Skip to main content

Sister, Mother, Warrior by Vanessa Riley: A Book Review

Sister, Mother, Warrior
Author: Vanessa Riley
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: 2022
Pages: 480
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis: Acclaimed author of Island Queen Vanessa Riley brings readers a vivid, sweeping novel of the Haitian Revolution based on the true-life stories of two extraordinary women: the first Empress of Haiti, Marie-Claire Bonheur, and Gran Toya, a West African-born warrior who helped lead the rebellion that drove out the French and freed the enslaved people of Haiti


     Gran Toya: Born in West Africa, Abdaraya Toya was one of the legendary minos—women called “Dahomeyan Amazons” by the Europeans—who were specially chosen female warriors consecrated to the King of Dahomey. Betrayed by an enemy, kidnapped, and sold into slavery, Toya wound up in the French colony of Saint Domingue, where she became a force to be reckoned with on its sugar plantations: a healer and an authority figure among the enslaved. Among the motherless children she helped raise was a man who would become the revolutionary Jean-Jacques Dessalines. When the enslaved people rose up, Toya, ever the warrior, was at the forefront of the rebellion that changed the course of history.


     Marie-Claire: A free woman of color, Marie-Claire Bonheur was raised in an air of privilege and security because of her wealthy white grandfather. With a passion for charitable work, she grew up looking for ways to help those oppressed by a society steeped in racial and economic injustices. Falling in love with Jean-Jacques Dessalines, an enslaved man, was never the plan, yet their paths continued to cross and intertwine, and despite a marriage of convenience to a Frenchman, she and Dessalines had several children.


     When war breaks out on Saint Domingue, pitting the French, Spanish, and enslaved people against one another in turn, Marie-Claire and Toya finally meet, and despite their deep differences, they both play pivotal roles in the revolution that will eventually lead to full independence for Haiti and its people.


     Both an emotionally palpable love story and a detail-rich historical novel, Sister Mother Warrior tells the often-overlooked history of the most successful Black uprising in history. Riley celebrates the tremendous courage and resilience of the revolutionaries, and the formidable strength and intelligence of Toya, Marie-Claire, and the countless other women who fought for freedom. 


      My Review: Jean-Jacques Dessalines was the first Emperor of Haiti. Sister, Mother, Warrior tells the story of his women in his life. They are his adopted mother, Duchess Gran Toya, and his wife, Empress Marie-Claire. The novel tells of how these women influenced Jean-Jacques Dessalunes as he rises from a slave to an emperor. Both Duchess Gran Toya and Empress Marie-Claire are very patriotic and bond together for the good of their country. They both play a major role in Haiti’s independence.


     The reader is first introduced to Duchess Gran Toya’s story. Duchess Gran Toya was a warrior of the Dahomey tribe and the king’s wife. In order to save her king, she became enslaved. When her best friend died in bondage, she raised her son who became the future Emperor Jean-Jacques Dessalines. I really admired Duchess Gran Toya. She was fierce, bold, and courageous. Most of all, I admired her loyalty. She is very faithful to her loved ones and will do anything for them. I also liked her bond with Empress Marie-Claire. Therefore, Duchess Gran Toya was very likable because she always fought for justice.


     The other narrator in the story is Empress Marie-Claire. She is a free black woman and lives a life of privilege. She falls in love with a slave who will be the future Emperor of Haiti. The novel tells of Empress Marie-Claire's complicated romance with Emperor Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who is very ambitious and complex. I really like Empress Marie-Claire. She is a very compassionate woman. She also fights for justice and has saved countless lives. Therefore, I found her actions to be very commendable. It was also interesting to see her rise to become Empress of Haiti. Empress Marie-Claire experienced many hardships. However, she always put her country before her own sorrows.


