Battle 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.
Jana, 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.