Book Review: Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Posted March 21, 2022 by Amber in Reviews / 0 Comments

Trouble the Saints

Trouble the Saints

by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Publisher: Tor Books on July 21, 2020
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Historical, Literary Fiction
Target Age Group: Adult
Representation: Black Authors, Black Character(s), Indian Character(s), LGBTQIAP+ Character(s), Multiracial Character(s), Native Character(s)
Content Warnings: Abortion, Alcohol, Blood, Cannibalism, Cultural Appropriation, Death, Gun Violence, Murder, Pregnancy, Racism, Sexism, Violence, War

Rating: ★★★★

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Amidst the whir of city life, a girl from Harlem is drawn into the glittering underworld of Manhattan, where she’s hired to use her knives to strike fear amongst its most dangerous denizens.

But the ghosts from her past are always by her side—and history has appeared on her doorstep to threaten the people she loves most.

Can one woman ever sacrifice enough to save an entire community?

Trouble the Saints is a dazzling, daring novel—a magical love story, a compelling chronicle of interracial tension, and an altogether brilliant and deeply American saga.

Trouble the Saints is a smoky, velvety historical noir where there is blood on everybody’s hands. It’s compelling. It’s dangerous. It’s excellent.

I will admit that it took me a little while to get into the rhythm of this book. Noirs by nature are slow, and Trouble the Saints is no exception. We take our time getting to know first Phyllis, then Dev, then Tamara. I liked Phyllis’ and Tamara sections of this book equally, but I couldn’t get into Dev’s. The middle of this book is more deep dark secrets than anything else, and while it ultimately serves to give some breadth to the lore of Saints Hands, there were also some grisly, concerning bits that I just didn’t enjoy. Otherwise, the women weaving in and out of the shadows – whether angel of justice or snake dancer – were compelling, dark, and I couldn’t tear myself away from their stories.

Johnson paints the story of a Russian mobster and the tools he leaves behind. While Vic isn’t a main character, his curse literally and figuratively touches every aspect of this book. There is a painful history that ties directly into the lore, that ties directly into our own history in the United States. It’s uncomfortable to read most the time, but it is also the sort of book you feel you have to bear witness to. The characters aren’t likable, they aren’t even forgivable, but they do serve to entertain.

If I had to pick a single favorite aspect about Trouble the Saints, I would choose Johnson’s writing style. It’s smooth and evocative in the best ways. Some writes have such skill they can twirl words around effortlessly, like trails of cigarette spoke and sparkling martini glasses in a speakeasy. Johnson has that skill, and even if I hadn’t enjoyed Trouble the Saints, her writing style would have left me hungry for more of her work.

If you’re a fan of historical fiction or noir, particularly ones with questionable characters and dark secrets, Trouble the Saints is absolutely the book for you. Be warned, though. There is a lot of blood in this book. But, there are also conversations about race, gender, and survival mixed in with the (mostly) off-screen violence and messy relationships. It’s a different book than the sort I usually read, and it reminded me how much I love noir as a genre, especially when it’s done so well.


Rating: 5 out of 5.


Rating: 3.5 out of 5.


Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Personal Enjoyment

Rating: 4 out of 5.


Rating: 4 out of 5.


Rating: 5 out of 5.


Rating: 4 out of 5.
send me your thoughts

Have you read any noir books?

I’ve only read a couple, but I really liked them both! I’d love to read more, do you have favorites?

Share with me in the comments!

stay magical amber

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Other Books Published in July 2020

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Generals and Geniuses - A History of the Manhattan Project




Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson



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