Review: Last Canto for the Dead

Last Canto of the Dead (An Outlaw Saints Novel)

by Daniel José Older 

Rick Riordan Presents/Hyperion (imprint of Buena Vista Books, Inc), 2023

Category: Young Adult
Reviewer: Kathryn Hall

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Last Canto of the Dead is the second volume of the Outlaw Saints fantasy series by Daniel José Older. It can be appreciated without reading the first volume, but I highly recommend reading the excellent Ballad & Dagger first for the background and to preserve the chronology. Mateo Matisse and Chela Hidalgo are teenage human embodiments of immortal spirits, fighting to save the people and culture of their island San Madrigal, recently resurrected fifteen years after sinking beneath the Caribbean Sea. The three cultures of San Madrigal derive from the pirates, the Sefaradim and the Santeros (an Afro-Cuban mix of Yoruba religion/folklore and Roman Catholicism). When the island sank, most of the population emigrated to Little Madrigal in Brooklyn, where political differences have erupted into violence. This is a many-layered contemporary romance, with sides of poetry, music, magic, Spanish language, war, death, healing, medicine, history, and a large helping of intra- and interspecies gore.

Chela is the daughter of a rabbi, and the Jewish community is Sephardic, but golems make an appearance. Judaism is intermixed with the other cultures/religions in this fantasy to an extent that non-Jewish readers may not understand and that Jewish readers may find startlingly inauthentic, but that does not diminish the appeal of this singular world.

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Reviewer Kathryn Hall is a retired pediatrician, lifetime member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, volunteer librarian for her synagogue and for her local LGBT+ center, and active in her local PFLAG chapter. She has a special interest in Jewish children's literature with LGBT+ content. She lives in Central California with her husband, the youngest of her three children, and two of her eight grandchildren.