Palmares is the long-awaited book from ''the best American novelist whose name you may not know'' ( Atlantic ). A sweeping, magnificent historical epic, set in 17th-century Brazil, that has its basis in extraordinary historical events. Almeyda, born on a Brazilian slave plantation, is seven when Father Tollinaire teaches her to read - though only the books that he allows, and only in the pronunciation he dictates. Like her mother, she becomes a house servant, spared the labour of the fields. But when the master offers the young virgin to his friends, her mother takes action - resulting in mother and daughter being separated and sold on. From plantation to plantation, Almeyda hears whispers, rumours of Palmares, a community of escaped slaves. It is said to have its own spy network, making raids on plantations, setting the slaves free. But can this promised land be real? And what price is paid for ''freedom''? Powerful and compelling, Palmares is set in the 17th century, on the last of the fugitive slave settlements in colonial Brazil. Combining her mastery of language with mythology and magical realism, Jones reimagines the historical novel. Gayl Jones is one of the great literary writers of the 20th century. Originally discovered and championed by Toni Morrison, Jones published several novels, and her talent was hailed by writers from James Baldwin to John Updike. Then personal tragedy caused her to close herself off from the world. Now, for the first time in over 20 years, Jones is ready to publish again.