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Overlooked in history

Cover of Sister Mother Warrior
A review of Sister Mother Warrior by Vanessa Riley

Vanessa Riley's new historical novel is a sweeping, powerful story based on the lives of two remarkable women, nearly forgotten in history.

Adbaraya Toya "Gran Toya", was captured as a child when her village in west Africa is overrun by the Kingdom of Dahomey. She's given the choice to become one of their feared women warriors, the Minos, and since the alternative is not great, she takes on the training. Toya not only succeeds at her warrior training, but excels, and she proudly serves her King Tegbesu. But a betrayal leads to her being sold into slavery and sent to the French colony of Saint Domingue in 1758. Toya is sold to a brutal Grand Blanc to work on his sugar plantation. She uses her wits to gain some safety by demonstrating her healing and medical knowledge (and by encouraging a healthy dose of fear in her powers). Among the children on the plantation is Jean-Jacques "Janjak" Dessalines, the son of one of her warrior sisters.  Janjak is smart, strong and confident and she trains him as a warrior in hopes of a better future for all of them. Even as Janjak is growing up, so too is Marie-Claire Bonheur, a free Black woman with complicated relationships with her mother, aunt and grandmother — all of whom have different experiences as women of color in late 18th century Saint Dominigue (present-day Haiti). When Marie-Claire and Janjak meet, their instant and strong bond will form the basis for a lifelong relationship; one that will be tested by time, distance, revolution and war.

This is a gripping story of  an enslaved people gaining freedom; with the emotional connections between the main players as its beating heart. It's well-researched and engrossing and will introduce readers to two incredible, resilient Black women who had a lasting impact on history. Once I was done reading I did a deeper dive into the Haitian revolution and will be reading more on a subject that was mostly new to me.

Aug 29, 2023