In the city of Bassa, Danso is a clever scholar on the cusp of achieving greatness-only he doesn’t want it. Instead, he prefers to chase forbidden stories about what lies outside the city walls. The Bassai elite claim there is nothing of interest. The city’s immigrants are sworn to secrecy. But when Danso stumbles across a warrior wielding magic that shouldn’t exist, he’s put on a collision course with Bassa’s darkest secrets. Drawn into the city’s hidden history, he sets out on a journey beyond its borders. But the chaos left in the wake of his discovery threatens to destroy the empire.
Thank you to NetGalley and Orbit for the eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Firstly, the cover for this book in phenomenal, and a big part of why I requested a copy in the first place. And look, it has a map! Always exciting! Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to my expectations, but I still have a lot of good things to say about it. In this review I’ll attempt to keep it as positive as I can, but I do want to explain my disappointments, so that others can decide for themselves.
The book is told through multiple points of view, the main ones being Danso, Zaq, Esheme, and Lilong, though there are a few others that appear here and there. Danso is a scholar, and probably the brightest in his age group, but he constantly faces difficulties because he is Shashi, which means that one of his parents was either from the Savanna Belt or one of the islands. People from that side of the continent are paler, and so are regarded as less by the people of Bassa on the mainland, who see the perfect colour as being the closest to humus, the organic component of the soil from which the gods formed them. So essentially Danso is mixed race, and so despite being in an elevated position in society, he does not get the respect reserved for his order.
‘If belonging to both the highest and lowest castes in the land at the same time taught one anything, it was that when people had to choose where to place a person, they would always choose a spot beneath them.’
One of the really interesting things Okungbowa has done with all of his point of view characters is make them outsiders to the higher castes in some way or another, and through this he explores class, race, and societal structure in very powerful ways. Esheme, for example, is Danso’s intended (as in they will be joined soon), and though she is the right caste because of her colour and education, she is looked down upon because her mother Nem (also a point of view character) came from a lower caste and works as a fixer, which means she helps people sort out their problems for the right price. Fixers are both feared and looked down upon, and Esheme wants to break away from that disrespect in any way she can.
‘Esheme wanted to have not one face but many. She wanted to be iridescent, a different colour with every angle.’
Zaq, meanwhile, is from the Savanna Belt, and is essentially an indentured servant, and he works as Danso’s Second, a bodyguard/manservant. Zaq wasn’t always enjoyable to read, but he’s a very interesting character because through him we get to see the perspective of someone who is being used by Bassa, yet who holds a great allegiance to the country oppressing him, and he has to deal with his feelings as he gets dragged away from the city as a fugitive because of Danso’s actions.
Lastly, there is Lilong who was the character I was most looking forward to hearing from, because she is the catalyst for everything. She is a yellowskin from the Nameless Islands, which are believed to no longer exists, and she and her people wield a great and dangerous magic. She appears properly at the end of the first section, which I flew through, and becomes a point of view character from section two onwards. She also offers an interesting dynamic as someone who has grown up hating Bassa for their hatred and slaughter of her people, and now she has to come to terms with travelling with a Bassai who wants to befriend and understand her. While I did enjoy her and Danso’s development, a lot of her chapters felt a little repetitive.
In fact, overall, this story was extremely slow-paced, especially in the ‘fantasy road trip’ (for want of a better term) part of it. When Danso, Zaq, and Lilong find themselves on the run, I thought things would speed up for them and become exciting, but instead they stay in one place for several chapters. Sure, there is some development between these characters that have been thrown together, but I’m not sure how much it warranted the pause. Where the action stays fast-paced is actually back in Bassa, where Esheme’s mother becomes incapacitated, so that she has to step into the role and finds herself caught in the trap Nem’s actions have caused. She acts decisively, and a lot happens during her chapters. Then, just as her story had gripped me again, the point of view would change to someone else.
I am a big fan of many points of view, and love getting to know each character, but the way this was structured threw me off continuously, and messed up the pacing. Which is what my disappointment boils down to, in the end: pacing. The story is good, the characters are interesting, the world-building is incredible, but most of the time I couldn’t tell where the plot was going and was getting frustrated at the characters going round in circles in their own minds. It got to the point that, at the end of part three, I was convinced the book had finished, because the last line had the feeling of a conclusion, and then I realised I was only 80% of the way through! I know this isn’t helped by the format, which is eBook, and I do try to account for that, but it was still draining.
As I’ve mentioned, though, the world-building is really really good. Even in the prologue, which throws you straight into the world full of unfamiliar (to me) words, the way Okungbowa works in the history, geography, and language is done in the perfect balance so that the reader is a little lost by but still intrigued. This continues throughout the book, especially in Danso’s chapters; because he is a scholar, he often refers to texts of history or legend which give the world a much bigger feel, and make me want to explore it further. I mean, there are two moons! How cool is that? And there are some really cool things with the sea, which I’m hoping we get to see more of in the future. The attention to detail is impressive, and it’s always exciting for me to enter a fantasy world that veers away from the typical medieval Europe, which is happening more and more.
‘If there was anything he had learned in the past two days, it was that Bassa was very good at telling stories that painted only a part of the picture, the only part they wanted people to see.’
So overall, though I did spend some of my time dragging myself through the slow parts of the narrative and yelling at the characters to get a move on, I am glad I read this book, and will probably keep an eye out for the second one next year; perhaps it will elevate my opinion of Son of the Storm. Two of my favourite characters were actually minor ones (Biemwensé – grumpy badass older woman – and Igan – gender neutral warrior), and if there is more of them I’ll be happy.
Let me know if you’ve read it and if your opinion is different! Happy reading!
Published: 13th May 2021 by Orbit Books
Series: The Nameless Republic, book one
Narration style: third person, past tense, multiple narrators
Format read: eARC
Copy owned: No
Trigger Warnings: body horror, genocide, miscarriage, torture, and general violence