Rick Riordan Presents best-selling YA author Roseanne A. Brown’s Middle Grade debut, Serwa Boateng’s Guide to Vampire Hunting, which follows Serwa, a pre-teen vampire slayer who comes face to face with her most challenging mission to date, middle school. With a strong cast and generous helping of Ghanaian folklore, this first book in the Serwa Boateng series is sure to please fans of the genre.
Here’s the summary…
For most kids, catching fireflies is a fun summer activity. For twelve-year-old Serwa Boateng, it’s a matter of life and death.
That’s because Serwa knows that some fireflies are really adze, shapeshifting vampires from the forests of Southeastern Ghana. Adze prey on the blood of innocents, possessing their minds and turning them into hulking monsters, and for generations, slayers like Serwa and her parents have protected an unknowing public from their threats.
Serwa is the best adze slayer her age, and she knew how to use a crossbow before she could even ride a bike. But when an obayifo (witch) destroys her childhood home while searching for a drum, do Serwa’s parents take her with them on their quest to defeat her? No. Instead, they dump Serwa with her hippie aunt and cryptic-obsessed cousin in the middle of Nowheresville, Maryland “for her own safety.” Now, instead of crossbows and battle armor, she’s dealing with mean girls and algebra, and for the first time in her life she doesn’t have to carry a staff everywhere she goes, which is . . . kind of nice, actually.
Just as Serwa starts to get the hang of this whole normal girl who doesn’t punch vampire’s everyday thing, an adze infiltrates her school. It’s up to her to whip some of her classmates into monster-fighting shape before all of them become firefly food. And when she uncovers a secret that upends everything she thought she knew about her family’s role in the slayer vs. adze war, Serwa will have to decide which side of herself—normal girl or slayer—is the right one.
After all, seventh grade is hard enough without adding vampires to the mix.
Very few people understand kid lit better than Rick Riordan. His name is synonymous mythology-based fiction and is basically a noun at this point, and aside from influencing a generation of storytellers, scribes that we are in this very moment reaping the benefits from, he also happens to have excellent taste. His highly successful Rick Riordan Presents imprint has already recruited the likes of Lori M. Lee, Kwame Mbalia, Graci Kim, and Daniel José Older just to name a few. And now, we are the lucky receivers of the news that you can add Roseanne A. Brown’s name to the list.
If you’re not familiar with Roseanne’s work, then you’ve been asleep for way too long or have only been on the planet five minutes. Her A Song of Wraiths and Ruin duology isn’t just good, it’s great, like, all-time great, and has one of the best endings to a series I’ve ever read. She’s got intelligence and charm to spare, she’s funny as all hell, and is a natural born storyteller. So, when I heard she had been enlisted to write a RRP story, I wasn’t surprised, but I was very, very excited.
Middle Grade (MG) has some rules that, for the most part and for better or worse, must be followed, and one of the most reliable aspects is the “the adults in our lives are corruptstupidmissingevilsuck, so it’s up to us kids to get the job done” feature, and Rosie leans into this in Serwa Boateng’s Guide to Vampire Hunting, with the adults doing what adults do best. This puts the team, in this case the Good Citizens Committee (GCC), where they should be, front and center, and its good thing to because these five intrepid pre-teen warriors definitely have the right stuff.
“The length some people in this country will go to deny its own history…”
Like the summary says, there’s much more afoot in Rocky Gorge, Maryland than simple human brainwashing, firefly transforming, bloodthirsty vampires. Turns out the town, not unlike many towns in the United States, has a dark history that goes way deeper than Serwa or anyone else realizes, and provides an ancestral connection to certain folks that brings about an ugly but necessary bit of clarity to the situation at large. And while the story of the Abumutuo may have begun in Ghana, it certainly didn’t end there as a colonists’ aim is to make another’s will their habitual law, magic or no-magic. And whether you were Abomofuo (sort of good) or Obayifo (sort of bad), chances are you found yourself with a one-way ticket to America and a life of bondage. But shame, denial, and cover-ups are as American as apple pie and it takes some hard work (and a bit of magic) on the part of Serwa and her friends to uncover the truth, and just how connected a few of them really are to the ancestors. We’re talking about layers here, and that’s definitely one area where this book gets top marks, as Rosie juggles more than a few narratives with little to no interruption to the overall flow. That’s the boring stuff I suppose, the mechanics, but it’s important to note that Rosie is technically proficient as well as wildly creative, and of course this makes for a better overall reading experience.
