Book Reviews

Music and Malice in Hurricane Town by Alex Bell

Released: April 2019
Publisher: Stripes Publishing
Pages: 384
Rating: 4/5

“There are no angels in Baton Noir. Only devils.”

Music and Malice in Hurricane Town is a fantastical blend of folklore, magic, and mystery. It took a couple chapters for me to get drawn in, but once I did I lost two nights of sleep telling myself “Just one more chapter…”


Baton Noir is essentially a mirror universe New Orleans teeming with witches, vampires, and Louisiana style Voodoo. The mythical beings inhabiting the city rule the land while regular humans (the lowly “Subjects”) struggle to get by in an increasingly corrupt and dangerous world.

Jude Lomax, a trumpet player in one of the city’s numerous jazz bands, is a frustrated young woman sick of the cards life have dealt her. She loves Baton Noir but wishes she could do something to stop its moral and physical decay. The city’s heyday as a cultural and architectural marvel are long gone due to the dark magic forces that now control it.

Despite being surrounded by magic, Jude vehemently avoids it. That is, until the day her band leads the funeral procession of the murdered Cajou Queen, Ivory Monette. After being possessed by the infamous Queen’s spirit, Jude unwittingly finds herself right at the pulsing heart of Baton Noir’s magical underbelly.

By about 50 pages in, I was intrigued. By 150, I was fully hooked. By 250, I had to come to grips with the fact that I would not be sleeping that night because there was no way I was putting the book down.

The world building in this was breathtakingly atmospheric. From the Gothic streets of Baton Noir to the cursed and eerie bayous, I was thoroughly drawn into the world of Jude Lomax. Alex Bell did well to describe it all because despite some of the more mind boggling things Jude saw, you could actually picture it. I often felt as if I was standing right there with her.

The characters within this enchanting setting were varied, rich and compelling. I truly cared about all of them (even the evil ones) and wanted to know what would happen to them next. Especially since as soon as I thought I knew what was coming, I quickly found out I was completely wrong. The mysteries cleverly intertwined within Music & Malice were as twisty as the Cajou Queen’s magical snakes.

And can we talk about the title and that cover? I try not to judge a book by its title or its cover, but with this one it’s really hard not to. Honestly, you don’t even need to read any blurbs about the book. Just look at that amazing cover and that’s all you need to know before diving in.

The only reason this isn’t rated 5 stars is because the book felt really white. With so much incorporation of the culture and religious practices of predominantly black peoples, there was a glaring lack of melanin in Baton Noir. Even the gods, who were clearly based on Voodoo religious figures, seemed to be described as being white. This is just not what you would expect in a book so deeply entrenched with New Orleans and Afro-Caribbean culture. It really felt like it was close to crossing the border from incorporation to appropriation.

Like I said before, it was hard for me to get into this at first. Jude was just so… angry at the beginning I had no idea why. It also took some time to come to grips with the incredible setting the reader is immediately thrust into. However, once the book got going, it got going. I had two very unproductive days at work because of this novel and I regret nothing.

When I finished Music & Malice, all I could think was, “Wait…that can’t be the end. Please tell me there will be more!” Luckily, according to a reply from the author on Twitter, this isn’t the last we will see of Jude. Thank goodness, because otherwise I was going to have to take some lessons in magic to conjure up a sequel.

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