“This is a prayer hymn, a battle cry, a lovesong, a legendary call and response bonfire talisman tale. This is medicine for a broken world.” —Daniel José Older

Award-winning author Andrea Hairston weaves together African folktales and postcolonial literature into unforgettable fantasy in Master of Poisons

The world is changing. Poison desert eats good farmland. Once-sweet water turns foul. The wind blows sand and sadness across the Empire. To get caught in a storm is death. To live and do nothing is death. There is magic in the world, but good conjure is hard to find.

Djola, righthand man and spymaster of the lord of the Arkhysian Empire, is desperately trying to save his adopted homeland, even in exile.

Awa, a young woman training to be a powerful griot, tests the limits of her knowledge and comes into her own in a world of sorcery, floating cities, kindly beasts, and uncertain men.

Awash in the rhythms of folklore and storytelling and rich with Hairston’s characteristic lush prose, Master of Poisons is epic fantasy that will bleed your mind with its turns of phrase and leave you aching for the world it burns into being.


Hairston (Will Do Magic for Small Change) dazzles with this complex epic fantasy about a people struggling to survive in the world they’ve helped destroy. A poison desert is spreading across the Arkhysian Empire, killing everything in its path. Djola, Emperor Azizi’s second in command, has tried to warn the population for years, urging them to save their homeland—but to no avail. Now that it’s too late for any minor precaution to help, he sets out to find a solution. As Djola works to stop the world from burning, he discovers the darkness lurking within the empire and in his own heart. Meanwhile, garden sprite Awa, a young griot in training, struggles to find her own place in the uncertain future. In stirring prose (“As long as sweet water fell from the sky every afternoon and mist rolled in on a night wind, everybody promised to change—tomorrow or next week. Then crops failed and rivers turned to dust.”), Hairston weaves a rich tapestry of folklore and adventure, inviting readers into a well-developed, non-Western fantasy world, while navigating pressing issues of climate change and personal responsibility. This is an urgent, gorgeous work. Agent: Kristopher O’Higgins, Scribe Agency. (Sept.)

Kirkus Review

An epic fantasy set in an African-inspired world on the brink of ecological disaster.

Djola, the Arkhysian Empire’s Master of Poisons, has a plan to stop the spreading poison desert. Hezram, a powerful priest, offers to use dark blood magic. But Djola believes in his “map to tomorrow,” which involves searching for a powerful spell to unravel the cause of the dangerous void-storms. Awa has an affinity with bees and a talent for traveling to Smokeland, the spirit realm. Sold to the Green Elders on her 12th birthday, Awa comes of age on the margins of empire, learning from Yari, the griot (storyteller) of griots. Along the way, she will learn to question much of what she’s been taught: about the Elders, about people the Empire calls “savages,” and about “vesons,” who, like Yari, are neither man nor woman. Both Djola and Awa will be tested, and both will make enormous sacrifices to save the people—and the world—they love. This complex story spans years, travels to every corner of a richly imagined fantasy world, and even dips into the minds of elephants, bees, and rivers: “The Bees…dream of pools of nectar, clouds of pollen, and evening dew heavy with flower scent. Why dream of anything else?”

This book’s lyrical language and unsparing vision make it a mind-expanding must-read.