Ballad & Dagger by Daniel Jose Older

Ballad & Dagger by Daniel Jose Older. Los Angeles : Disney/Hyperion, 2022. 372 pp.

Ballad & Dagger by Daniel Jose Older

Daniel Jose Older has created a realistic yet fantastical world where spirits interact with humans and several cultures are meshed into one (slightly strange) heritage.

Mateo loves music more than anything, followed by the love of his heritage as a San Madrigal expatriate. Mateo’s parents are logical doctors, nothing like his Tia Lucia, with whom he currently lives. He doesn’t feel like he is necessarily part of Little Madrigal because he traveled with his parents as they went around the world to help others, but he feels a strong tie to the music of his people.

San Madrigal was an island of pirates, Jews, and Santeros who lived together – if not in complete harmony, at least in solidarity. They were all trying to escape the wider world, where they were persecuted. They formed a three-person council, the Cabildo, with one member from each group to rule. When the secret island sunk several years ago, the survivors formed their own community called Little Madrigal in Brooklyn.

Now something is threatening the peace between the groups. There is to be a new pirate on the Cabildo, and suddenly factions are springing up, San Madrigal’s most famous citizen/musician is back from tour, and there are terrifying supernatural creatures in their neighborhood.

The night of the Grand Fete, where the new pirate on the Cabildo should be named, Mateo’s classmate Chela kills a man (or machine?) and Mateo finds out he was initiated as the son of Galinka, the Healer spirit, when he was very young.

Now Mateo and his friends have to figure out what is happening to their community, and who their enemies are. Does all of this mean that the island may rise again?

Older is a wonderful writer and I can’t wait to read the next book in this series! This is part of the Rick Riordan Presents publishing imprint, and is the first young adult novel they have published. The goal of this imprint (which is a small part of a larger book publisher, Disney-Hyperion) is to publish and promote books for kids and teens that feature characters from different cultures and backgrounds, and utilize mythology from that culture. I would wholeheartedly recommend any of the Rick Riordan Presents series to readers of all ages who enjoy fantasy and learning about other cultures/countries/mythologies. You can search our catalog for Rick Riordan Presents or ask our children’s librarians to help you!

Mary Beth Adams is the Community Engagement Librarian for Alamance County Public Libraries. She can be reached at