you through the wonderful world of Little Madrigal: a community infused with magic, where spirits live side by side with the living, and where the fractious, pirate-inspired democracy of San Madrigal fights to maintain its culture without its island.

But what if San Madrigal could be raised again? What kind of magic would that require? What kind of sacrifices? These are the questions Matteo Matisse will have to wrestle with in Ballad & Dagger, and he’s going to need his healing skills, because the fight for the soul of San Madrigal is going to open up some very old wounds.

For many years, I have aspired to work with Daniel José Older. I have read all his books. I have been in awe of his breathtaking range. I have longed to find the largest soapbox available, stand upon it, and shout into my megaphone: HEY, EVERYBODY, YOU NEED TO READ THIS GUY!

I am delighted that I finally get to do this. And while any Daniel José Older novel is worth shouting about, Ballad & Dagger is something truly special. The first Rick Riordan Presents novel geared toward young adults, it is also, in my opinion, the most daring, ambitious, and memorable story Older has written yet, and that is saying a lot.

If any magic can raise San Madrigal from the sea again, it is the book you now hold in your hands. Just be warned: once you’ve explored the lost island, you may never want to leave!

Profile Image for Steven.
1,091 reviews393 followers
May 25, 2022
Thanks to Netgalley and Disney Publishing for providing me with an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

Overall, I gave this book 3.5 stars, rounded up. The first half was... a slog. It was slow and political and not much happened. It picked up after that, and I'm really glad that I finished it. The last 30% or so was fantastic - things finally picked up, more powers were used, stuff happened!

I loved the lore of San Madrigal, and I loved the spirits. I wish we'd been able to see more use of the powers and a bit more action in the first half to make it interesting. It was a lot more political than I expected for a YA book.

I loved the POC representation and the cultural aspects of the book.

Will I pick up the sequel? Probably. The end of this one was good enough to warrant that.

Recommended for fans of mythology and Rick Riordan books with patience for slow beginnings.
Profile Image for Dea.
399 reviews
December 10, 2022
The premise was very interesting but the actual story was not. I was just utterly bored from the first till the last chapter.
Profile Image for Ms. Woc Reader.
533 reviews707 followers
May 1, 2022
This was my first Daniel Jose Older book and there was a lot of world building despite the very real world setting. The island of San Madrigal dissappeared below the ocean waves 15 years ago and most of the survivors and their descendants live in a small neighborhood in Brooklyn.

The pacing in the first half was a little bit slow for me but there was something about Mateo and his community that kept me reading. This is a definitely conversation starter for diasporan Caribbean children. Many people don't necessarily want to reflect on the after effects of colonialism and colorism especially with so many island nations pushing this idea of "We're all XYZ nation" while ignoring that the darkest in society still stays at the bottom years after slavery ended. The island of San Madrigal boasts about having never been conquered however it's racial dynamics closely resemble it's Caribbean cousin's that were.

Mateo lives with his Tia Lucia and his ghost tia Miriam while his parents travel the world. I liked how close he was to his tia and the depiction of a non traditional family.

Mateo has this healing magic and his love of music was uniquely tied into that. The story also blends different religions with Sephardim and Santeria equally being observed in their community.And then pirates have their own way of life.

I liked that Mateo was awkward and unsure. So often we read these stories where people discover they have great power and they talk about being unsure but we don't really see and feel it. Mateo finds out he has these powers and he freaks out! He's also experiencing his first big crush on Chela who also has powers she doesn't know how to control. They were so cute together!

While it was a little slow for me in some parts and the world could get confusing at time I did enjoy it.

Profile Image for Alaina.
6,425 reviews215 followers
May 11, 2022
I have received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Ballad & Dagger was completely magical. Way more than I expected it would be. Then again, I don't think Rick Riordan has ever given me a bad book. Hopefully, Daniel keeps doing the same! So, yes, I was very excited to jump into this one and practically screamed all kinds of joy when I saw that I was accepted to do so. It just unfortunately took me forever to finally find the time to read this.

