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Sister Mother Warrior    by Vanessa Riley order for
Sister Mother Warrior
by Vanessa Riley
Order:  USA  Can
William Morrow, 2022 (2022)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Vanessa Riley's Sister Mother Warrior is a fictional account of an aspect of history that was unknown to me - the Haitian Revolution that drove out the French and freed an enslaved people. The author centers her novel on two amazing women - Marie-Claire Bonheur, the first Empress of Haiti, and Gran Toya, a warrior woman enslaved in West Africa.

The story moves back and forth in time (sometimes confusingly) and between their lives. It opens on the two women in 1805 - empress Marie-Claire and warrior Toya - on the eve of a new nation. Then we follow the long road that led to this point.

First we join twelve-year old Toya in 1750 West Africa, her village conquered by the Dahomey army. She becomes a loyal soldier in that same army, consecrated to its King. Later we see Toya betrayed and sold into slavery, ending up in French Saint Domingue. There, she remains a force of nature, a healer and leader of her people, taking special care of the children. She helps raise the future emperor, Jean-Jacques Dessalines.

Marie-Claire has an easier life as an Affranchi, a free woman of color, in Cap-Francais. She volunteers at the hospital and does what she can to help others. After she and Jean-Jacques meet by chance, they become friends and an attraction steadily grows between them. But he's a slave and she is pushed by her family to marry a Frenchman, a good man. Her life with Pierre will let her help feed the hungry.

Marie-Claire and Toya are at odds when they finally meet, their backgrounds too different for anything else. How does that all change? Read Sister Mother Warrior to find out how these women became as sisters, and how the revolution freed Haiti and gave power to the powerless - but at a high cost.

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