Book Review: MOJO Conjure Stories, Edited by Nalo Hopkinson

mojo conjure stories editor nalo hopkinson book cover anthology

Mojo: Conjure Stories
Edited by Nalo Hopkinson
Warner Aspect
April 2003
352 pages
*** Review copy paperback purchased online ***

I discovered this anthology many years ago and it was difficult to come by a copy, but I found one online a while back and finally had a chance to dig into its wonderful contents. People who lament the lack of diversity in speculative fiction would do well to pick up this anthology.

The story “Rosamojo” by Kiini Ibura Salaam stuck with me as it was a powerful tale of an abused little girl and the magical abilities she struggles with in the confines of her family. The ending, though a gut-punch, was satisfying.

One of my favourite stories of the anthology was “Lark Till Dawn, Princess” by Barth Anderson about a former drag queen who has relived the last of his glory days and laments the death of his “house mother”, Magnifica the Crimson. This story painted a fascinating look into the drag world that reminded me of the documentary, Paris is Burning.

There’s a very interesting appearance from Papa Legba and some great background about Magnifica’s hidden connections to the voodoo world. This story was a joy to read from start to finish and ended on a note of hope.

“Heartspace” by Steven Barnes concerns a character, Calvin, who despises his father for many good reasons. He agrees to a visit along with his half-sister and at one point describes her as a “crippled pigeon returning home to die,” which I found incredibly poignant. Then his father seems nice and caring and very unlike himself, which we later discover there’s a dark reason for.

Gregory Frost’s story “Prowl” is a tale of an ex-slave who fought during the Civil War and explores the Gullah myths and legends. “Fate” by Jenise Aminoff is about a woman who recounts giving birth to her son, Eshu, who she names after a trickster deity. They both have a bad fall when he’s young and the theme becomes an exploration of how nothing can ever be completely certain in life.

In “Trial Day” by Tananarive Due, a girl’s half-brother is on trial for possibly committing armed robber, but the family is desperate to keep him out of jail, which will almost certainly mean him getting the electric chair while “The Skinned” by Jarla Tangh tells concerns beings known as The Skinned who “prowl the night streets unseen” and who bullets, blades or fire cannot hurt. This story was more rooted in African folklore and had interesting elements.

“Asuquo” by Nnedima Okorafor is about a girl who can fly but has to keep it secret from everyone. She has a “chi”, a soulmate, who isn’t allergic to her, and is told not to find this person. The fact that her entire family is allergic to her presents its challenges, as one might imagine, and this story stayed with me as one of the stand-outs of the volume.

Barbara Hambly, one of the most prolific speculative fiction writers whose works span many different genres, tells the story of Ajax, the main “gang driver” on a Louisiana plantation called Bellebleu. I found it to be a memorable and atmospheric read.

In “White Man’s Trick” by Eliot Fintushel, we explore the role of a white actor in a troupe consisting mainly of African-American actors while Neil Gaiman’s story “Bitter Grounds” deals with a very interesting piece of Haitian folklore via an academic who is about to present a paper on the legend of the Haitian coffee girls, undead children who went door-to-door selling a chicory coffee mix.

Overall, this anthology contains a strong mix of memorable tales with a diverse table of contents and it really deserved to get much bigger fanfare than it did at the time of its release. I hope that more readers who demand increased diversity in their speculative fiction will have a chance to discover this gem.