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June 3, 2024

Magic, Myth, and Community Featured in Leslye Penelope's Daughter of the Merciful Deep

by MK French

Jane Edwards hasn’t spoken since armed riders expelled all Black residents from her hometown when she was eleven years old. Twelve years later, she has a home in the all-Black town of Awenasa. The construction of a dam would put the town under a new lake. Desperate to save her community, she talks to a strange yet familiar man coming into town talking about magic. The last time she had seen this man, he was dead, so his appearance brought more questions than answers. She must journey to a sunken world of gods and myth, finding answers before the flood drowns Awenasa.

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book cover of historical fantasy novel Daughter of the Merciful Deep by Leslye Penelope
June 2024; Redhook; 978-0316378222
audio, ebook, print (416 pages); historical fantasy

The events of Jane's past are alluded to at first, and then we see fragments of it in flashbacks. For Black people in the 1920s and 1930s, there was no safety in white authority figures, as they often pointed fingers at Black residents and formed lynch mobs. Awenasa was built by a former slave saving his money and buying up land from his former master, then providing a safe haven for Black people who had been driven from former homes. It's a small town with all the usual small-town foibles, but the threat of the dam flooding their town to create a reservoir sends everyone into a tizzy. If they don't take the offers to have their homes purchased, they would be driven out due to eminent domain to make the reservoir happen. A lot of time and care is taken to establish the town and the relationships, as well as some of the groundwork for the mythology in between the main storyline scenes before the introduction of magic is made.

Similar events had happened to other Black towns, and successful towns had been massacred outright. This historical basis to the plot adds weight to their plight because the reader will realize exactly what will happen if they don't leave the town. Added to this is Jane's confusion as to what her sister Grace is up to, and why she returns after ten years away. The magic system, once explained, comes with a cost that Jane isn't prepared to pay. She carries guilt and hopelessness with her, her voice suppressed no matter how much other people try to her involved. We learn more as Jane does, and magic isn't a cure-all for the town or its people. Problems are everywhere, even in places that take in refugees, as change is difficult. Community and forgiveness are important, and miracles cannot be made by one person alone. 

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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