July 18, 2022

REVIEW Ballad and Dagger (Outlaw Saints #1) by Daniel Jose Older

Ballad and Dagger (Outlaw Saints #1) by Daniel Jose Older
Rating: 5 Stars
Release Date: May 3, 2022
Format: Audiobook (Personal Library)
Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents (Disney-Hyperion Books) 

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“If a dream is what’s keeping you alive, you cling to it as tight as you can. No matter how ridiculous it may seem.”

In the past, the Rick Riordan Presents imprint has been primarily focused on middle-grade level titles. Now, the young adult side of the imprint has been kicked off with Daniel Jose Older’s Ballad and Dagger, and Mr. Older did not come to mess around. If Roshani Chokshi set the bar high for all of the other middle-grade authors with her Aru Shah series, Daniel Jose Older broke the ceiling with the first book in the Outlaw Saints series. 

First of all, the pirate and musical themes incorporated into the book were so cool. I love how the author wove his own experiences and the feeling of the diaspora into the culture of those who hail from the lost island of San Madrigal. Unlike the other books in the imprint, this one deals with more of a blend of cultures than only one in particular. You have three main factions: Sefaradim, Santeros, and pirates. All of them were fleeing persecution in some manner or fashion, and they found their safe haven on the island of San Madrigal. I don’t know about you, but I, in particular, enjoyed learning about the magic system and the pantheon of the island. It's so unique (and unlike most of the mythology you see in mainstream books), and I enjoyed piecing together how it worked over the course of the story (the way the gods were incorporated was especially cool). 

The characters were a highlight of the book. Something about Mateo and the way he narrated the book just kept me hooked; I don’t think I could have stopped reading even if I had wanted to. I was quite amused by his inner commentaries (Wow! None of our founders owned another human! Congrats! No one should get gold stars for the bare minimum if you ask me.) I appreciated how his character was instrumental in helping foster the overarching sense of community that runs through the entire book; San Madrigal seems like one giant case of a “found family” in my opinion. I also appreciated how he didn’t start out entirely sure of himself or his powers; if he had, that would have made the story feel less authentic because there would have been no room for growth or development. In addition to all of that, I was quite amused by how awkward he is at the beginning of the book when he interacts with his eventual crush, Chela Hidalgo. Talk about a cute couple *cue heart eyes* If you’re a big fan of Annabeth and Percy, then you should love Chela and Mateo. 

While this book is definitely entertaining, it also provides some important social commentaries. Daniel Jose Older does not hesitate to tackle some big issues like colonialism. Many call the United States of America a melting pot of different cultures, but Mr. Older actually demonstrated a culture that works and that is (somewhat) balanced with the culture of San Madrigal. He also addresses other important things like queer relationships and the intersection of science and religion in slightly smaller but no less meaningful ways. 

Overall, Ballad and Dagger is another fantastic, fun, and entertaining book from the imprint. Narrator Lee Osorio did a fantastic job with their performance. If you’re a young adult reader who loves a humorous narrator, super fun and unique cast of characters, diverse culture, and a unique mythology and magic system, then Ballad and Dagger is a great choice for your next read. I can’t wait to see what’s next in this series, and after finishing this book I’m so excited to see what’s coming next for the Rick Riordan Presents young adult books in the future. 

About Daniel José Older:

Daniel José Older, a lead story architect for Star Wars: The High Republic, is the New York Times best-selling author of the upcoming Young Adult fantasy novel Ballad & Dagger (book 1 of the Outlaw Saints series), the sci-fi adventure Flood City, the monthly comic series The High Republic Adventures. His other books include the historical fantasy series Dactyl Hill Squad, The Book of Lost Saints, the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series, Star Wars: Last Shot, and the Young Adult series the Shadowshaper Cypher, including Shadowshaper, which was named one of the best fantasy books of all time by TIME magazine and one of Esquire’s 80 Books Every Person Should Read. He won the International Latino Book Award and has been nominated for the Kirkus Prize, The World Fantasy Award, the Andre Norton Award, the Locus, and the Mythopoeic Award. He co-wrote the upcoming graphic novel Death’s Day. You can find more info and read about his decade long career as an NYC paramedic at http://danieljoseolder.net/

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Check out my other reviews of books by Daniel Jose Older

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