Historical Fiction Literary Fiction

The Prophets – Robert Jones Jr.

2 January 2021
The Prophets Book Cover The Prophets
Robert Jones Jr
African American gay men
5 January 2021

In this blinding debut, Robert Jones Jr. blends the lyricism of Toni Morrison with the vivid prose of Zora Neale Hurston to characterise the forceful, enduring bond of love, and what happens when brutality threatens the purest form of serenity.

The Halifax plantation is known as Empty by the slaves who work it under the pitiless gaze of its overseers and its owner, Massa Paul. Two young enslaved men, Samuel and Isaiah dwell among the animals they keep in the barn, helping out in the fields when their day is done. But the barn is their haven, a space of radiance and love - away from the blistering sun and the cruelty of the toubabs - where they can be alone together.

But, Amos - a fellow slave - has begun to direct suspicion towards the two men and their refusal to bend. Their flickering glances, unspoken words and wilful intention, revealing a truth that threatens to rock the stability of the plantation. And preaching the words of Massa Paul's gospel, he betrays them.

The culminating pages of The Prophets summon a choral voice of those who have suffered in silence, with blistering humanity, as the day of reckoning arrives at the Halifax plantation. Love, in all its permutations, is the discovery at the heart of Robert Jones Jr's breathtaking debut, The Prophets.


The Prophets is an absorbing novel, with unsettling overtones, profound and deeply moving. Masterfully written in beautiful poetic prose it enriches the soul through the dreams and expression of love amidst the most repressive and abusive life imaginable.

“Blessèd be the ones who gaze upon the night and holy are the ones who remember. And memory is not enough! To know from beneath: That is a story only a prophet can tell. But with the world being what it is and the world being what it forever will be, never without a grieving heart. Here is the fire now: dancing, destroying. But honestly only wanting to be sung to softly sweetly. It is a dying flame shrinking flickering waiting to be extinguished finally by a lullaby. But there are no singers left.”

The pain and horror experienced by black slaves will continue to echo through time as books like The Prophets continue to tell their story. The inhumane treatment of people who only dream of survival, and avoiding the wrath and cruel entertainment of plantation owners is appalling. How much further could you descend when you are already at the bottom. Yet slaves continued to survive, continued to find love, continued to share their lives with others, and found a dignity that was so far from the character of their owners, that it bestows unreserved reverence for the generations that suffered.

Samuel and Isaiah are slaves on the Halifax cotton plantation, in the Deep South, a place referred to as Empty. The perfect name for a place that strips away your freedom, dignity, peace, happiness and all too evidently, your life. Both men find love with each other and have so much to lose if discovered. Maggie is aware of their relationship and so much of what happens on the plantation. She shares food, advice and as much awareness as possible, especially as she has a gift of foresight. Maggie works in the Big House for Paul and Ruth Halifax, owners who are ruthless, brutal, and cynically manipulative. The great cast of characters are all full of light and shade, and to tell the story from the different character perspectives, gives it a superb observational capacity that is truly epic.

The relationships and the subtle yet distinctive interactions, the dialogue, and the menacing overtones achieve an experience that coalesces such beauty and such sadness. The ending is powerful and as it ends it is worth taking a moment to hold this story in quiet reverence.

I could not help feeling certain similarities to Sing, Unburied, Sing – not from the storyline perspective, but the emotional impact the story elicits, and the lyrical writing that evokes such vivid images that are forever etched into our minds. The Prophets is a book that is unforgettable and will surely spend considerable time on bestseller lists, and will justly receive nominations and awards recognition for outstanding literature.

I would highly recommend this book and I would like to thank Quercus Books, Riverrun and NetGalley for providing me with a free ARC in return for an honest review.

Peter Donnelly

Founder of The Reading Desk, supporting readers, authors, publishers and book industry. Top Reviewer on Amazon, Goodreads, and NetGalley peter@thereadingdesk.com

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