David Mogo, Godhunter – Review

David Mogo, Godhunter

David Mogo, Godhunter by Suyi Davies Okungbowa

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

David Mogo, Godhunter by Suyi Davies Okungbowa
Review of a free Netgalley Review Copy.

David Mogo is a hunter of godlings, a cleaner of messes made by the minor deities running loose in Lagos, Nigeria after an event called the Fall, when Gods and Goddesses of Africa’s pantheon(s) come to earth and start raising havoc. He himself is a demigod, the son of an unknown goddess who possesses strength, stamina, and an attitude to match.
His mentor, Papa Udi, is a wizard and a man of few words, and together they begin to take on stronger gods who plan to take over…The world! (Or maybe just Lagos. Or Nigeria? Plans change).

This was a very fun read. The action is meaty and fast, the overall story engaging, and the characters unique and convincing. But for me, and I think for a lot of readers like me (American fantasy fans) the novelty of the setting, and the richness of the language involved, is what is most appealing.

The story and pacing are not incredibly unusual for this kind of urban fantasy–a damaged protagonist possesses extraordinary powers and uses them to battle beings with even more extraordinary powers in a modern setting in a real place. But the details are so much more inviting in this book.

For one thing, despite being an actual demigod, David is immensely human. He is unsure and hesitant at times, but driven by compassion and a desire to do good. He is not your usual urban fantasy banterer, either. He is sincere, if emotionally conflicted, and it’s refreshing.

The people around him are also complex and involved in their own stories, and things happen around the protagonist without him knowing, making the world seem that much more three-dimensional. And what a world!

I know almost nothing about Lagos, but this book brings the city to life in a way that only someone who truly loves it could. It is flawed (there is a shocking amount of feces mentioned) but vibrant, despite its fallen state in the book. I want to know so much more about the city and its people now.

The god characters are also a fun take. They appear to come from the Yoruba pantheon, based on the names, and their natures are both familiar (gods of war and birth are not uncommon in many pantheons) and new (their characters and expressions are unlike the more familiar European pantheons in many ways). I genuinely felt like I was experiencing something new every few pages, which has gotten to be a rare experience as I get older.

And then there are the languages!

This is where the book really shines. David, the protagonist and POV, uses fairly standard English. However, the characters around him use a variety of languages that you would actually encounter in Lagos. Papa Udi speaks Pidgin, which I imagine many American or European readers will find challenging. Some characters speak Yoruba, which David does not–so the words are left untranslated and an enigma. There are names of clothing and cars and places I have never heard of, and I find it almost thrilling to have that kind of linguistic adventurism in a book like this.

This is not a high-brow work of literature. This is not an essay about African culture. It’s an urban fantasy, a fun afternoon-snack book, that still doesn’t handhold its readers through linguistic challenge. I love it.

For those worried about that challenge, though, it’s OK. The book is clear enough that you can get through it fine without puzzling over the Pidgin or translating the Yoruba. You can just sit back and enjoy the ride as David battle gods, gets to know his roots, and becomes an even bigger bad-ass.

Thank you to the publisher and to Suyi Davies Okungbowa for the chance to read this book!

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One Word Kill – Review

One Word Kill (Impossible Times, #1)

One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence. Review copy from Netgalley.

A group of teen friends in 1986 united by their love of Dungeons & Dragons are pulled into a spiral of danger and adventure and growing pains. But in London, not Indiana. The comparisons to Stranger Things are inevitable, and perhaps even intentional, but although the heart of the story is often similar (misfit kids banding together to get through the pain of life, discover the joy of it, and also do crazy things together) it is altogether its own beast. It is, for one, a science fiction/time travel story, rather than a science fiction/cosmic horror story. Also, the adults are far less involved than in ST. But it still preserves that golden glow of love for a time, and an appreciation of the humanity of young people, that is the same.

The gentleness of this story, the warm heart it carries for its characters, is almost shocking coming from Lawrence’s previous stories–Jorg Ancrath was many things, but sensitive to the joy and pain of simple life he was not. And yet the characters in One Word Kill most certainly are. They are kids, and they act like it, but they are also filled with love for one another that often defies words, but drives their actions.

Nick, our protagonist, and his friend Mia tricking the emotionally closed off Simon into learning to dance so he could go to a party; the friends banding together to protect each other against a homicidal bully without a second thought; the acceptance of each other’s differences with natural grace. It’s a story of love.

There is, of course, pain here as well. The children (and they are children) lose things that can never be regained, and it is handled well.

The writing is fluid and natural, as well. Lawrence has always been a strong writer of dialog, but I was actually surprised at how earnest and real these characters feel. So many voices in his previous works were trapped by sarcastic insincerity I had almost come to expect it from the author, but this book alone proves me wrong. It’s a pleasant mistake to make.

One thing that perhaps I didn’t like as much is the kind of universalizing of D&D as a magical gift to all weirdos and misfits of the 80s. As one of those weirdos, I have to say D&D never offered me anything like the emotional panacea that is implied here. I much preferred the stories in books to the ones that people tried to make me be part of. But that’s a personal issue, and of course those who grew up with the monster manual in hand will likely feel differently.

But in summary, I enjoyed this book. I enjoyed watching the characters take their first fumbling steps out of childhood, I cringed at the pain they faced, and I am glad I got the chance to read Lawrence’s latest work.

Thank you to the publisher and the author for giving me the chance to review One Word Kill!

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The Unnamed Bears Favor – Review

The Unnamed Bears Favor

The Unnamed Bears Favor by J. Lyon Layden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Unnamed Bears Favor
by J. Lyon Layden

Disclaimer-I received a free review copy from Netgalley.

This is the story of an unnamed boy who yearns to be named a man in his stone-age (?) tribe. The story begins when he is chosen to join a group of mystical hunters, who offer him just that chance. However, he must go on a journey fraught with peril and haunted by magic and mystery.

This novella is a lushly worded, tightly paced journey into mystery, in the most traditional sense of the word.
The author evokes the worldview of a paleolithic person in a way that feels authentic, although we can never know what authentic actually means here. The world built in this compact story is unknown and unknowable, dangerous and beautiful and enchanting. I wish there were more.

One of the things that I find most compelling here is the author’s reluctance to explain. Things are left unsaid, and things that we, the readers, do not understand are taken for granted. The characters do not explain things that they already know, just as would happen in real life, so the reader is left to wonder. What was real? What was confusion, or hallucination, or actually magic?

The use of language is also well wrought. The differences in dialect, hinting at connections beyond the tribal level, are interesting and fun. I found some parts where the language was perhaps a little too overwrought and got in the way of comprehension in a way that felt unintentional, though, so that line is a fine one.

I also spotted some basic typos, but such things are often unavoidable and so I didn’t find them to detract overall from the story.

My only drawback, and the reason I’m not going for 5 stars, is that the ending felt rushed and vaguely flat. I felt that this might actually be enough of a world to merit a full novel, if a short one to maintain that mystery.

Overall, this was a genuine pleasure to read. I am grateful to the author and the publisher, Aurelia Leo, for the review copy on Netgalley.

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