Book Review: A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney

Buy A Blade So Black (Nightmare-Verse #1):
| Bookshop | |

💔💔💔💔 (four stars as rated in hearts so broken because THAT ENDING 😭)

It’s no easy job slaying demons by night while maintaining the facade of normal teenager by day. And for Alice, whose mother is rapidly losing patience with never knowing her daughter’s whereabouts, the balance between those dueling identities hangs precariously. When Alice’s demon-slaying mentor and friend, Hatta, is poisoned and it’s up to Alice to save him, she must venture into Wonderland, abandoning her life in “the real world” at a rather inopportune moment. Will she and her cast of sidekicks be able to save their friend before it’s too late? And who is the mysterious and dangerous Black Knight who always seems to be a step ahead of them?

“Knowledge is power, and the world is set against you knowing anything, so when someone’s trying to teach you something, pay attention.”

L.L. McKinney, A Blade So Black

It is impossible to remove a book from its context so my review of this book is going to consist mostly of what I realized and experienced while read this book in April of 2021. First, this book was published in 2018 – before most white people – including myself – payed much (if any) mind to anti-racism work, so let’s just be honest about that. I only recently discovered this series and because of that you are now reading this review in 2021, after the murder of Breonna Taylor, after a global protest movement began in the summer of 2020 and – as of less than 24 hours ago and after almost a year of demonstrations – Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all counts for the murder of George Floyd.

Let’s now go back a bit to when, upon A Blade So Black’s initial release, author L.L. McKinney was deemed a mean, angry Black woman by a bunch of fragile white reviewers who decided that, since McKinney had the AUDACITY to call out white people on issues of privilege and race on twitter it was within their right to tank the reviews of her book on Goodreads. This is pretty standard behavior by white supremacists, to be honest. It literally happens to authors of color constantly. I can think of several instances off the top of my head, but that is for another blog post.

Being brand new to #booktwt (book twitter) and relatively new to reviewing, I only learned about this a few weeks ago, just in time for another white author to absolutely lose her shit on reviewers (for giving her a 4.5 rating??), compare her own cancellation to the holocaust and rape culture respectively and then DEMAND that GR take down the negative reviews she received because of her behavior. GR eventually – because of course they did – obliged. The double standard here is absolutely infuriating and really only emphasizes the dangerous power of white fragility.

No such courtesy has ever been extended to L.L. McKinney or any other author of color (to my knowledge) when white supremacists have tanked their reviews. The third book in the Nightmare-verse series, A Crown so Cursed – the ARCs for which haven’t even been released yet, are already receiving 1 star reviews from the people who couldn’t handle being called out on their ignorance in 2018. As usual, Goodreads (and Amazon by extension) is completely silent about this.

If you peruse the one star reviews for A Blade So Black as I have done, you will quickly realize that there is basically one reason for any and all low ratings: white readers were made uncomfortable that this book challenges their idea of privilege or race AND that a Black woman dared to speak up about it. Now that white people, and white feminists especially, have had their big “anti-racism awakening,” where are the apologies for McKinney? Where is the accountability from the black-square-posters and hashtag-i’m-listening-ers that flooded her reviews with hate and threats less than three years ago?

A primary plot point of A Blade So Black is how the death of a young Black girl named Breonne – who was shot and killed at a football game – has shaken the city of Atlanta. Breonne was in high school, Breonne was minding her own business, and Breonne was murdered anyway. In the wake of Breonne’s death, Alice struggles with the responsibility to protect a world that doesn’t do anything to take care of Black women like her and Breonne; a world that, on the contrary, targets, exploits and abuses them. This theme by McKinney is absolutely incredible! I was blown away. We don’t even need to look at the murder of Breonne and say that it is of course reminiscent of the murder of Breonna Taylor. Because the fact is that Black men and women are murdered by police with such frequency that it was just a matter of time before one inexcusable murder or another mirrored Breonne’s. How maddening and disgusting is that!?!? In Breonne we see Atatiana Jefferson, Sandra Bland and – as of mere hours after the Chauvin verdict – Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16 year old girl who was shot by police after calling them for help.

