Battle Hill Bolero: A satisfying conclusion to an important series

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Battle Hill Bolero by Daniel José Older urban fantasy book reviewsBattle Hill Bolero by Daniel José Older speculative fiction book reviews urban fantasyBattle Hill Bolero by Daniel José Older

Battle Hill Bolero (2017) is the concluding novel in Daniel José Older’s BONE STREET RUMBA trilogy of urban fantasy novels set amid the hustle and bustle of Brooklyn, NY. While not as strong as the preceding novels, Half-Resurrection Blues (2015) and Midnight Taxi Tango (2016), Battle Hill Bolero does deliver on what Older does best: vibrant and diverse characters, a multi-cultural and multi-faceted city that fully comes to life, and a hefty dose of righteous indignation. Bear in mind that this series really should be read in order, so that you have context for what’s happening, why, and to whom; spoilers for the previous books may be unavoidable, but we’ll try to keep them to a minimum.

Carlos Delacruz, acting as a double agent by pretending to represent the Council but reporting everything he knows to his friends, has been seeing more and more instances of the dead peacefully co-existing with the living — something he’s been told is impossible. Sasha Brass, ridiculously lethal assassin and mother of adorable twins Jackson and Xiomara, has just received disturbing information about her past life, the one before she died and was half-resurrected. After the battles, frustrations, bureaucracy, and heartbreak of the last two books, things seem to have come to a head in Battle Hill Bolero. Renegade squads of Soulcatchers prowl the streets, the Council of the Dead is losing control over the various districts, and rebellion simmers beneath the surface of it all.

Salsa Nocturna: A Bone Street Rumba Collection Kindle Edition by Daniel José Older (Author)

Story collection

Popping in and out of these storylines are some new and returning faces, giving Older an opportunity to show off a little more of his talent for voice and style. Unfamiliar ghosts like Krys and Redd have a few page-scorching interactions with Kia along with their heart-pounding activities as revolutionaries, while Riley and Silvia return to guide the ghosts and Soulcatchers in their missions against the Council. The entire cast of characters is quite long, but actual narration is limited to an accessible number, making it easy to keep track of who’s speaking and what they’re up to. Caitlin Fern even makes a few appearances, and it’s her abruptly abandoned plot line in particular which contributes to my biggest grievance: the mystifying number of plot holes, which make this book read as though entire chapters were removed.

Caitlin deliberately sets up what should be a weighty and exciting battle involving Reza, Sasha’s twins, and the nefarious Blattodeons, and yet all mention of it vanishes from the text until the last few pages. Other characters vaguely refer to past battles or encounters which seem to have taken place between Midnight Taxi Tango and Battle Hill Bolero, events which are necessary to understanding their actions and motivations in Battle Hill Bolero, and really could benefit from more explanation. Older informed me via Twitter that some characters appearing here were first created in a related short story collection, Salsa Nocturna, originally published in 2012 but revised and expanded in early 2017. Some of that expansion apparently includes events that characters allude to, and may even contain the missing Reza storyline; I haven’t read it yet, so I can’t confidently confirm or deny anything. Should you be interested in reading the BONE STREET RUMBA series, I suppose I’d recommend reading Salsa Nocturna before Battle Hill Bolero, or you may end up feeling as lost and confused as I was.

The conclusion, not only to Battle Hill Bolero but the entire trilogy, is still satisfying even with my aforementioned complaints, featuring a few characters from Older’s larger body of work (and a surprise guest appearance). Older’s BONE STREET RUMBA world is populated with believable characters who want the same things as anyone else: the chance to find happiness, to be left alone, to walk down the street without being hassled by authority figures (bogus or otherwise). It’s a timely and essential series from one of the most insightful urban fantasy writers I’ve encountered. Recommended.

A Bone Street Rumba Novel by Daniel José Older

Trilogy

~Jana Nyman


Battle Hill Bolero by Daniel José Older speculative fiction book reviews urban fantasyJana, like you I found this series gripping, with vibrant, complicated characters and a real sense of life in almost every scene. Like you, in this book I was baffled by the disappearance of Reza and the twins, especially when we have a scene with Caitlin setting up a nefarious scheme. After that, all I found was one throw-away line about babysitting near the end. I hope you’re right and we can find that story in Salsa Nocturna. You and I both like Reza as a character, and I was saddened to see her short-changed here.

As with the other two books, Older brings various magical traditions into play and they all work. When Carlos’s friends band together, it is inspiring. I like stories that work as stories while also illuminating human behavior of social issues, Battle Hill Bolero does that. It does not work solely as a metaphor, but can be read as an optimistic anthem to the power of community, communication and art when fighting inequality or political corruption.

I love this world. I love how Older brings music, scent and food into his prose, how the city of Brooklyn seems to hum. I appreciated the un-credited cameo by Sierra Santiago from Older’s YA fantasy Shadowshaper. Even with Reza and the twins getting sent offstage for far too long, I think this book does a good job of wrapping up the story of Carlos and Sasha. Because his characters are so lively and his prose is so good, I’m basically to the point where I will read anything that has Older’s name on it.

~Marion Deeds

Published January 3, 2017. In the third in the “richly detailed and diverse” (io9) urban fantasy series, the time has come for the dead to rise up against the shady powers-that-be… The time has come for the dead to rise up… Trouble is brewing between the Council of the Dead and the ghostly, half-dead, spiritual, and supernatural community they claim to represent. One too many shady deals have gone down in New York City’s streets, and those caught in the crossfire have had enough. It’s time for the Council to be brought down—this time for good. Carlos Delacruz is used to being caught in the middle of things: both as an inbetweener, trapped somewhere between life and death, and as a double agent for the Council. But as his friends begin preparing for an unnatural war against the ghouls in charge, he realizes that more is on the line than ever before—not only for the people he cares about, but for every single soul in Brooklyn, alive or otherwise…

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JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but recently settled in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are Bradbury, James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, and Philip Pullman.

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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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