Modern Griots Review: Kenya Wright’s “Fire Baptized”

Towns named after on Santeria gods and goddesses in Miami. Supernaturals forced to live in caged cities and branded with symbols. A city of fairies, vampires, trolls, shapeshifters, witches, mermaids, and pixies as pets. A love triangle and a romance between college revolutionaries who are fighting against social system hierarchy. A serial killer detective story. By themselves, each descriptions alone could offshoot into its own story, together they make one that is strangely compelling filled with action, mystery and love. In this urban fantasy novel, the mystical world meets the gritty underworld of strip clubs, seedy street dwellers and crime-ridden poverty.

Kenya Wright‘s novel Fire Baptized follows Lanore Vesta, a mixbreed fairy and demon activist and college student living in the poverty-stricken Shango District. The story begins with her happening to see a murder of a young mother. Forced into solving the murder to stop the serial killer from attacking her and people she knows, she receives help from her playboy rocker, were-cheetah “step-brother” Meshack, and her enigmatic partner from Mixbreeds for Equality, Zulu, for both of whom she has romantic feelings.

Wright is able to seamlessly and excitingly pull different strands together with subtle references to social issues, political issues, history and spirituality. For example, in one scene Lanore speaks about the Black Panthers in her class, describing them as shapeshifting were-felines, and in another, a character’s father is at Guantanamo Bay. She hints at internalized divisions amongst oppressed groups even as they are against the larger oppression. The supernaturals are placed in this small habitat by humans but the supernaturals have separated themselves into districts based on whose pureblood and whose mixed. Also, there are references to institutional discrimination, like the incompetence and indifferent manner of the police force, Habbies, in dealing with crimes that happen to supernaturals, wars and massacres against supernaturals. a blood factory that sells mixies’ blood, and vampires having mixies as voluntary slaves, exchanging low wages for service (including giving their blood), much like in modern capitalism. Additionally, readers are given glimpses into Afro-diasporic spiritual information, like paleros and offerings to the seven African powers.

If you like sex, blood, and magic mixed with sociology and history, this is one book to read. A preview to the sequel to the novel, The Burning Bush, is at the end of the book and is out; I can’t wait to read it, too!

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