Honestly, I'm mad at myself for waiting so long. I absolutely fell in love with everything within this. Whether it was the vibes of New York City calling my name, a magical missing island that I secretly hope I can walk into, the culture, monsters, or even the magic itself. Seriously, so much was going on that it's kind of hard to pick one thing that I really enjoyed. The entire book was enjoyable, and I can't wait for the sequel to come out.

No, really, I need the next book like right now. I already think it will be a great addition to this series and can't wait for what else Mateo needs to face. Do I think he needs to be thrown into another dark mystery? No, but I will wish for it anyways. I just need a great adventure and it just seems like Mateo will walk into one no matter what.

In the end, I will patiently wait for 2023 to come so that I can get my hands on the next book within this series. I'm so happy that I got the chance to jump into this wonderful book and can't wait for everyone else to read it. Hopefully they enjoy the overall journey as much as I did. Maybe even more.
Profile Image for Sherwood Smith.
Author 150 books37.5k followers
May 3, 2022
The Rick Riordan series goes YA with this deliciously wonderful fantasy set on an island I wish existed, right off Brooklyn. The book gets off to a slow start, as Older builds both an intricate and fascinating world (Santeria, Jewish myths, pirates!) and develops the characters through Mateo, a shy music nerd who is used to nobody noticing him. he likes it that way.

We meet a richly diverse set of characters both young and old as danger threatens the balance of the island, which has been sunk and needs raising . . .

Okay, I just deleted five paragraphs of basically spoilers as I attempted to untangle the complexities of plot and character. I think it's far more fun for the reader to learn San Madrigal's history and rhythms as the pages turn.

Things I appreciated? the gradual rise in stakes and tension to a truly stunning climax. Also, I loved, loved, loved the way Mateo was written, seeing the world in musical terms. I also loved how the Spanglish infusing the narrative adds its own rhythms to the language.

I look forward to more in Older's series, as well as more YA entries in the RR wider series. It's off to a terrific start.

Copy provided by NetGalley
Profile Image for Just Jenna.
7 reviews
June 16, 2022

Something about reading internal character monologue featuring descriptions of people and things like “Stabby McDeath Face” just didn’t work for me. Cringed more times than I could count within the first 10 chapters. Couldn’t bring myself to finish it.
Profile Image for Ember.
146 reviews145 followers
April 28, 2022
This novel wowed me with the amount of gorgeous language and imagery seeping out of every page. From the history and culture of San Madrigal to our protagonist Mateo's deep love for music, each moment of characterization and development of Mateo's life and history are written extensively and beautifully.

Mateo's relationship with his family - specifically Tia Lucia - and his friends were a treat. Tams and Maza were fun side characters that added a bit of depth and comic relief while also serving as their own interesting side story. Juggling various adult characters was a bit tedious at times but it became clearer who was on whose side as the story progressed.

Being a lifelong music nerd, the way Mateo connects to his piano playing was a stunning inclusion to this book. Reading the way his power translates itself in his brain through different types of music from his cultural background was phenomenal.

My qualms lie in the rushed romance aspect of the book and Chela's overall lack of development. While she shares the cover with Mateo and hold equal plot importance, I feel that she as a person remains incredibly understated to the reader, and we don't know much about her aside from her connection to Mateo and how her actions influenced the plot. She felt like less of her own character and more like a means to an end, which disappointed me.

I wasn't expecting this book to tackle themes of diaspora, colonialism, and colorism as deeply as it did, and I was pleasantly surprised at how nothing was held back. The dark and cruel histories of how many of our present-day cultures came to be is the backbone of this book's plot and I was astounded at how it merged so well with the fantastical elements.

Ballad and Dagger was a fantastic and far worthwhile read, and I'll be eagerly anticipating the sequel, although I feel that this book can also easily stand alone.
Profile Image for Flybyreader.
666 reviews162 followers
June 8, 2022
Con una cosa el mundo empieza,
Con una casa se acaba.

