The Water Dancer

Ta-Nehisi Coates

fiction historical literary magical realism
adventurous emotional hopeful reflective sad medium-paced

406 pages | first published 2019

Young Hiram Walker was born into bondage–and lost his mother and all memory of her when he was a child–but he is also gifted with a mysterious power. Hiram almost drowns when he crashes a carriage into a river, but is saved from the depths by a force he doesn’t understand, a blue light that lifts him up and lands him a mile away. This strange brush with death forces a new urgency on Hiram’s private rebellion. Spurred on by his improvised plantation family, Thena, his chosen mother, a woman of few words and many secrets, and Sophia, a young woman fighting her own war even as she and Hiram fall in love, he becomes determined to escape the only home he’s ever known.

So begins an unexpected journey into the covert war on slavery that takes Hiram from the corrupt grandeur of Virginia’s proud plantations to desperate guerrilla cells in the wilderness, from the coffin of the deep South to dangerously utopic movements in the North. Even as he’s enlisted in the underground war between slavers and the enslaved, all Hiram wants is to return to the Walker Plantation to free the family he left behind–but to do so, he must first master his magical gift and reconstruct the story of his greatest loss.

This is a bracingly original vision of the world of slavery, written with the narrative force of a great adventure. Driven by the author’s bold imagination and striking ability to bring readers deep into the interior lives of his brilliantly rendered characters, The Water Dancer is the story of America’s oldest struggle–the struggle to tell the truth–from one of our most exciting thinkers and beautiful writers.

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emotional 73%
challenging 50%
adventurous 46%
dark 46%
reflective 46%
sad 46%
hopeful 36%
tense 32%
inspiring 30%
mysterious 29%
informative 17%


medium 59%
slow 40%
fast 0%

Plot- or character-driven?

A mix: 56% | Character: 35% | Plot: 7%

Strong character development?

Yes: 85% | It's complicated: 8% | No: 4% | N/A: 1%

Loveable characters?

Yes: 60% | It's complicated: 34% | No: 4% | N/A: 2%

Diverse cast of characters?

Yes: 91% | It's complicated: 5% | No: 2% | N/A: 0%

Flaws of characters a main focus?

Yes: 56% | It's complicated: 25% | No: 16% | N/A: 2%

Average rating