This is the first novel in what will likely be a massive fantasy series by a very promising Nigerian author. Unlike several new epic fantasies, which I never quite got through, I finished this one in two long days of obsessive reading. It is a gritty novel that takes place on the continent of Oon, a small land of desert, rainforest, and savannah and home to several complex, interconnected countries. Though clearly not based on the European model of Courts and Kings, the warring states on the continent are every bit as domineering, corrupt, and nasty as those of any fantasy version of Europe.
The book has been described as an “African fantasy,” possibly because the phrase “African Game of Thrones” has already been taken (by Marlon James’ Black Leopard Red Wolf). As in Game of Thrones, the story is told from multiple perspectives. There is no one who is typically heroic, and almost everyone is misguided and a bit self-centered, if not actually evil. Unrecognized by most of the inhabitants, Oon is being threatened by drought and encroaching seas. Magic is rare, costly, and seems to involve a lot of blood and suffering. However, unlike in GoT, the author is acutely aware of the forces wrought by discrimination based on class and race, with the darkest Black people claiming superiority and very willing to kill to prove it.
The two main protagonists are Danso, a student of history at a prestigious university, and Estheme, his “intended,” studying law at the same university. They are both outcasts, though for different reasons, and will clearly have to take different paths to the gain the acceptance they crave. There is wisdom between the lines of their journeys; insight from the author into the causes and effects of racism, as well as acknowledgement of the difficulty of bringing about change. The end of this first book leaves a lot of questions, the answers to which will undoubtedly be riveting but not necessarily pleasant.