One of our recommended books is The Freedom Race by Lucinda Roy


The Dreambird Chronicles (Volume 1)

The second Civil War, the Sequel, came and went in the United States leaving radiation, sickness, and fractures too deep to mend. One faction, the Homestead Territories, dealt with the devastation by recruiting immigrants from Africa and beginning a new slave trade while the other two factions stood by and watched.

Ji-ji Lottermule was bred and raised in captivity on one of the plantations in the Homestead Territories of the Disunited States to serve and breed more “muleseeds.” There is only one way out—the annual Freedom Race. First prize, freedom.

An underground movement has plans to free Ji-ji,

more …

The second Civil War, the Sequel, came and went in the United States leaving radiation, sickness, and fractures too deep to mend. One faction, the Homestead Territories, dealt with the devastation by recruiting immigrants from Africa and beginning a new slave trade while the other two factions stood by and watched.

Ji-ji Lottermule was bred and raised in captivity on one of the plantations in the Homestead Territories of the Disunited States to serve and breed more “muleseeds.” There is only one way out—the annual Freedom Race. First prize, freedom.

An underground movement has plans to free Ji-ji, who unknowingly holds the key to breaking the grip of the Territories. However, before she can begin to free them all, Ji-ji must unravel the very real voices of the dead.

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  • Tor Books
  • Hardcover
  • July 2021
  • 416 Pages
  • 9781250258908

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About Lucinda Roy

Lucinda Roy is the author of The Freedom Race

Lucinda Roy is an award-winning novelist, poet, and memoirist, recognized for her keynotes on race and gender, creative writing, and education reform. Her writing has appeared in numerous newspapers and journals, including USA Today, the Guardian, and the New York Times. Her latest book is The Freedom Race, a speculative slave narrative. She lives in Blacksburg, Virginia, where, as a distinguished professor, she teaches creative writing at Virginia Tech.


“Readers…will appreciate both the tenacious heroine and Roy’s intricate prose stylings.” Publishers Weekly

“Every now and then a work comes along that makes you wonder whether you are reading or dreaming. And you’re not sure it matters which.” —Nikki Giovanni

“You ever have the feeling that if you don’t read something, you may be missing out on something momentous happening? . . . I got that vibe from the first page of The Freedom Race. It has a prescience about it in the tradition of Octavia Butler. . . . If ‘resilience’ was a book, it would be The Freedom Race.” —Maurice Broaddus, author of Buffalo Soldier

“The future Lucinda Roy calls up in The Freedom Race is a fierce, unsettling riff on our past and present. Instead of watching democracy evaporate and justice fail, Ms. Roy challenges us all to get over ourselves and join the race for freedom.” —Andrea Hairston, author of Will Do Magic for Small Change

“American magic-realism meets the outcome of the Second U.S. Civil War in a well-told, but brutally jolting, strangely prescient, and soul-haunting narrative.” —L. E. Modesitt, Jr., bestselling author of the Saga of Recluce series

Discussion Questions

1. As the main character in The Freedom Race through whose eyes most of the action is seen, Ji-ji writhes under the weight of a system that enslaves her. Where does she find the courage to act? How much would you be willing to risk to escape the planting? Which aspects of planting life seem to you to be the most insidious?

2. The book opens with an invented proverb: “Dreams are promises the imagination makes to itself.” How do characters “dreaminate” their future? Is it possible, to “overdream” as Silapu and Bettieann suggest, or is Uncle Dreg right to encourage his followers to dream larger than life?

3. In the novel, the U.S. became the Disunited States after the second Civil War called the Sequel, secessionism, climate change, and pandemics fractured the nation. Do you think that the world depicted in the novel is a flight of fancy or a prediction of what could happen in the future? How does it draw upon the current racial dynamic in the U.S. and elsewhere?

4. This survival story focuses primarily on the lives of girls and women of color. Though their bodies are claimed by the steaders, the women manage to build supportive communities. How do the females in the novel sustain and empower each other?

5. How is the quest for social justice and racial equality portrayed in The Freedom Race, and what is the relationship of this broader quest to the quest for the self?

6. In The Freedom Race, the real world nudges up against the imagined, and science and magical realism are different sides of the same story. What were some of the most “real” moments for you in the book, and which parts seemed closer to dreaming? How do characters in the novel construct their own reality?

7. Walls and fences are two of the dominant features in the novel. How are they used in the book not only to define spaces but also to maintain the status quo?

8. The saying “The only way for a seed to be Free / Is to swing on high from a penal tree” is true for many of those confined to plantings. Yet somehow, the enslaved keep Freedom alive as an uplifting idea. What does Freedom—always capitalized for people like Ji-ji—come to mean to her and to other so-called seeds in the Territories?

9. Purple appears as a refrain in the book. Why do you think this color has such a strong hold on a future enslaved population’s collective imagination? What are some of purple’s literary and religious antecedents?

