Review of Archangels of Funk by Andrea Hairston

Archangels of Funk cover
Archangels of Funk
Andrea Hairston
Tordotcom Books, 2024, 384 pages

Reviewed by Judith Katz

Archangels of Funk is the most hopeful book about a coming dystopia this reader could ever imagine. Andrea Hairston’s rambunctious third novel in a series that follows the adventures of Cinnamon Jones, self-proclaimed “Scientist, Artiste, and Hoodoo Conjurer,” alongside her community and ancestors, is a joy to read.

Honestly—I’m not a regular reader of sci-fi or techno catastrophe fiction. The last book like that I read and followed (and then just barely) was Marge Piercy’s He She and It from 1991. But the world Hairston invents here, set in a version of Western Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley in the near future, sometime after a catastrophe known as “the water wars,” is so complete, so vivid, so rich, that not only could I picture it all, I couldn’t put the book down.

We first meet Cinnamon Jones, led by her trusty pooch, Bruja, speeding down a bike path, searching for a bot called Shooting-Star. Attached to her bicycle is a Wheel-Wizard trailer, loaded with her three circus bots—transformers who contain, we soon find out, the spirits, energies, and talents of her late elders Redwood and Iris Phipps and Aidan Wildfire. The emergency? Cinnamon needs to find her lost or stolen bot soon because the annual valley New World Festival—a theatrical Mardi Gras where food and spectacular entertainment are free and all are welcome—is set to begin the next day.

The search for Shooting-Star is just the start of a saga that draws together water spirits, cyber criminals, old friendships, romantic betrayals, sage robots, an ancient musician, and a wide array of plant-based communal meals, all delivered in the shell of a deserted mall, repurposed as a community center and school. In addition to Cinnamon and her bots, readers are treated to a beautifully drawn cast of human and spirit characters—street kids, security folks, actors, acrobats, and performers—some masked, many queer, some intent on hacking Cinnamon’s exquisitely programmed bots, while she is bound and determined to keep them all safe.

Is there violence in this future world? Yes. Is there intrigue? Also yes. But really this novel is full of enchantment, humor, fabulous costumes, and best of all, daring acts of theatre and resistance.

Judith Katz is the author of two novels, The Escape Artist and Running Fiercely Toward a High Thin Sound, which won the 1992 Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Fiction. She is currently working on sequels to both novels, and is still meditating on her novel in a drawer, The Atomic Age.

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