With one thing the world begins;
With one thing the world ends.

Ballad&Dagger is the first novel of Outlow Saints duology and the author seems to have planned everything long before the it was published. The book opens with Jack Riordan’s introduction, which is a huge thing for a contemporary fantasy novel and it got my hopes really up and wild. The story combines different cultures, folktales, legends and mesh them into a one hell of a fantasy fiction filled with monstrous action. I loved the amiable characters, story development, whip-smart conversations and Spanish language meshed into dialogs. The minority cultures like Ladino and Sefaradis intermingle with the brand new San Madrigalenos and enrich the whole book with ethnic vibes.
San Madrigal is the Atlantis of this story, a sunken island whose inhabitants now reside in Brooklyn as a diaspora trying to hold onto their cultural heritage. Galerano society is a very spiritual community with their own gods, myths and ghosts waiting to spring into life. As our protagonist Mateo Matisse discovers the secrets of their past and the special powers bestowed upon him, he and his friends embark on an adventure of a lifetime, raising the home island from where it is lost. I really enjoyed this aesthetically designed fantasy universe, enchanting made-up culture and mythical story. I will definitely read the sequel.
Profile Image for Nicholas Perez.
441 reviews97 followers
Want to read
December 6, 2021
A YA fantasy with a Cuban MC. Everything I needed in my childhood!
Profile Image for KayLuvsBooks.
265 reviews29 followers
September 22, 2022
3.5 stars

"What if the dream is what's killing you?"
"If you take poison for long enough, it'll safe your life."

I had mixed feelings with this one. We had a pretty weak start where pretty much nothing happened and we had a lot of info dumping and politics for the first 2/3rds of the book but the last 1/3rd and the ending itself were really strong. I just wish the whole book was like that. I think my biggest problem with this was the writing. At times it could be really beautiful and poetic, and then at other times it was really cheesy and cringy. And yes, I understand that the writing is supposed to reflect the thoughts and feelings of our 16 year old narrator, buuuut it was just a lot and I didn't really like it. I felt like Ballad and Dagger reminded me a lot of In the Heights and the main character, Mateo, reminded me of an older Miguel from Coco.

"Listen to the world. To your own heart. Your spirit. Your song."

I loved all the characters and the whole magic system and world was really cool. I enjoyed the idea of all the different spirits and ancestors and the ending really blew my mind. I really hope we get to see more of the magic and the other saints in the second book and that those ideas really get expanded upon.

"We laugh because it's all we know how to do, and because somehow that's the only response that makes sense in such a mad world."

Despite the fact that I didn't love this, I will definitely be reading the sequel because at this point I am invested and want to see what happens.
19 reviews2 followers
January 15, 2022
Daniel José Older’s worldbuilding in Ballad and Dagger is phenomenal. The way the he fleshed out the intricacies of the history, culture, and politics of Little Madrigal and San Madrigal was just exceptionally done. I loved how this book dealt with lies and legacy and history, and everything that means to the present day.

However, the first half of the book failed to keep my interest; I found it quite slow and hard to get through. The middle picked up a bit, and the end kept me spellbound, but if I wasn’t planning on reviewing the novel, I likely would have put it down before reaching the middle.

3.5 stars

I received an Advance Readers Copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Emmalynn.
1,628 reviews15 followers
August 11, 2022
This book is hard for me to rate because I really like Older’s other work. This one, while I didn’t hate it, I didn’t love it and barely liked it. It just didn’t connect with me. The premise was great, the pacing was okay, the characters though, felt off and maybe that’s where the book went off kilter for me. I know We are supposed to connect with Mateo and walk through this journey of discovery and growth with him as he discovers his magical abilities and how to use them, it just didn’t happen. Tracking down his and Cheka’s origins and the part they will play in bringing back their doomed island was just ehhh

