I had all of the feelings about this book. Did not know where to start- so be forewarned that there will be a LOT of word vomit up ahead.
Quick summary- if that’s even possible:
The first of a series, Son of the Storm has magic, politics, badass female characters, and an amazing cover. It explores colorism, immigration, and populism- among many other things. In the city of Bassa, Danso is a young man with a bright future ahead of him with his intended, Esheme. It’s just not a future he’s particularly excited about. Danso is Shashi (mixed-race, which is less than ideal in Bassa) and knows almost nothing of his outlander mother. Add that to his knowledge of a codex he wasn’t supposed to read and a border closing that is barely explained- and Danso has a few questions. When he comes across a compelling stranger from far outside the city’s walls who may be able to help him get answers, he can’t resist. As Danso and Lilong begin their journey, things in Bassa get to a critical point with encouragement from Esheme.
This book was put on my radar by one of my favorite humans-I’ve-never-actually-met Kaymara of Decentred Lit. She has no time for my nonsense, but somehow she finds some anyway. She basically got every real-time reaction I had to this book, at all hours of the day. Or night.
It is clear that Suyi Davies Okungbowa has a brain that is complicated and genius and if I ever find myself in his presence I am 100% sure I will be reduced to a giggling pile of embarrassment and shame. He is another person with no time for my nonsense. However, after Kaymara and I had two separate conversations about how to pronounce the character name “Esheme”, I sent him a message to ask- and he was nice enough to set us straight! (For those who are wondering- it’s AY-SHEH-MEE, which is not how either of us were saying it.)
Here is what kills me about fantasy writing- and to be fully transparent here, I have only recently started reading more fantasy: authors have to think of EVERYTHIIIIIIIIING.
“Uh. Duh, Tessa.”
I get it. I just told you I’m kinda new here. But it blows my mind. New places, new names for those places, new names for people, new animals, new foods, new ways of dressing, new adages, new ways of slicing up society, new ways to get places, new types of buildings to live in, new ways to do magic, just- all of it. And the world building in this book is outrageous. For goodness’ sake- there is a forest that breathes and a LIGHTNING BAT. There is also a very movie-like scene where a character uses magic to manipulate a blade to function as a moving set of ladder rungs. I just…. I wish my brain worked like that!
There are a few reviews on Goodreads lamenting the “info-dumping” and that the book takes a while to get into. To these people I humbly ask- what the hell did you think you were getting yourself into? It’s the first book of a new fantasy series! The info-dump is the point! How else do you orient yourself to a completely new world? Honestly- I have been knocked on my ass by a few recent fantasy books like The Black God’s Drums, Ring Shout (P. Djèlí Clark) and The Bone Shard Daughter (Andrea Stewart)- and the world-building in Son of the Storm is right up there with those. At no point did I find myself wondering what the fuck was going on- it’s seamless.
Here is where I throw in a few of my favorite lines, starting with comments on the caste system in Bassa:
“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.”
“Throw them a bone, and they forget their conditions are exacting and their future bleak.”
“‘Truth, truth, truth. Everybody thinks they want the truth until the truth is staring them in the face. Just look at how your own people reacted to the sudden truth of my existence.’ She kissed her teeth so vehemently she almost went into a coughing fit. ‘You think it is just lies that break lives? The revelation of truth, especially one that people would prefer not to accept, does the same.’”
And here is one of my favorite adages created for the book:
“An arrow insists it is flying when, in truth, it is expiring.”
And one of my favorite lines, period:
“You’re like a scavenger for reasons not to trust people.”
Also on Goodreads, there is a review concerned with the use of the term “yellowskin” in Son of the Storm given its connotations when used against Asians. While not pleasant, it did start a discussion that provided some great context. Okungbowa responded beautifully- very measured and informative and with links to resources for further reading. It is worth the time to seek out (or click here). I hope it is okay to include a bit of his response, but this was the part that cracked my mind open the most:
“It is impossible to erase the use of ‘yellow’ within the vocabulary of African-descended peoples because of an unconnected history of that word that America has with Asia. That would hinder our own ability to speak about the nuanced variations of Blackness/Africanness, of which ‘yellow’ is a part. One of the things I aim to do with my work is to represent these true and nuanced experiences, separate from the dominant cultural narratives that center America and its history of subjugation. I would like to think it is feasible to speak to very specific experiences of Blackness/Africanness, and be understood within context and not have these terms mistakenly transplanted to an unrelated experience.”
He also makes clear that his “work neither references nor draws from America or Asia in any of the slightest possible ways–directly or analogously.” I completely believe him. However, being a typical American, it was difficult to not draw comparisons to the current political climate of the U.S.- especially when a character pronounces, “But on this same day, we, too, decide, to take Bassa back and make it great again.”
There was immediate bile in the back of my throat.
Speaking of bile (nice segue, right?)- there is a lot of truly wonderful and awful gore in this book. No spoilers, but there are some very murder-y scenes with bones poking out and jaws being broken to make room for swords to be crammed down them.
So to sum up my word vomit?
If you are a fantasy fan, DEFINITELY read Son of the Storm.
If you’re not a fan of fantasy, I still recommend this book- but don’t take to Goodreads or wherever to complain about world-building, slow pacing, or info-dumping if this isn’t your cup of tea. It’s okay if you like different tea. Recognize that and don’t take it out on the book.
As Kaymara (once again, from Decentred Lit) said to me, “The way non-USians tell stories is different. Stop expecting everyone to write the same way.”
I leave you with this line from the book:
“But fear is only for a moment. Courage, in the times when you need it, comes with the doing.”
(P.S. I preordered the crap out of this book from my local favorite, BUT thank you to Orbit Books and NetGalley for the advance review copy!)