I want to skip ahead and talk about the middle third of this book where a good chunk of it is taken up with a visit to the afterlife. To stand a chance against the adze, Serwa thinks (and they all agree) that the GCC needs “Divine Wisdom”, an infusion of magic to help with the fight. Trouble is, it must be granted by a god, so Serwa summons a somewhat feckless Asaase Yaa (Earth Goddess) who seems more preoccupied these days with her social media numbers than she does helping a bunch of ungrateful humans. Thankfully, after a proverbial slap in the face courtesy of Roxy, she agrees to help, but on one condition, the group must retrieve her magic sword, last seen in Asamando, aka “The Afterlife”, and return it to her. Then, and only then, will she grant them divine wisdom. So, they head out in what normally would’ve been an epic finale against the big heavy, instead, we get a team-building exercise of great significance. This provides each member of the GCC a chance to shine, to prove their worth, not only to the others, but to themselves as well.
These chapters, where they plan/visit/escape Asamando are some of the most fun I’ve had reading a book in…well…ever? Seriously, it’s quality work and is so wonderfully bonkers that no one should be able to make sense of it, yet here we are. And that’s so much of what makes this book great, and will pay off big time later on, the emphasis on the team, fleshing each one out with precision and care. Does it take a bit to find their rhythm? Are there bumps in the road? Of course, no good team worth their salt comes out of the gate functioning like the Dora Milaje, and the GCC doesn’t either. But that growth, that’s the meat and potatoes.
One of those bumps in the road is Serwa’s new-on-the-job, sometimes ineffectual, social and leadership skills. Thanks to her Abomofuo upbringing and nomadic lifestyle, she’s been home-schooled her whole life. And I’m not here to debate the pros and cons of homeschooling, but, there are clearly drawbacks when it comes to socialization. So a good chunk of the book is spent on Serwa adjusting and reacting to more customary social situations with her new friends, her only friends…ever. She’s going from a mostly controlled environment, to an out of control one, and that’s a hard adjustment for a Slayer I’d imagine, suddenly having to rely on relative strangers. Especially a bunch of randos who were brought together because of food fight, where Serwa goes from covered in blood, to covered in pasta sauce. It’s enough to make anyone’s head spin, but this marinara war does land them in detention and leads to a maybe not-so-fortuitous encounter with Mr. Riley, the art teacher, who becomes more than just a babysitter to these five kids, he becomes one of the few adults in the room they can trust.
Eventually middle school causatum takes effect and Serwa slowly starts to learn the ropes, understanding the ups and downs of friendship, which only leads to another challenge. One of the mandates of being a Slayer is never revealing your magic to non-Abomofuo, and that’s exactly what Serwa does, having just tipped her hand to four kids she barely knows. She’s stuck between a rock and hard place here as she needs their help fighting the adze but understands that a memory wipe is in their future, and not only magical memories, but any blossoming friendships as well. Tough spot for anybody to be sure and Rosie really makes you feel for Serwa here, finally finding a tribe of her own, only to have it taken away, by her own hand no less. Yikes.
And speaking of the group, the four of them, Eunju, Gavin, Mateo, and Roxy, each have a certain quality to them, strengths they’ve developed through a lived (not always great) experience, an inner echo reflecting who they truly are, you know, the good stuff. Eunju, a fire breather who exudes strength and loyalty, Gavin, the tenacious and brave quipster, Mateo, the fearful yet kind-hearted optimist, and finally Roxy, Serwa’s pensive yet nurturing blood cousin. This all comes full circle when Asaase Yaa grants them each an elemental blessing (very rare) that corresponds with their individual precept, taking things to an entirely different level. For the record, I’m #TeamMateo, although having to choose between this lot is no easy task, and this includes Serwa of course who is about as dynamic as it gets, and Boulder who, let’s face it, kicks all kinds of ass.
