The Palace Blues By Brandy T. WilsonSoft butch Frankie falls hard for bluesy, ballsy Jean Bailey, a cross-dressing crooner who likes to muddy the Ethel Waters. But is this loose chanteuse just looking for a little sugar in her bowl?

Jean Bailey is a bluesy, ballsy crooner who likes to wear the pants and muddy the Ethel Waters.

She finds a fan in Frankie, a soft butch who falls hard for the loose chanteuse the first time she sees her perform. On the cusp of adulthood, Frankie is bright, white, and alight with feelings of desire, defiance, and self-reliance.

Twisting her way into the singer’s black-and-blues world, the earnest young woman strikes a chord with Jean Bailey, who’s taking her act on the road and invites Frankie to join her. But when Jean departs without her, Frankie strikes out on her own, determined to Alberta Hunter down and demonstrate her devotion.

This train of thought leads Frankie to the railroad station and away from her family, who want her to straighten out and settle down. Frankie, however, is not only enamored with the enigmatic Jean Bailey; she’s intrigued by the instant independence she stands to gain.

But does Frankie stand a chance? For the sake of safety and satisfaction, Frankie’s travels enable her to put the trans in transient, though she hasn’t quite mastered the bulldagger swagger that Jean is so keen on. En route, Frankie encounters a purloiner and a pervert, an invert and a friend ― the latter two for one.

Throughout her transmigration, Frankie remains confident that she’ll track Jean down. But what if Jean is unpleasantly surprised to see her? Or what if Jean just needs a little sugar in her bowl? And then, of course, there’s that whole same sex, different color racket that while not unsung, is not necessarily something to sing about.

With its locomotive lilt and colloquial cadence, The Palace Blues is an exquisitely composed novel. Every plot point roars with plausibility. There are no one-note characters or prose that ends on a sour note. Frankie’s indefatigable, full-steam-ahead approach to love and life feels fittingly foolish and aptly enviable. Jean Bailey, a mesmerizing mélange of Ma Rainey, Gladys Bentley, and Bessie Smith, is stunning in her inscrutability and manifold in her masculinity. The subjects of race, sexuality, and gender are rendered robust and realistic, and are imperative to the story without immobilizing it.

With The Palace Blues, author Brandy T. Wilson proves it on me that she is on the write track.