REVIEW: Daughter of the Merciful Deep by Leslye Penelope

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Niamh Kavanagh
Niamh Kavanagh
Niamh Kavanagh is a social media and digital marketing expert, CMO of Dream Machine Foundation, and storyteller with a purpose. She grew Dream Machine to 8M followers and edited videos that raised $750K for charity, earning attention from Oprah, Steve Harvey, and Khloe Kardashian.

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A woman journeys into a submerged world of gods and myth to save her home in this powerful historical fantasy that shines a light on the drowned Black towns of the American South.

“Our home began, as all things do, with a wish.”

Jane Edwards hasn’t spoken since she was eleven years old, when armed riders expelled her family from their hometown along with every other Black resident. Now, twelve years later, she’s found a haven in the all-Black town of Awenasa. But the construction of a dam promises to wash her home under the waters of the new lake.

Jane will do anything to save the community that sheltered her. So, when a man with uncanny abilities arrives in town asking strange questions, she wonders if he might be the key. But as the stranger hints at gods and ancestral magic, Jane is captivated by a bigger mystery. She knows this man. Only the last time she saw him, he was dead. His body laid to rest in a rushing river.

Who is the stranger and what is he really doing in Awenasa? To find those answers, Jane will journey into a sunken world, a land of capricious gods and unsung myths, of salvation and dreams made real. But the flood waters are rising. To gain the miracle she desires, Jane will have to find her voice again and finally face the trauma of the past.

CW – racism, brutal racial violence, lynching, use of disparaging racial terms

Dear Ms. Penelope,

Two years ago, one of our other reviewers read “The Monsters We Defy” which I still haven’t had a chance to read. But I love historicals and am weak for gorgeous covers so when I saw this new book set in the deep South in a predominantly Black town fighting for its existence, I decided to read it first.

Janie Edwards now lives in Awenasa, a small rural town founded by a former enslaved man who grabbed his freedom with both hands and then proceeded to start something magnificent. Using land he worked hard to buy and then helping others build and grow the town, it’s now a nice and (relatively) peaceful place to live. Janie and her family have known the horror of racial violence elsewhere but found refuge here. Now all that is threatened by the building of a dam that will inundate the town and wash away all they’ve achieved. Janie is also keeping a secret – one that chokes her. When she sees the person involved in that secret, she’s stunned. Rob was lynched twelve years ago. How can he be walking around Awenasa and is this involved in some way to save the people and place Janie loves?

There are two halves to this story. One is the relatively normal town of Awenasa and the other a magical world created of African folklore and religion. Separately I enjoyed them, though more so the parts set in Awenasa. However, I don’t think the two blended together well. I would have preferred to see two different stories rather than this sort of clunky mix.

The Awenasa characterizations are done well and I could see this small town come to life. Everyone knows everyone which can be good and bad. People help their neighbors, business people take pride in their stores, the town remembers its founding and celebrates the fact that here is the rare place where Blacks predominate, people aren’t subjected to (as much) racism, and they can dare dream of a better life. The scenes set in the Black church that Janie’s father is the minister of are especially moving. But as with any group of people, there will sometimes be a little friction.

I could understand the dismay and anger when these people are faced with Authority moving in and using eminent domain to force them from their homes, shops, and farms. Many have suffered eviction, fled White mobs (such as Janie’s family), and or suffered/seen racial violence (something the whole Edwards family was subjected to) and now they’re being offered a pittance for their hard work with threats of nothing but eviction if they don’t take that.

The only possible way to save their sanctuary is to put their faith in beliefs that their enslaved ancestors brought with them and which were subverted into Christianity at the hands of their oppressors. But to even have a chance at that, Janie is going to have to face and overcome the dark secrets from her past. Frankly, after a while, I got a bit tired of Janie’s lies of omission, efforts to avoid the past, and constant entreaties for others to carry the load of getting things done. I do like that Janie and her sister Grace aren’t perfect; they have their difficult moments along with just about everyone else. But then Janie becomes the Chosen One who could have powers mightier than anyone else’s if only she’d get off the pot. In the end, the forgiveness that she needs and offers to others is almost too quick and neat given the years that things have festered.

I won’t go into much of the fantastical realm and how it plays out as perhaps the jarring nature between that and Awenasa is what was intended. I also don’t have the background to know if the magical world that is presented is drawn straight from traditional African religion or not.

Yay that Janie does have to finally face the demons from her past and that she gets to “stick it to the Man.” The faint thread of the romance is sweet but not really a major reason to read the story. I love the way the town comes together and yes, I noticed the belief that immigration and diversity are good things. I just wish the two distinct parts of the book had blended together better. C+


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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 25 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there’s no TSTL characters and is currently reading more fantasy and SciFi.

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