Roseanne is who she is, and that comes across on the page. Seriously, if you ever get the chance, talk to her, it will become apparent very quickly that she infuses her storytelling with not only aspects of her own life’s journey, but her personality as well, and her personality is ALL over this book. From the direct Ghanian influences and folklore to the intellectually honest character work, to the subtle but effective social commentary, Rosie isn’t so much the querent here as she is the responder, a reactionist to the world she sees around her, hoping to provide some clarity in these confusing times.
“Our peoples were taken from the continent against their will, yet we managed to thrive and build something new everywhere we went. Across space and time, across centuries of joy and loss, triumph and defeat, that connection to where we’re from was never lost.”
And perhaps the best example of this comes early in the book, as Serwa is talking to Mr. Riley about African mainland and diaspora themed art and artistic expression. It’s a relatively brief exchange and may not resonate, but Serwa, born but not raised in Ghana, Black but not Black American, wonders, if she’s not really Ghanaian, and not really American, then what is she? Where does she fit in? Where is home? Hard questions with no answers indeed. This is a question I know Rosie has asked herself over the years, as I’m sure many others who match the profile have as well. And while it may be in the form of a question, it’s more dialectic than that, with Rosie formulating latent concepts through a catechism type of storytelling. It’s writing at its best, when “make believe” makes you believe, when an author through their own lived experience makes you, and the characters they write, part of their world. Pretty awesome stuff and it’s a unique privilege to be able to read these types of stories.
Like A Song of Wraiths and Ruin, another side of Rosie’s personality that finds its way onto the pages is her comedy stylings. Yes, this book (and probably series) is quite funny on occasion, deadpan sometimes; camp at others. This despite its many adult themes and dire-like situations, Rosie always manages to squeeze in some levity to lighten the mood, I don’t think she can help it. There’s a Barbie bit which is quite funny given the context, and Boulder (and mmoatias obsession with reality TV) definitely warrants more than a few laughs.
So, what’s the bottom line?
Listen, if it’s good enough for Rick Riordan, then it’s good enough for us, right? That should be all the reason you need to pick up this book, assuming you’re a fan of the imprint already. Truthfully, it’s all there on the page, and while certain reveals are slightly predictable, it doesn’t make them any less enthralling or lesson their emotional impact.
Yes, with engaging and charismatic character work, strong and emotional storylines, a myriad of accessible themes that should resonate with most anyone, it all adds up to a very entertaining read with a ton of flow. Rosie treats the audience and subject matter with the respect it deserves, and I can’t wait to see where the series goes, especially after that incredible ending, something she’s apparently very good at.
But don’t take my word for it, peruse Rosie’s social accounts and you’ll see that she’s the real deal folks, and in a way, I’m in love with the author as much as I am her work. In my defense, she makes it very easy by not only being an extremely cool person, but a fucking good writer as well. And finally, I suppose thanks are in order, before Serwa Boateng’s Guide to Vampire Hunting I didn’t know ghosts could be vegan, and as one, this gives me hope, although, protesting outside a smoothie bar in the afterlife isn’t really my thing.
Serwa Boateng’s Guide to Vampire Hunting is out now, click HERE to pick up a copy today!
About the Author
Roseanne A. Brown is an immigrant from the West African nation of Ghana and a graduate of the University of Maryland, where she completed the Jimenez-Porter Writers’ House program. Her debut novel A Song of Wraiths and Ruin was an instant New York Times Bestseller, an Indie Bestseller, and received six starred reviews. She has worked with Marvel, Star Wars, and Disney among other publishers. You can visit her online at roseanneabrown.com or on Instagram or Twitter at @rosiesrambles.
On the publishing side of things, she has worked as an editorial intern at Entangled Publishing. Rosie was a 2017 Pitch Wars mentee and 2018 Pitch Wars mentor. Rosie currently lives outside Washington D.C., where in her free time she can usually be found wandering the woods, making memes, or thinking about Star Wars.