I am thrilled to be hosting a spot on the BALLAD & DAGGER by Daniel José Older Blog Tour hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. Check out my post and make sure to enter the giveaway!
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.
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.
Title: Ballad and Dagger (Outlaw Saints, #1)
Author: Daniel José Older
Publication Date: May 3, 2022
Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
“iPUNETA!” TIA LUCIA SNAPS AS I HEAD TO MY ROOM TO GET READY for tonight. At first, I think it’s because I’m just in a towel and dripping all over her floor. But no, she’s reading her shells—divination—and her swear means they said something she didn’t want to know.
Tía Lucia looks up and rolls her eyes. My heart sinks. She’s not coming with me tonight—it’s all over her face. And here I am about to be dressed and ready. “You go ’head, Mateo,” she sighs.
“But, Tía . . .”
Tonight is the Grande Fete, the biggest night of the year for us Galeranos, and my aunt has never missed an opportunity to carry on, gossip, and dance the night away. Plus, she’s one of the three members of the Cabildo, our leadership council, and it’ll be a whole thing, her not showing up.
But something in those cowrie shells told her she has more important matters to attend to. She’s been divining for longer than I’ve been alive, and she doesn’t play around when it comes to messages from the spirits. So she shrugs. “Así es.” That’s just what it is.
Thing is: this isn’t just a regular fete. Tonight, Councilwoman Anisette Bisconte will name her successor on the Cabildo, and everyone knows it’ll be Tolo Baracasa. At just eighteen, he’d be the youngest member of our leadership trinity, but he seems like he was born for it. Tolo comes from a long line of pirates and inherited the nightclub we gather in, along with all the nefarious dealings that go with it.
Yeah, yeah, politics, whatever. The real reason tonight matters—to me, anyway—is that because it’s such an important fete, Maestro Grilo Juan Gerval is supposed to be there. It’s one of those rare nights he’s not off performing at concert halls across the world alongside other icons. And that means he’ll hear me play keys. He might even sing! Maybe he’ll realize I’m destined to bring our music to the world along with him, and he’ll pull me out of high school and away from the local festivities circuit to go hit the road, and I’ll just step on into the rest of my music-filled life . . . right?
What’s wrong? Aunt Miriam asks Tía Lucia, shattering my fantasy in a voice that implies an extinction-level event is at hand (she uses this tone at least forty-five times a day). Dead people are a trip, man. Aunt Miriam has been a spirit almost as long as the sixteen years I’ve been alive. She must’ve been a wisp of a woman in life— long and slender, with aggressive cheekbones and a slight smile. Now you can just barely make out those sharp features on her translucent shroud. The harsh glare of our overhead lamps flushes right through her, only glinting slightly off the edges of her spectral form.
She and Tía Lucia and I all live in this tiny apartment off Fulton Street in Little Madrigal, a hidden-away nook at the far end of Brooklyn. It’s just a couple hundred of us and a scattering of Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, and Ecuadorians who mostly mind their own business and don’t mess much with all the weird politics of the people from the lost island.
You’re not going, Lucia? You’re already all made up and pretty!
And it’s true: a colorful silky scarf conceals Tía Lucia’s short bleach-blond curls. Bright purple lipstick shines from her mouth, and she’s done up her cheeks with rouge. That aquamarine eyeliner is the finishing touch, and I know she spent at least an hour standing in front of her vast makeup selection, going back and forth about what color to use. She’s a small, round woman, my aunt, but when she’s armored up in all that regalia and paint, she seems to tower over everyone around her.
“Nada.” Tía Lucia wraps up the shells and shoves a cigar in her mouth. “I’m still going, just a little later.” She only lights that thing when she’s super–stressed out, almost never. Otherwise she just chews on it till it’s mulch and replaces it every once in a while. Gross. She turns to me. “You go ahead without me, Mateo.”
Suddenly, her eyes narrow, and I realize, a second too late, that I’m still just in a towel, dripping all over her, which means an extinction-level event may now actually be at hand—“¿Y MI PISO, COÑO?” Tía Lucia yelps and stands up, and I scatter into my bedroom and close the door before any chancleta torpedoes can fly through it.
I’m pulling on my suit pants—I hate suit pants—and fussing with my phone to pull up my get-ready music when I hear a muffied argument on the other side of the door. Aunt Miriam trying to convince Tía Lucia to go, probably, but also . . . is one of them crying?
This is none of my business.
I hit Play and lean my phone against the mirror as the video of Gerval comes to life and his voice rises over whatever’s happening in the living room.
It’s from a live show a few months ago. They’re covering an old Galerano bolero, some murder song—all these old ditties are either about praising God, falling in love, or murdering someone (sometimes all three at once)—and the band has fallen into a fierce vamp while Gerval stands at the edge of the stage and just lets out a howl. He’s only a year or two older than me, but that howl over those jangling chords sounds like an ancient battle cry, and the crowd devours it, breathless, screaming.
On the small screen, Gerval flashes a wily grin.
And of course he’s grinning: Gerval went and broke the one rule of San Madrigal’s traditional musicians, the kameros: he blew up. We’re supposed to be heard and not seen, you see. Sea espíritu is what people say to kameros before we go onstage. Say-ah espee-ree-tu—be like a spirit, basically, let the light pass through you. It’s from an old instruction manual by one of the back-in-the-day masters, a great-great-great-grandpa of mine, in fact, Archibaldo Coraje Medina. He supposedly lost his mind and started playing creepy, nonsensical music late at night in the plaza, but before that, he was one of San Madrigal’s number one kama composers. Walking around with a name like Archibaldo is probably stressful, though.
Anyway, what a legacy, right?
But I get it: our work isn’t about us, it’s about the music. And personally, I’m much happier vanishing into the shadows. Besides my family and my best friend, Tams, I don’t really know how to talk to people. Unseen works for me.
But Gerval threw together an album of redone Galerano hits in the little music studio on Fulton, and one went viral and suddenly his face was everywhere we looked, grinning from our TV screens and phones, there onstage with some famous pop star that everyone cared about except us, touring the world.
And since he’s been gone, I’ve been the one playing most of the weddings, bar mitzvahs, funerals, which is cool and all but . . . kind of a dead end, no pun intended.
Tonight, though . . . tonight is my chance to jump on board with Gerval and help bring our music to a wider audience. I don’t want to be in the spotlight like him, just one of the guys in the band, there in the shadows, doing what I love.
Daniel José Older is a New York Times best-selling author and story architect. He has published fourteen novels and numerous short stories and essays, and he is a regular comics writer for Star Wars: The High Republic Adventures and Marvel. He won the International Latino Book Award and has been a finalist for the Kirkus Prize, the Mythopoeic Award, the Locus Award, the Andre Norton Award, and the World Fantasy Award. 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, as well as on YouTube, @djolder on Twitter, @danieljose1 on Instagram, and @danieljoseolder on TikTok. He and his family live in New Orleans.
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