The folklore was good, but not as fleshed out as in his other series (Shadowshapers) which I loved. Overall, I struggled with this one
Profile Image for Dani Kline.
79 reviews
July 11, 2022
No words I write here could ever do justice to Daniel Jose Older's magnificent prose in this book. At first, I found his choice of writing style here odd, but the more I read the more I understood how perfect it was in order to encapsulate the musical nature of the narrator, story, and theme. This is the first YA book under Rick Riordan's imprint, Rick Riordan Presents, and I think it is perfect. I felt like I was reading the YA equivalent of Percy Jackson and the Olympians. The inner and outer dialogue of Mateo, the main character, could easily have been mistaken to be coming from a Percy Jackson variant. This book is the strangest but best combination of Encanto, Coco, Atlantis, and Percy Jackson. The plot was a bit frustrating at the beginning. New pieces of information and crazy events were being thrown at you without any explanations, but that is exactly what was happening to Mateo, too. The reader truly experiences this book solely through the eyes of the main character, feeling everything along with him. And don't even get me started on his relationship to Chela. I loved it from the beginning but it kept getting better and BETTER. Completely unexpected but absolutely fantastic. I could give you paragraphs of just quotes of Mateo describing her that made me want to scream, but I'll let you read the book yourself for that. :)

My playlist (which is an absolute must considering this book is ABOUT music):
Profile Image for Allison.
717 reviews21 followers
July 16, 2022
Ballad and Dagger is based on the intriguing concept of a magical Caribbean Island housing pirates, Santeros, and Jewish expatriates. The island escaped colonialism, protected people from enslavement, and organized through democratic process only to sink beneath the ocean fifteen years ago. Now, the San Madrigal residents are situated in Brooklyn, holding onto community traditions in a new locale. But that doesn't stop the yearning for their lost home. Protagonist Mateo has a unique perspective on unfolding events in his community for a few reasons. First, he grew up abroad with his parents, traveling for their work. He feels rootless and cut off from his culture even though it means a lot to him. Only through music does he feel connected. He also harbors a special connection to one of the three powerful island spirits...and everyone knows about it except him. This story shows the beauty of the island's diverse heritage while also reflecting on the impact of warring factions, colorism, and thirst for power on fragile peace.

How badly I wanted to enjoy this book with such an awesome premise. It's the first under Rick Riordan's imprint geared at young adults, but it still felt very middle grade to me in a lot of ways, making the upper teenage moments awkward once mixed in. Because of that disconnect, I struggled to immerse myself in the story, although I think it has an excellent central idea. Essentially, while there are many young adult books that crossover well for an adult audience, this one either suits a narrower audience that doesn't include me (fair enough, youths), or it might just be disjointed period. But my age was definitely showing when I wanted to yell at these wildly immature hot messes, "ARE YOU BEING SAFE? DID YOU USE YOUR LOGIC BRAIN TODAY? ARE WE PROCESSING OUR FEELINGS IN A RESPONSIBLE WAY?" And every time Mateo was lovelorn after a brief, inexplicable courtship or let himself be distracted from imminent death and destruction by a pretty (and talented and smart and kickass, to be fair) girl, I wanted to smack him upside the head. I'm getting old, in other words. The constant insecurities and crippling self-doubt, info dumps, and extended music metaphors also took up a lot of space, slowing down the plot and leaving me frustrated.

So basically, this book has some powerful plot elements around diaspora and belonging, history and what is kept hidden, and community pride divorced from capitalist greed. If you are fifteen or a benevolent adult, maybe you will be able to reach those messages and appreciate the story. If you don't suffer fools or are a middle school teacher who sees enough unreasonable decision-making on a day-to-day basis, maybe give this one a pass. Thanks to Rick Riordan Presents for my copy to read and review.
Profile Image for T.J. Burns.
Author 83 books44 followers
January 13, 2023
omg-omg-omg! This is what it's all about! This is why I read fiction! Ballad & Dagger was more than just a wild ride -- I mean, yes, it was a wild ride -- an exciting adventure, pure adventurous excitement -- but it was much, much more... A coming of age story with a budding romance; a complex, creative, new mythology; a mysterious, suspenseful plot, complete with backstory and mystical revelations; a colorful, diverse, an interesting supporting cast of characters; music, rhythm, clever dialogue... the whole package.