10. The Freedom Race is a hybrid novel that does not fit neatly into a single category. It can be read as an Afro-futuristic adventure narrative, a spiritual allegory, a satirical critique of racism, a reconfiguration of mythic archetypes, or a meditation on flight, to name some possible interpretations. How did you read it? How did these characters’ experiences connect with your own?



A convulsive wail catapulted Ji-ji awake. Oletto had woken to nurse. The wailing reached a crescendo. Each night her little brother woke at ten and two, guzzled from her mam’s teat like a drunkard, then fell back to sleep so rapidly it looked like he was faking it. Only he wasn’t—not according to Ji-ji’s mam, who welcomed the wailing, said it assured her that her lastborn was still with them. “Don’t ever leave a seedling to purple-wail like that, Ji-ji,” Silapu would warn. “Unanswered yearning can split you wide open, force you to spend the rest of your life searching for foolish ways to plug up the wound.”

Ji-ji rolled over to face the tattered curtain hanging over the doorway that separated her bedroom from the main room. For a few seconds, she tried to convince herself her name wasn’t Jellybean Lottermule. She was Ji-ji Jubilation, the j’s in her first name pronounced like the g in gee whiz. She’d chosen it because it sounded cute and sassy, neither of which she was. “Brown as dung” the steaders called her, nothing like her dark and pretty mam, or Charra, her light-skinned, pretty sister. Not that she gave a damn what dumbass steaders thought. The only name worse than Jellybean was Lottermule. Thinking about it made her want to gag.

Oletto’s wails turned to hiccuping whimpers. Sleep had deserted her, so Ji-ji took refuge in her pretend life. She was living Free! Free! Free! in Dream City … or up in the Eastern SuperState maybe, where rumor had it they’d rebuilt some of the iconic skyscrapers, locating them farther back from the coast this time cos SuperStaters didn’t blame floods on the wrath of God like steaders did. She pictured herself living in a penthouse—a term Father-Man Lotter used to describe the main offices of the Territorial Headquarters in the Father-City of Armistice, a.k.a. the City of Cages. (Don’t think about their disgusting capital. It’ll drive you crazy. Go back to where you can live Free.…) She found a place of refuge again. She was a half-Toteppi princess living high on the hog with her mam and little brother in a penthouse hundreds of miles from the Territories. No man could ever touch her or beat her. Ji-ji Jubilation was her very own self on her very own terms.…

Her brother’s whimpers turned to shrieks. The truth gnawed like rats, severing the hope-rope she clung to. They weren’t living in a liberty SuperState or an Independent oasis; they were trapped at the butt end of the Old Commonwealth of Virginia on one of the hundreds of plantings homesteaders established following the Civil War Sequel. She was Jellybean Lottermule, chief kitchen-seed.… It would never be enough.…

Ji-ji grabbed her wristwatch from the small bookshelf Tiro had made for her fourteenth birthday. She’d won the watch in one of the planting races. She stared at the hands on the watch’s face. It was a child’s wind-up watch, which explained why the steaders had given it as a prize to the fastest female runner. A tiny, coal-black cartoon mouse pointed his white-gloved, chubby fingers at the numbers on the watch face. The mouse was grinning so hard it looked painful. He reminded Ji-ji of the black-faced minstrels who played at the barn dance during the Harvesting Festival. Two A.M. Only three more hours to go before her morning run. By six thirty, she’d be preparing Lotter’s breakfast at the father-house. He liked to eat early: poached eggs cooked just right—never hard-set but not undercooked either; coffee smooth not bitter—no milk, no sugar. Father-Man Lotter didn’t go in for diluting anything.

Oletto’s whimpers turned to screams. If she didn’t get an hour or more of sleep she’d be dragging all day. She tried to think of herself as lucky. At fourteen, she was one of the few postpubescent females still living in her mam’s cabin. She recited the words Zaini, Tiro’s mam, had taught her to raise her spirits: “Our mother, which art the Cradle, may we know our hallowed names.” She took a deep breath and blew it out slowly to calm herself, then stepped lightly out of bed. Yawning, she shuffled through the bedroom, careful to avoid the twelve dents in the floor made by the legs of her three lost siblings’ beds. The dents they’d left behind were pretty much all she had to remember them by. Stepping on them would have seemed like blasphemy.

Ji-ji entered the only other room in the cabin. Silapu must have been up for a while because a crackling fireplace warded off the winter chill. Apart from Oletto’s cradle and Lotter’s fancy rocking chair, all their other furniture was junk: a rickety table on a tired rug whose edges curled up like fried bacon; three wobbly wooden chairs, one with part of its back missing; and a sink with a working pump—admittedly a luxury few seed cabins possessed.

