Title: The Prophets
Author: Robert Jones Jr.
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Riverrun, Quercus
Publication Date: 5th January 2021
The Halifax plantation is known as Empty by the slaves who work it under the pitiless gaze of its overseers and its owner, Massa Paul. Two young enslaved men, Samuel and Isaiah dwell among the animals they keep in the barn, helping out in the fields when their day is done. But the barn is their haven, a space of radiance and love – away from the blistering sun and the cruelty of the toubabs – where they can be alone together.
But, Amos – a fellow slave – has begun to direct suspicion towards the two men and their refusal to bend. Their flickering glances, unspoken words and wilful intention, revealing a truth that threatens to rock the stability of the plantation. And preaching the words of Massa Paul’s gospel, he betrays them.
I finished this book a couple of days ago and I’m still trying to find the words to do it justice in a review and I’m not sure I can – but I will give it a go. The story follows two enslaved young men on the Halifax plantation and their deeply beautiful yet intense love for each other. The narrative encompasses many of the voices of the people who live in this place, known as Empty, and culminates in a powerful and violent crescendo.
The Prophets is a truly unique and beautifully written novel which, despite involving a great deal of pain and suffering still manages to demonstrate an incredible tenderness. The writing is lyrical and delicate whilst at the same time being searing and angry. It sounds like these components would fight against each other but Robert Jones Jr. has pulled everything together so skilfully and in such a memorable way that it becomes a stunning tour de force of a novel. You cannot fail to be moved by the way the passion and love between Samuel and Isaiah unfolds on the page and by the way the other characters individual voices are so strongly felt and evoked.
I read The Prophets quickly, in large part because there is a kind of feeling of being drawn in and propelled by the words. There is a searing and passionate movement as the story jumps from one character to another and then occasionally flashes back to another time and place entirely. I really don’t want to give anything away that would detract from readers experiencing this unrelentingly compelling book for themselves. I know this is the kind of book I will glean more and more from by rereading it at a slower pace which I certainly plan to do. I truly believe this will be one of the most impressive and profound books of 2021, it thoroughly deserves to be.
I received an e-arc of the book through Netgalley. My review is entirely my own honest opinion.