REVIEW: “Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Under the Still Waters” by N.K. Jemisin

Review of N.K. Jemisin, “Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Under the Still Waters”, Podcastle: 503 — Listen Online. Reviewed by Heather Rose Jones

(Note: This is a re-issue of PodCastle 154 originally broadcast in 2011 and first published in Postscripts.)

Once again, Podcastle has a perfect combination of a poetically lyrical story with a strong sense of place, narrated by a voice that brings that place and person to vivid life. There are stories that are well-narrated and then there are stories that I can’t imagine consuming by any means but the specific aural performance through which I came to them, because that performance gives them a life above text on the page. Needless to say, this is one of the latter.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Tookie encounters several strange creatures that complicate his survival and efforts to help others in the flood waters. What really struck me about this story structure is how much of a hero’s-quest story it is. The “ordinary” young man is thrust into taking a champion’s role via encounter with a supernatural creature who may or may not be a force for good. (The eventual answer is “it’s more complicated than good and evil.”) At the end, he emerges with a deeper understanding of himself and a mission to help save the world, or at least his part of it.

But that’s just the symbolic structure. What makes this story great is the immersive voice and language, the way descriptions of everyday surroundings slide easily into the fantastic, and the way the folklore of cities and peoples is woven into a new mythos. This joins my list of favorite Podcastle episodes.