Ji-ji glanced over at the one object in the room—apart from her brother’s magnificent cradle, of course—that didn’t make her want to scream. Tiro’s mam Zaini had made the quilt as a grieving gift for Silapu after Luvlydoll died. It depicted blackbirds—three perched in a tree while a few dozen took off from the branches in a burst of something akin to fireworks on the Fourth of July. The quilt almost convinced you the seedmate cabin was home, almost made you forget that behind it was Lotter’s seeding bed. Not that her mam used it much. When Lotter wasn’t paying her a seeding call, Silapu didn’t sleep in the mating bed, opting instead for a makeshift bed on the floor. However hard she scrubbed, she claimed, it was impossible to wash Lotter’s mating stench from the sheets.

Having dragged a chair over from the table, Ji-ji sat down beside the cradle. Woven from twigs fashioned into impossible patterns, it had solid black walnut rockers decorated with intricate carvings of beasts and birds. Six months before, a few hours after her mam had given birth, Uncle Dreg had shown up out of the blue to present Silapu with the magnificent cradle. When Ji-ji had asked him how he’d known her mam had seedbirthed, he’d pointed to his Seeing Eye necklace and smiled the way you do when you want to keep someone guessing. “This cradle will keep your offspring safe,” the wizard had promised.

“Your brother is teething,” Silapu declared with unmistakable pride. “His front tooth is sprouting, see? It is a sharp one. He will start biting down hard when he nurses. You were a biter.…”

Ji-ji poked her index finger into Oletto’s mouth—not easy because he was snuffling around for the large dark nipple he craved—and found his wayward tooth. It had put down roots in the middle of his top gum.

“That center tooth is a sign,” Silapu stated. Her Toteppi accent made her sound wise. “My own father’s front tooth was in the center like this one. It is my father come to me again. ‘Same mouth, same words’—that is what we Toteppi say. When this one is a warrior grown, he will sound like my father. His voice will boom out across the bush.”

“We’re not in the bush,” Ji-j reminded her. “We’re in the Homestead Territories.”

“Only when our eyes are open,” Silapu insisted.

Ji-ji smiled. It was good to hear her mam speak of her homeland, good to see her happy again. Tribalseed “imports” from the Cradle, shipped over to the Territories to address the severe labor shortage, sometimes wasted away or killed themselves soon after they arrived on transport planes or cargo ships. Silapu had been Ji-ji’s age when she’d been snatched from the Cradle by pickers. Her mam knew the old words and the old stories, though unlike Uncle Dreg, she never spoke them aloud. “You know what memories are, Jellybean?” she’d said once to Ji-ji, after Clay had been auctionmarted. “Memories are knives—slice, slice!” She’d slashed her arms through the air and banged her head against the wall until Ji-ji and Charra coaxed her quiet. But tonight, as Silapu looked at her lastborn, there was a deep contentment and a Toteppi pride in her eyes.

“Do you hear that, Bonbon?” Ji-ji asked, suddenly happy. “Mam says all you need to do is keep your eyes shut an’ you won’t even know you’re on a planting.”

Ji-ji loved to use the nickname she’d given her little brother. She’d had a bonbon once—a dark chocolate one. It had slipped down her throat as easy as spit. She wished her lost brother and sisters could have seen him; they would have loved him too. But after metaflu took Luvlydoll, and they shipped Clay off to the auctionmart, and Charra—god knows what happened to Charra—Ji-ji was the only one left. Charra, the last of the three to be lost, had disappeared some months ago. Silapu, who’d been barely holding things together before then, was inconsolable. She blamed herself for what happened, though she wouldn’t tell Ji-ji why. Crazy with grief, she’d drowned her sorrows in cheap whiskey from the planting store and pills she got from Lotter. She hadn’t known she was pregnant until roughly the fifth month. When Doc Riff diagnosed her condition, she swore she’d never touch a drop of booze or swallow another of Lotter’s pills—as long as her offspring was healthy and she was allowed to keep him. She sensed early that her lastborn was a boy, the seedling who would make her life bearable, she said. Silapu and Ji-ji had delivered Bonbon without a midwife or doctor in attendance. Ji-ji suspected her mam had somehow guessed her lastborn’s secret.

When Bonbon slipped out of the seed canal into her hands, Ji-ji had stared at the seedling in disbelief. Unlike Silapu’s other liveborns and deadborns, the infant was Midnight dark. Ji-ji had been “disappointingly dusky” herself, according to Lotter, her complexion aligning more closely with a typical Commonseed’s than a Mule’s. But Lotter reconciled himself to Jellybean’s “dun-colored cheeks and nappy head.” Bonbon’s case was much more extreme, which was why both Ji-ji and her mam were terror-struck when they saw him.

Among Tribalseeds and products of Commonseed matings, very dark complexions were not unusual. Biracial Muleseeds, on the other hand, especially those begat by father-men, were supposed to testify to the strength of the patriarchal seed. Bonbon’s complexion was on the Midnight arc of the official Color Wheel—a number 35 or 36. According to steader doctrine, Muleseeds on the duskiest arc (a.k.a. the cuckold arc) testified to the promiscuity of a seedmate.

Copyright © 2021 by Lucinda Roy