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Mojo: Conjure Stories, edited by Nalo Hopkinson, Warner Aspect, 2003, 340 pp.

Mojo: Conjure Stories is a collection of “nineteen original stories that explore the perils of personal magic,” as the back cover blurb puts it. Hopkinson has put together a diverse selection of stories, everything from revenge stories to family tragedies to jailbreaks to academic conferences to tribal stories. Almost every story in this collection has a different setting, all vividly evoked, and most of the stories also vary widely in the use of character. Some characters pull at our heartstrings; others cause us to cheer at their well-deserved comeuppance. Prose styles also diverge, depending on the needs of the story. Interestingly, Hopkinson’s choices also tightly fit the overall theme, more so than might be expected from the wide variation in story settings and styles.

Some of the stories in Mojo fall into the thematic category that I thought all of the stories would use: the powerless character who uses some kind of magic to fight against the powerful. “Rosamojo” by Kiini Ibura Salaam is a well-written example of this kind of story. Rosa is part of a poor family and her father has started to molest her. She puts a hex on her father, and then promises him to take it off if he doesn’t tell her mother about it. The story has a chilling conclusion. Nisi Shawl’s “The Tawny Bitch” is a variation on this type of tale, with a woman who has been become a captive and seems to have no hope of escape.

Other stories in Mojo tell about characters who have to fight back against the misuse of mojo. “The Horseman and the Morning Star” by Barbara Hambly is about a group of slaves who live on the plantation of a greedy master. The master and his new best friend have been making deals with the devil, and the slaves have to figure out what is going on and how to do the impossible and beat the devil at his own game. Steven Barnes’ “Heartspace” takes this idea and twists it 180 degrees. A man is returning home to his rich dying father, only to find that his father’s new wife has been postponing the death of the father through supernatural means. What can he, a normal lawyer, do in the face of magic? And what should he do, when the result has allowed a previously impossible reconciliation?

The third broad category of stories in Mojo has to do with the perils of making a deal with larger powers. The previously mentioned story by Hambly fits in here, even though it is told from the point of view of protagonists who want the antagonist’s deal with the devil to go badly. A.M. Dellamonica’s “Cooking Creole” is about a man who has gone to the crossroads perhaps one too many times. This time around he wants to become a chef! “Daddy Mention and the Monday Skull” by Andy Duncan opens the book, and it’s the jailbreak story I mentioned in my introduction. Daddy Mention is in jail and tries to manipulate or trick some powerful forces into causing some circumstances that would let him get out of jail. It’s a convoluted scheme, but we can only cheer when Daddy Mention makes it all work.

A few stories tell us what it would be like for an ordinary person to experience the supernatural in some way. “The Prowl” by Gregory Frost is about a man named John, captured from his village in Africa and brought over to America on a deadly slave ship. Along the way, he happens to save the life of a shape-changing creature called a palatyi. This utterly changes his life once he is in America. “Shining Through 24/7” by devorah major tells the story of a woman who gets cursed with the curse of radioactivity. How can she support herself when she glows and is a danger to those around her? A sideshow act seems to be the answer, and as she grows older, she has to change the nature of her show.

A few stories are mostly unclassifiable. “The Skinned” by Jarla Tangh is one of the few stories in the book told from the point of view of the villain. At first, Sinza seems like a normal inhabitant of his city block, except that his neighbourhood is in the grip of the supernatural beings of the title. They are a type of undead guardian, but they don’t discriminate between the people who live there and any other criminals. The story ends with a revelation about Sinza during a confrontation with the Skinned. Neil Gaiman contributes a story with more than one strange aspect, “Bitter Grounds.” An odd protagonist assumes the identity of an academic on his way to a conference in New Orleans. The paper that he has to give is about stories about zombie girls who deliver coffee door to door. A vividly detailed story with an ambivalent ending.

Mojo also has stories by Jenise Aminoff, Tananarive Due, Barth Anderson, Tobias S. Buckell, Gerard Houarner, Eliot Fintushel, Marcia Douglas, and Sheree Renee Thomas. The book has an editor’s note by Hopkinson, which sets out some of her goals for the collection, and an introduction by Luisah Teish. Mojo concludes with a handy About the Contributors section.

Last modified: October 28, 2003

Copyright © 2003 by James Schellenberg (

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