One set of books that I failed to keep on top of reviews for this year was the Subjective Chaos shortlist. My focus ended up always being finishing the books on time; reviewing them was a bridge too far. Time to put that right – not least because this one went on to win our Blurred Boundaries category!
Ten years ago, the godpocalypse hit Lagos: godlings literally falling from the sky to wreak havoc on the city. A decade later, there are still no-go zones where supernatural beings rule supreme while the rest of the city gets by as well as it can. It’s all an opportunity for David Mogo, foundling and demigod. Being superhuman, David takes on jobs nobody else can manage, wrestling the unwelcome divine back to the no-mans-land of Ìsàlẹ̀ Èkó – for a fee.
It’s a great set-up for an unusual urban fantasy, a triptych of stories recounting David’s exploits against a pantheon determined to rip its way into the world. It’s also a journey of self-discovery. David is far from comfortable with his heritage; he must confront – and accept – his nature to unlock the powers he needs to save the city.
This sounds like my jam, but if I’m brutally honest, I struggled with the execution.
On the plus side, it’s a whirlwind of intriguing world-building, ruthless in dropping patois and leaving you to figure it out from context or Google rapidly to keep up. The frenetic plot is no less sink or swim, rarely pausing for breath as it pushes from confrontation to calamity. It could be overwhelming, but the result mostly feels bold and fresh, saturated in tantalising mythos, soaked in unfamiliar rhythms. If you’re bored of European-inspired fantasy and want more than yet another urban fantasy set in London or New York, look no further.
However, I found the characters less than compelling. While often flamboyant (I loved the trickster god, naturally), the secondary cast are thinly drawn, with the fast-moving action leaving little room to develop anyone except our protagonist. David is interesting but hard to like, his initially charismatic persona shattering under pressure – understandable enough, but his tendency to lash out at his allies and his unexamined streak of misogyny did rather reduce my sympathy for him (example: at one point, he assumes a goddess will have hysterics under pressure, because female. Dude. DUDE) . It’s worth noting that the narrative does not uphold David’s attitude: there’s an array of intriguing female characters who repeatedly save the day (or at least rescue the moment so that the day can be saved).
Overall, I appreciated this for being a delightfully different take on a well-worn subgenre, but I think I would have enjoyed it more as a full-length trilogy rather than three stories jammed into a single volume. There’s just so much going on here and so much to savour – with more room to explore world and characters, I think I’d have been a pig in mud. Consequently, I’m excited to read Okungbowa’s new series starter Son of the Storm, due out in April 2021.