The reality is that Black women are never going to make racism palatable enough of a topic for white fragility – not even if they write it BEAUTIFULLY in an incredibly original and innovative fantasy series as McKinney has done. with A Blade So Black. The fact is that, knowing this, white reviewers like me (and you if you are white and reading this) need to be louder in calling out white supremacist behavior when we see it in publishing, from authors, on blogs, booktwt, bookstagram, etc. It can’t come down to the labor of AOCs to squash an issue perpetuated primarily by whiteness and white people. We need to actually do better and that means stepping tf up. It means elevating marginailized voices. And yes, it may mean missing out on an ARC here or there because when you take a stand against white supremacy it typically denies you some opportunities. Do it anyway. You’ll survive, POC might not.

Realistically, Chauvin’s murder conviction does very little – if anything – to combat systemic racism. The guilty verdict only came about because of the constant protests, the incessant social media campaigns, the civil unrest, the good trouble – the movement led almost entirely by Black women, btw – and because, of course, the murder of George Floyd was caught on camera. So when I say white people need to step it up, what I mean is don’t you dare tell me you’re tired. Don’t you dare tell me you’re scared. Don’t you dare take your foot off the gas. We are only getting started and we need you.

“Promise me you’ll be careful. I know you already are, just”—she lifted her hand from Alice’s knee, made a fist, then forced her fingers loose to pat her knee again, squeezing—“even when you’re careful, even when you play by the rules, it might not be enough. Gotta go the extra mile out here.”

– L.L. McKinney, A Blade So Black
🎤 Own Voices
🦄 YA Fantasy
🏆Strong Female Lead
📚 First in Series

✨ Rep in this book: Black Protagonist, own voices, queer side characters

✨ Content warnings for this book: death of a parent, violence, racism, police brutality, death, war and battle

Buy A Blade So Black (Nightmare-Verse #1):
| Bookshop | |
Image Description: A flat lay featuring the audio book for A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney as seen on the screen of a G7 Thinq phone. To the top left of the phone are a pair of headphones. To the bottom left is Sarah’s hand reaching into the frame and holding a red rose. There is a string of gold beads to the right and playing cards are scattered all around.

About the Author: L.L. McKinney

Named one of The Root’s 100 most influential African Americans of 2020, Leatrice “Elle” McKinney, writing as L.L. McKinney, is an advocate for equality and inclusion in publishing, and the creator of the hashtags #PublishingPaidMe and #WhatWoCWritersHear. 

Elle’s also a gamer, Blerd, and adamant Hei Hei stan, living in Kansas City, spending her free time plagued by her cat–Sir Chester Fluffmire Boopsnoot Purrington Wigglebottom Flooferson III, esquire, Baron o’Butterscotch or #SirChester for short.

Her works include the Nightmare-Verse books, Nubia: Real One through DC, Marvel’s Black Widow: Bad Blood, and more. (Copied from the author’s personal website)

About the Narrator: Jeanette Illidge

I’m Jeanette Illidge (pronounced like you say village but without the v). Welcome to my website! I sing. I act. I love to tell stories. I’ve been performing professionally for a hot minute and I absolutely love it. I’m a certified Army brat from A Little Bit of Everywhere, USA. My parents are from the Caribbean and I embody/envy/let’s go with embody their vibrant cultural heritage ;). I’ve spent most of my adult life in Atlanta, Georgia happily performing on its most prominent regional theatrical stages and also being a photographer/graphic designer. I absolutely believe in the power of dreams and the courage it takes to pursue them. Each and every time hard work pays off and my dreams becomes reality, I feel like the most fearless woman in the world. (Copied from the narrator’s personal website).

Audio-book Review: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐



Published by Sarah

My name is Sarah and I can't imagine my life without books. Actually, I can and it's terrible. I'm also into climbing, video games and bothering the nearest cat.

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