The Ballad of Perilous Graves

This magical novel (480 pages) was published in January of 2023 by Redhook. The book takes you to a fantastical New Orleans. David read The Ballad of Perilous Graves and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if he didn't recommend it.

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The Ballad of Perilous Graves

Alex Jennings

Real-life New Orleans is a magical place where the veil between this world and the next is as transparent as gossamer. The New Orleans of this unputdownable novel is even more fantastical than that.

The author Alex Jennings isn’t from New Orleans, but, as the saying goes, he got there as soon as he could — because a spirit visited him in a dream and told him to make it his home. He spent ten years applying his imagination to this novel.

Jennings’ New Orleans has voodoo zombies, piano-playing spirits, giant talking nutria, flying streetcars, schools of magic named after jazz musicians, haints, trees that grow Mardi Gras beads, and enchanted graffiti. There are entire neighborhoods populated by the dead or ideas that the city wants to keep alive. Some bars suddenly appear, but only if you’re an artist.

The strangest — and perhaps most dangerous — of all of the unusual phenomena are songs that, under the right conditions, take on a sentient, physical form. They get out and walk around. They talk to people. And they’re powerful.

The story centers on three lovable characters: Perry Graves — failed magician and the Perilous of the title — his little sister Brendy, who is 3’6” of solid attitude, and Peaches, the cute girl who lives in the haunted house a few doors down, possesses super-strength, and disappears for weeks at a time, looking for her long-lost father.

Our heroes get involved in an epic, world-saving quest.

And where there are heroes, there must be, if not villains, then anti-heroes. Which brings us to Casy Ravel and his cousin Jaylon. In their twenties and jaded — by life, by a broken heart, by Katrina — they have solid conversations about the nature of cities and street art.

This book layers high fantasy and YA-ish characters with adult concerns. It’s sprinkled with pop culture references and liberal use of f-bombs, and, somehow, it all really works.

Perry loved The Phantom Tollbooth. Daddy Deke had read it to him and to Brendy years ago. The rise and fall of Daddy Deke’s voice, the way he performed the characters rather than simply reporting what the book said, had fired Perry’s imagination, made him dream of far-off places and people, of taking up a quest of his own—even if such things weren’t possible in real life, certainly not for shy, bookish boys like Perry.

Perry still remembered what Daddy Deke had told them the day he finished reading the final chapter. ‘Let me tell y’all sumn for free: Nola is a pure wonder of a city. You are truly blessed to call it home — but there’s other places out there. Make sure to get out and see ‘em when you can. The city will always be here when ya get back.’ — Alex Jennings

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