BookBrowse Reviews The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr.

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The Prophets

by Robert Jones Jr.

The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr. X
The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr.
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2021, 400 pages

    Feb 2022, 416 pages


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About this Book



A poetic historical novel that tells a story of love between two enslaved men in the Antebellum South.

12 out of 13 First Impressions readers rated Robert Jones Jr.'s novel The Prophets 4 or 5 stars. Jones is an established writer and critic, and The Prophets is his first novel.

What the book is about:

This book explores the relationship between two young male slaves who have fallen in love and look to each other for tenderness in excruciatingly ruthless surroundings (Linda S). Did Black queer people exist in the past? Of course they did, but where are they in the historical record? Jones imagines their history, from ancestral Africa to the Antebellum South (Ann B).

Readers were struck by the power and beauty of the novel, commenting on the lyrical quality of the writing.

While difficult at times to read, due to the subject and the graphic nature of certain scenes, I thought that The Prophets was a powerful, beautifully written book (Brittany P). Reading this book was an intense experience, but it was mesmerizing. The writing is lyrical and beautiful while telling a story about the horrors of slavery as well as the great love between two slaves (Rosemary C).

Reviewers also noted the importance of Jones' work, declaring it an impressive debut worthy of attention.

This is a powerful novel that is sure to garner some awards in 2021. It is a fantastic debut from Jones, who followed the advice of Toni Morrison (as indicated in his acknowledgements) and wrote the book he wanted to read, but could not find (Robert M). This is a book that the publishing house should and must go full press in an advertising campaign to promote. It stands out and is truly remarkable (Shelley C).

A few readers found certain sections challenging to follow.

I found myself struggling to stay focused. Sometimes I couldn't follow the story, sometimes I was bored and sometimes I was confused. I really wanted to enjoy this book, I was interested in the story of a gay black couple during slavery. But it was a struggle to get through (Amber H). There were sections I couldn't quite follow. It may be that my normal reading speed is too fast and I should have slowed down a bit to absorb what was being said (Laurie W).

However, others suggested that the book's ambitious elements create opportunities for complex reflection and discussion.

When I first taught Beloved by Morrison to my juniors, I skimmed it for vocabulary level. I found it's not the level of vocabulary that's challenging; it's the ideas, structure and poetic nature that makes her work difficult but worthy of the effort. The Prophets is the same. Jones presents the story in a way that is fresh, and the language is beautiful. I found myself pausing, thinking, rereading and reconsidering (Pamela W). This would be a good book club selection, allowing for much discussion of not only the story and the characters, but also the literary techniques the author uses to create a vivid world where hatred, love, desire, self-loathing, loss and other emotions are raw and on full display (Rosemary C).

Many also reflected on the vivid and character-driven nature of the novel.

Jones' lyrical language transports you to the time and place and, despite the difficult subject matter, I didn't want to put the book down (Danielle M). Jones really captured the emotional despair and pain that many of these characters felt and conveyed it perfectly to the reader (Brittany P). Mr. Jones' writing is so very beautiful. His characters are finely drawn and come to life in a world that is achingly beyond belief (Shelley C).

This review first ran in the January 20, 2021 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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