     Even though Jean-Jacques Dessalines is a major character, I never truly grasped who he was. He was very ambitious and selfish. He did not seem to care about his wife’s hardships. Instead, he cheated on her and had other children. He also was very power-hungry. He cared more about his image than his loved ones. Therefore, Emperor Jean-Jacques Dessalines was a complicated character. I initially liked him, but over the course of the novel, I gradually began to dislike him. I can see why his wife had a complicated relationship with him and would later choose her country over him.


     Overall, this novel is about justice, war, and freedom. Aside from the main characters, I found most of the supporting characters to be bland with little depth. I also found the beginning to be slow and the ending rushed. I would have liked the novel to be longer to have a fully fleshed-out ending. Still, I found the novel to be very well-written and meticulously researched. The author superbly showed the diversity of Haiti and the different cultures of the Haitian people. She also did an excellent job in portraying Haitian politics of the era. Therefore, Mrs. Riley did a tremendous job in depicting a historical event that I knew little about. I also found the story of Duchess Gran Toya and Empress Marie-Claire to be highly illuminating because I had never heard of these women before I read this book. Therefore, despite its shortcomings, I was intrigued and fully engrossed in the novel. I enjoyed it so much that I did not want it to end! I recommend this novel for fans of Mademoiselle Revolution, Island Beneath the Sea, and Wide Sargasso Sea! Sister, Mother, Warrior is an endearing tribute to two very important women who have become cultural icons in Haiti.


Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post by Allison Pataki: A Book Review

The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post Author: Allison Pataki Genre: Historical Fiction Publisher: Ballantine Release Date: February 15, 2022 Pages: 381 Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review. Synopsis: Mrs. Post, the President and First Lady are here to see you. . . . So begins another average evening for Marjorie Merriweather Post. Presidents have come and gone, but she has hosted them all. Growing up in the modest farmlands of Battle Creek, Michigan, Marjorie was inspired by a few simple rules: always think for yourself, never take success for granted, and work hard—even when deemed American royalty, even while covered in imperial diamonds. Marjorie had an insatiable drive to live and love and to give more than she got. From crawling through Moscow warehouses to rescue the Tsar’s treasures to outrunning the Nazis in London, from serving the homeless of the Great Depression to entertaining Roosevelts, Kennedys, and Hollywood’s biggest stars, Marjorie Merriweath

The Seven Sisters (The Seven Sisters #1) by Lucinda Riley: A Book Review

The Seven Sisters (The Seven Sisters #1) Author: Lucinda Riley Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance Publisher: Atria Release Date: 2015 Pages: 463 Source: My State Public Library Synopsis: Maia D’Apliese and her five sisters gather together at their childhood home, “Atlantis”—a fabulous, secluded castle situated on the shores of Lake Geneva—having been told that their beloved father, who adopted them all as babies, has died. Each of them is handed a tantalizing clue to her true heritage—a clue which takes Maia across the world to a crumbling mansion in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Once there, she begins to put together the pieces of her story and its beginnings. Eighty years earlier in Rio’s Belle Epoque of the 1920s, Izabela Bonifacio’s father has aspirations for his daughter to marry into the aristocracy. Meanwhile, architect Heitor da Silva Costa is devising plans for an enormous statue, to be called Christ the Redeemer, and will soon travel to Paris to find the right sculptor to

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn: A Book Review

The Rose Code Author: Kate Quinn Genre: Historical Fiction Publisher: Harper Collins Release Date: 2021 Pages: 635 Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review. Synopsis: 1940, Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire.        Three very different women are recruited to the mysterious Bletchley Park, where the best minds in Britain train to break German military codes.       Vivacious debutante Osla has the dashing Prince Philip of Greece sending her roses – but she burns to prove herself as more than a society girl, working to translate decoded enemy secrets. Self-made Mab masters the legendary codebreaking machines as she conceals old wounds and the poverty of her East-End London upbringing. And shy local girl Beth is the outsider who trains as one of the Park’s few female cryptanalysts.       1947, London.        Seven years after they first meet, on the eve of the royal wedding between Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, disaster threatens. Osla, Mab and Beth are estranged,