The Monsters We Defy cover

The Monsters We Defy

“[P]itch perfect, with wit, romance, and a lovable found family.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“This smart and entertaining, magical heist novel hits all the right notes!” ―T.L. Huchu

Audie Award Winner for Best Fantasy Audiobook 2023!
NPR Best Book of 2022! Paste Best Fantasy Book of 2022!
ALA Alex Award Nominee (2023), RUSA CODES Reading List Nominee for Fantasy (2023)

Washington D. C., 1925: Clara Johnson can talk to spirits—a gift that saved her during her darkest moments, now a curse that’s left her indebted to the cunning spirit world. So when a powerful spirit offers her an opportunity to gain her freedom, Clara seizes the chance, no questions asked. The task: steal a magical ring from the wealthiest woman in the District.

Clara can’t pull off this daring heist alone. She’ll need the help of an unlikely team, from a handsome jazz musician able to hypnotize with a melody to an aging actor who can change his face, to pull off the impossible. But as they race along DC’s legendary Black Broadway, conflict in the spirit world begins to leak into the human one—an insidious mystery is unfolding, one that could cost Clara her life and change the fate of an entire city.

Character Art

Monsters character Art

Click to enlarge. (L to R) Jesse Lee, Israel, Clara, Zelda & Aristotle
Illustration by Mlle Pysthache


Penelope’s blend of fantasy and history is pitch perfect, with wit, romance, and a lovable found family thrown in for good measure. Readers will be wowed.”

Publishers Weekly

starred review

In this dazzling fantasy set in 1920s Washington, DC, narrator Shayna Small imbues her voice with the power of spirits and the determination of a Black woman with the power to talk to them… Small’s emotional delivery will draw listeners into Clara’s world of African American folklore and magic.”

AudioFile Magazine

“Leslye Penelope has created a rich and immersive world, set in an enchanting 1920s Washington DC full of jazz musicians, elite Black social organizations, fairy balls, bootleggers, lady gangster bosses, and mesmerizing magic! It’s a story that weaves together threads of real history with bits of the utterly fantastic. The Monsters We Defy will keep you turning the pages and wanting more!”

P. Djèli Clark


“The 1920s have a great deal to say to the 2020s about justice and whose lives are seen as being worth more than others. Stolen destinies, dubious bargains, and unlikely groups of allies, all in a city whose history deserves more fame: this is a fresh and engaging take on historical fantasy!”

Marie Brennan

“An enchanting adventure that weaves a spell while spotlighting Black culture in the 1920s.”

Justina Ireland

New York Times bestselling author DREAD NATION

In the Earthsinger Chronicles, Penelope proved she was a master of epic fantasy; here she entwines African American folk magic with a caper, historical fiction, and romance to equally enchanting effect.”


starred review

“Masterfully crafted, with gorgeous prose, colourful characters, and a compelling plot. This smart and entertaining, magical heist novel hits all the right notes and leaves the reader wanting more.”

T. L. Huchu


“A gritty heroine and crew that commune with trickster spirits. A heist that pits them against a powerful member of the city’s elite. In The Monsters We Defy, Leslye Penelope blends magic, mystery, and mayhem in this deliciously complex historical fantasy.”

Veronica Henry

author of BACCHANAL

“What a thrilling gem of a book! Clara is a heroine for the ages and her 1920s Black Washington society, both the glamour and the grit, is so compellingly evoked it’s as though Penelope has given us a peek behind the veil to hear the tales of our ancestors. Highly recommended.”

Alaya Dawn Johnson

World Fantasy Award-winning author of TROUBLE THE SAINTS

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