I could have done without the teaser at the end -- If you thought for one minute, Daniel, that I would need a teaser to entice me to read the sequel, you were deadly wrong. I'm going to read the sequel the second I can get my grubby little hands on it. I want it! I need it! How far along are you, Daniel? You'd better get to it. Tick tick... :)

So, if you haven't figured it out yet, I loved Ballad & Dagger! It was refreshingly original, fun, exciting, and captivating from beginning to end!

I received a copy of this book from Disney Publishing Worldwide in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Cassandra.
719 reviews90 followers
March 23, 2022
*An ARC was provided by NetGalley and Rick Riordan Presents in exchange for an honest review*

Have you ever heard the story of the missing island San Madrigal?

No? Well, then. Do I have the book for you.

In a corner of New York City called Little Madrigal, the orphaned people of this island live and struggle to keep their island's culture alive. Insert magic, monsters, reincarnated saints, and some good old fashioned hijinks, and you've got an idea of what Ballad and Dagger is all about.

With all the tropes and magic we love from Rick Riordan Presents (but make it YA), and a whimsical writing style all its own, Ballad and Dagger is the perfect fantasy novel to disappear into for a afternoon. You'll come out of it with the taste of adobo and magic on your tongue, I promise.

pre-read review

YA (with Cuban rep) published by Uncle Rick.

I didn’t know how badly I needed this until I saw it
Profile Image for TheBookishSkull.
53 reviews
July 18, 2022
If you’re are into music and santería, you’re going to love this book. Sadly, those are not my things. I enjoyed the use of spanglish, because as a Puertorrican I can relate. I also related to some of the cultural references as a latina. But other than that, this was not the book for me.


Si te gusta la música y la santería, este libro te encantará. Lamentablemente, esas no son mis cosas. Disfruté el uso del spanglish, porque como puertorriqueña me identifico. También me identifiqué con algunas de las referencias culturales como latina. Pero aparte de eso, este no era el libro para mí.
Profile Image for Piper Van Ness.
26 reviews3 followers
August 6, 2022
I wanted to like this; I paid for it in my Owlcrate, which normally has great selections. I'm 3/4 through, but I think I will have to quit - which I rarely do - especially this far along. I'm struggling through, caring less and less about the characters in this world that makes no sense.
I like the main character, but none of the other characters. They feel flat and unreal. Just a bunch of blah blah blah. Feels like I wasted a lot of time reading this when I could have spent it reading great, entertaining and engaging work.
Profile Image for Michelle.
332 reviews11 followers
June 19, 2022
DNF'd around 35%

