In this blinding debut, Robert Jones Jr. blends the lyricism of Toni Morrison with the vivid prose of Zora Neale Hurston to characterise the forceful, enduring bond of love, and what happens when brutality threatens the purest form of serenity.
The Mississippi 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 willful 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.
The culminating pages of The Prophets summon a choral voice of those who have suffered in silence, with blistering humanity, as the day of reckoning arrives at the Halifax plantation. Love, in all its permutations, is the discovery at the heart of Robert Jones Jr’s breathtaking debut.
The Prophets is without a doubt one of my favourite novels of 2021, and we’re only one month in. From debut author Robert Jones Jr, this rich and evocative story takes on the complicated themes of forbidden love, slavery, and betrayal.
The novel is, at its heart, a love story, and the dynamic between the two main characters, Samuel and Isaiah, is deeply touching. But The Prophets is also a story of the pain and suffering caused by slavery. While at times this content can be confronting, it is a vital part of the novel, highlighting the systemic oppression and cruelty felt by many during this time in American history.
While the story is predominately told from Samuel and Isaiah’s perspectives, we also follow the history of slavery and the effects it had on black culture through the point of view of seven biblical ‘Prophets’. Acting as a guiding voice, they take the reader throughout history to meet different historical figures fighting for their freedom and culture.
The Prophets is a standout debut that gives readers a look into the terrible era of slavery while still offering an uplifting story of how bonds can be formed even in the hardest of circumstances. A must-read for 2021.