Ballad and Dagger ( Outlaw Saints #1) by Daniel José Older #bookreview #YA #urbanfantasy

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 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. 

I don’t usually post reviews on Wednesdays, but I prefer to post them close to the book release date. May has several new releases of books I’ve gotten from NetGalley, so this will be the norm for the month.

I was first introduced to this author watching a YA book festival zoom panel. After hearing him speak, I immediately wanted to read his books and was thrilled to receive an ARC of his newest release.

Mateo is a piano prodigy and knows exactly what he wants to do with his life – play music. But then he discovers (in a very public way) his destiny is wildly different, and it’s something he can’t escape. Maybe he doesn’t want to when he learns it’s something that could help his people find their original home of San Madrigal. His life is further changed after he witnesses a brutal killing the night of Grand Fete – and he knows the murderer.

In the first pages of the story when Mateo walks the streets of Little Madrigal in Brooklyn, NY, I could easily picture his vibrant community – the sights, sounds, smells, and people. It’s a place I’d love to visit and meet their wonderful blend of citizens – pirates, Cuban Santeros, and Sephardic Jews (and enjoy all that food). But the community isn’t living in harmony at the moment. Power struggles and politics ensue, and battle lines are drawn.

The supporting cast is everything. From Mateo’s aunts (one alive and the other a spirit), to his teasing best friend Tam, and the loyal twins, they add so much to the story. With urban fantasies, world-building can make or break a story, and this is done to perfection. The history, culture, politics, and magic are all well-explained and easy to follow. Pacing is a little uneven in the beginning, but soon moves at a breakneck speed to the end.

Ballad and Dagger has a little bit of everything – ancient secrets, battles, characters easy to root for, romance, rich culture. It’s a bit of a coming of age story that I enjoyed from the first page and look forward to reading more books by this author.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

20 thoughts on “Ballad and Dagger ( Outlaw Saints #1) by Daniel José Older #bookreview #YA #urbanfantasy

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