Too many irritants. Its based off current times and the plot feels very convoluted. After the first few chapters its less a cohesive story and more a giant pile of contradictions. Perhaps things knit together the further the story progresses but I found this to be too much of a soap box from which the author proclaims their hatred of current social issues. I prefer my fantasy not tap into current political/social arguments.
Profile Image for Jay DeMoir.
Author 16 books55 followers
December 6, 2022
I love Daniel Jose Older, but I was beyond disappointed in this book. It was so heavy with lore and history, which I really liked and was excited about, but unfortunately the pace was slow and I felt like the stakes weren't high enough. My hopes for this read didn't match the ambition of all this book hoped to tackle and I simply found myself completely uninterested in our main character's fate. I just didn't care. It wasn't enough for me :(
Profile Image for Lauren Stoolfire.
3,733 reviews262 followers
April 5, 2023
Ballad & Dagger (Outlaw Saints #1) by Daniel Jose Older has a great premise and such cool folklore. I particularly loved the idea of it all combined, but the novel itself didn't quite manage to capture me as much as I was hoping it would. I've really enjoyed the author's Shadowshaper Cypher and Bone Street Rumba series, so I think I'll be back for the upcoming sequel.
Profile Image for Cecilyn.
330 reviews7 followers
January 19, 2023
I enjoyed the blend of the different cultures and religions....and especially the roles of spirits and saints in their community members' lives. A very cool thought. The characters were interesting as well. The plot and storyline got a little muddy and confusing at times...I think this book would have benefited from additional time put into developing the details.
Profile Image for Travelling Bookworm.
386 reviews31 followers
November 13, 2022
“For so long, San Madrigal meant freedom to anyone who needed to get away from the ever-watchful eyes of the empire. For the weary exile, the refugee, the persecuted, the outlaw - those cobblestone streets, the tolling bells, the three peaks, all formed a loving embrace.
And then it was just gone.”


A political intrigue as much as a sweet YA fantasy, I would say the strongest aspect of Ballad & Dagger is its beautiful worldbuilding. As I was reading, San Madrigal slowly materialized in front of my eyes, its three peaks reaching out a lush hand to the sky, rising out of turquoise waters, ringing out the daily bustle of its unique people somehow uniting Latin and Jewish cultures with pirates.

And all of that through the eyes of this charming community, who live as refugees in Brooklyn, longing for their diaspora and keeping their culture very much alive. Overall, the plot was very interesting, but a couple of things repeatedly pulled me out of the story.

Firstly, the main character is a complete damsel in distress. Ironically, this is somewhat refreshing in a YA book, considering the main character is a boy, but his clumsiness and insecurity was so overdone at times that it felt like an unfunny bit in a comedy sketch.

Secondly, the half Spanish-half English sentences that appear all throughout the story were too distracting for me. Now, I am also bilingual, and I realize a lot of people who can fluently speak more than one language do this often in their everyday speech (as do I!), but it felt a bit forced at times. Despite my knowledge of Spanish, it was often distracting from the conversation. Now, this might be a completely authentic detail that doesn’t resonate with me only for personal reasons. I completely understand that, but I found that switching languages midway through each sentence just chopped up the dialogue too much.

Overall, a nice mystical fantasy, but nothing to sing songs about.

Profile Image for Tina Varutti.
26 reviews1 follower
June 28, 2022
Ballad & Dagger is a novel with a lot of interesting topics that I wish I could read more about in scientific papers.

It's heavy with lore and history, which I really like, but unfortunately, the pace does not match the ambition here, and I found myself completely uninterested in our main character's fate. There is not a single layer of tension in the plot, everything just happens so fast and easily that the MC himself wonders how he can go on with his life despite his fate. As a musician, I wished music would be used better, but if there is plenty (too much) of it at the beginning, it literally just disappears from the novel toward the end. The writing was okay, but felt a little bit too much or not enough, rather disproportionate, throughout the novel. The attempts at humor often fail, and the attempts at dramatic scenes as well. In between, there aren't many lines left for making up for the big flaws, which is disappointing given that the characters could have been very interesting, either the MC, the antagonist, the BFF, or the love interest, they all seem to have great personalities. We're given hints at their stories but nothing is ever explicit which renders them very flat in the end. In addition, the book also falls into the cliché of romance and if the story between the MC and his love interest did not repeal, I just couldn't find myself interested in them enough to care - and to be honest, that's how I felt about the whole book.

Good point for having a solid lore/background history of the people and their origins, and the impact of diaspora on communities.
Profile Image for Samantha Matherne.
612 reviews53 followers
Shelved as 'abandoned'
June 1, 2022
Maybe my lack of connection with this book is due to coming off the ride that was Spinning Silver, but the first several pages feeling like neverending exposition (or info dumping) is not working for me. I may return to this one later.
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