Sister Mother Warrior

Written by Vanessa Riley
Review by Misty Urban

Riley brings to life the Haitian Revolution through the lens of its two most important female protagonists in this thrilling and utterly engrossing saga.

When her West African village is sacked, Abdaraya Toya trains as a Minos, the elite female guard of the Dahomey. As their general, she sacrifices herself to enslavement to protect her king. Once on Saint-Domingue, under the thumb of the brutal Duclos, Toya protects her fellow enslaved and her friend’s son, Janjak, as he works to buy his freedom and win the beautiful Marie-Claire.

Marie-Claire, raised by free parents, grows up watching the Grand and Petit Blancs increasingly restrict the freedoms of the Coloreds and the freed Affranchi, while the enslaved resist with poison or outright revolt. When Janjak is sold to the worst possible fate, Marie-Claire weds the priest Bonheur to give their child a safe future, while Toya escapes to the mountains to join the rebellion sparked by Toussaint Louverture and his charismatic general, Dessalines. As the fight for freedom and justice escalates, Marie-Claire finds herself torn between two loves and the need to minister to the victims of war. Amid horrific violence and soaring success, all three heroes—Toya, Marie-Claire, and Dessalines—will sacrifice parts of themselves to birth a new Hayti that promises liberation for all Black citizens.

Riley’s prose is breathlessly beautiful, the lines clean and vibrant, her images raw and real, whether she is describing lovers eating a mango or Toya felling her foes. The chilling tortures inflicted by enslavers and the French armies are balanced with moments of incredible beauty, tenderness, and joy. A gripping animation of the first successful Black-led democracy in the West as well as a moving exploration of loyalty, passion, and grief, this book sears itself on the consciousness. Highly recommended.