To Raise a Clenched Fist to the Sky is the first volume in T. Thorn Coyle’s Panther Chronicles.
By 1968 the Summer of Love is a fading memory. Activism has taken centre stage. Nowhere is that more true than in Oakland, where the Black Panthers are working hard to set up community kitchens and raise political consciousness. It’s a heady time for Berkeley freshman Jasmine, who is new to the Bay Area.
Jasmine has a lot to offer the Panthers, not least of which is magic.
Many of America’s magic users belong to the Association. For the most part, the Association appears to be apolitical. Of course, such neutrality is subtly political, in that it favours the powers that be. That’s fine for white mages, who benefit from American racism. It’s not so great from the perspective of America’s black wizards. After all, all a cop sees when they see a black magician is a black person and magic won’t necessarily stop a racist cop’s bullet. Just ask Jasmine’s late uncle.
Panther activism in all its forms attracts the profound disapproval of authorities, from the press to the local cops to Edgar Hoover himself. Convinced that the Black Panthers are an intolerable threat to American society, the authorities have placed the Panthers under constant surveillance. Conflicts between the police and the Black Panthers already have produced corpses. It seems likely that there will be more.
Jasmine could use her magic to help the Black Panthers, but this would be risky. She cannot predict how her new colleagues would react if they were to learn that magic is real.
But there are other players in this game. Unbeknownst to the Black Panthers, the police, and the Association, there are arcane entities working behind the scenes, intent on their own ends … ends not necessarily to the benefit of the humans involved.
(I just like saying unbeknownst.)
This work wrestles with an issue often ignored by other urban fantasies; how can magicians and supernaturals deal with mundane politics? The amiable bumblers over in the Potterverse, at the Ministry of Magic, for example, don’t seem to have been involved in the unpleasantness of 1933 – 1945. [Editor’s note: but then there are the Peter Grant novels by Aaronovitch; British wizards perished in job lots fighting Nazi sorcerers.]
Jasmine and her friends and relatives don’t have the luxury of ignoring politics, which is all too often deployed against them. She’s upper-middle-class; she has enough wealth and social connections to be somewhat protected, but she is by no means immune to prejudice. She’s one traffic stop away from tragedy.
This is a more sympathetic view of the Black Panthers than I had expected (but perhaps that says something about me). I found myself rooting for many of the characters, while aware the longer story arc cannot end happily for the Black Panthers, if the author is following recorded history. I did feel that the resolution was a bit anticlimactic. Is it because this is just the first instalment in a longer story? I cannot be sure, but I liked this book enough to resolve to find out.
To Raise a Clenched Fist to the Sky is available as part of the Black Narratives bundle.