Book Review

Tristan Strong Keeps Punching

Tristan Strong Keeps Punching

  • Author: Kwame Mbalia
  • Genre: MG Fantasy
  • Publication Date: October 5, 2021
  • Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents
  • Series: Tristan Strong #3

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this book. I am providing my honest opinion voluntarily.

CONTENT WARNING: violence, slavery, grief, death, racism

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Best-selling author Rick Riordan presents the finale of Kwame Mbalia’s trilogy, in which Tristan Strong faces off with his archenemy, King Cotton, once and for all.

After reuniting with Ayanna, who is now in his world, Tristan travels up the Mississippi in pursuit of his archenemy, King Cotton. Along the way they encounter new haints who are dead set on preventing their progress north to Tristan’s hometown of Chicago. It’s going to take many Alkean friends, including the gods themselves, the black flames of the afokena gloves, and all of Tristan’s inner strength to deliver justice once and for all.

Shocking twists, glorious triumphs, and a cast of unforgettable characters make this series conclusion as satisfying as it is entertaining.

I absolutely adored the first two books in this series, so obviously I happy danced when NetGalley approved me for the third book. The author is a fresh voice in fantasy, and I love the creativity and conversational tone of the story.

Throughout this series, Mbalia has skillfully combined African mythology and Black American folktales to create a completely engrossing story. The brutal history of slavery isn’t avoided, but rather creates the crux of the central conflict. Central tenets that upheld slavery are portrayed as the villains (as they should be), and remembering the history rather than allowing it to be covered up is the key to overcoming the challenges the heroes face.

Tristan himself learns a lot on his journey in this book as well. His grief over the loss of his friend was a main challenge in earlier books, but in this one, he has to learn how to accept help from others and stop being so headstrong. At times, I wanted to shake him, but I had to remember that he’s only 12 and needed time to grow and stop making the same mistakes. Sometimes watching him struggle was painful, but he kept his sense of humor and understood the value of the great people surrounding him.

The pace of the story was fast. I read this book incredibly quickly, and there’s a lot of action. Nothing dragged, and this is the kind of the book that can be read in just a few sittings. I couldn’t put it down, and always wanted to know what was going to happen next. The best part of this was that I learned things while reading, but it never felt like a history lesson. It touches on a lot of the things that aren’t taught in the educational system, but are important aspects of American history. 

This is the kind of book that would be ideal to include in school curricula. It could help kids get interested in books while learning history, without being boring in any way. These are the kind of books that provide kids with characters who look like them, and have important messages without being overly obvious. If more books like this were taught in schools, maybe more kids would be interested in reading. I’m thrilled to see that this series is being released as graphic novels as well, to make this even more accessible. Kwame Mbalia is a highly talented voice in MG fiction, and I can’t wait to read his other books.

People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.

Gasp Factor: 9

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