Book Review: Son of the Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa

Son of the Storm by Suyi Davies OkungbowaTitle: Son of the Storm (The Nameless Republic #1)
Author: Suyi Davies Okungbowa
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: May 11, 2021
Genre: Fantasy
One Sentence Summary: When a yellowskin is sighted in Bassa for the first time in countless generations, a curious scholar goes on the quest of a lifetime and an ambitious fixer’s daughter sees her opportunity.

Holy cow, Son of the Storm is incredible! It’s intense and so character driven I literally can’t think of a way to do this book justice by using my usual format. I wanted to read this book because it’s West African-inspired and, for a number of reasons, I’m really intrigued by African-inspired fantasy these days. I wasn’t even too sure of what it was about because the description felt a little vague, but I ended up really enjoying it. It’s unapologetic and intense, sometimes brutal and sometimes naive. There are a lot of moving parts, a lot of things hinging on the decisions of the characters. I couldn’t not think of Son of the Storm as being anything other than character driven. So it feels only fitting to focus on the three main characters in my review.

Danso

Danso is a scholar, and far too curious for his own good. Despite his somewhat lighter than acceptable skin, he’s allowed to become an Idu, a scholar welcome to learn at the university. He’s bright, so they made an exception. But he’s also far too bright, far too curious, and it leads him to potential expulsion. Before that can happen, though, he comes across a yellowskin in hiding, a woman who shouldn’t exist, a woman he should report. Danso being Danso, he keeps her secret, and it starts his journey into the unknown.

Danso is naive. Smart, but his curiosity makes him single-minded in his pursuit to the point where he forgets the people around him have their own lives, their own needs and wants, and that what he wants is not always practical or possible. But it was absolutely amazing to see the world through his eyes. He willingly leaves Bassa and finds an entire world like and unlike what he knows. The world building is incredible, but comes from the launching pad of what Danso has been taught and believes. He often felt like a wide-eyed child gazing at everything in wonder, learning with a childish delight, making him also feel very innocent and perhaps the bearer of too good of a soul.

Overall, I really liked Danso. I loved the wonder he took with him, though his innocence often got him into trouble. But, of all of the characters, he was the most accepting of his lot. His decisions and how he influenced the characters around him really helped drive the story forward.

Esheme

Back in Bassa, Esheme was Danso’s intended. His very irritated intended who didn’t actually seem to care much for him. She’s a perfect foil to Danso: cool, competent, ambitious. Where Danso simply wants knowledge, Esheme wants power.

The daughter of a fixer, she and her mother are on the fringes of society, but society couldn’t exist without everything her mother can do. Esheme and her mother Nem have a fascinating relationship, one where they both really want the same thing for Esheme, but there’s a lack of communication.

Through Esheme’s eyes, we learn about how Bassa operates. Because Esheme wants power and wants to change things. We learn about a coalition working to undermine the Elders and councils. We learn about how Bassa segregates people of various skin tones into different groups with the darkest skin being the most desirable. We learn about how Bassa is organized into various wards and what it means for how society functions and how people of different skin darkness are treated.

Just like Danso, Esheme pushes the story forward. She’s smart, ambitious, and manipulative. She’ll do anything to get ahead, will use anyone available to her, and her willingness to do so makes her difficult to stop. Esheme is relentless in pushing, in shifting people to do what she wishes, just as Danso is relentless in his pursuit of knowledge and the unknown.

I didn’t find her to be quite as likable, but I do have to admire her ambition. While Danso explores the wider world (and what an incredible world it turns out to be), she’s confined to Bassa, almost as though she’s providing a counterpoint to him, a point of reference for the reader to highlight the world and how it all operates.

Lilong

Lilong is a mythical yellowskin. According to the people of Bassa, the islands her people come from sank too long ago for anyone living to remember seeing one. As such, she’s secretive, but wields an incredible power. It’s her duty to keep Danso in the dark, but, over the course of the story and her journey with him, she softens, and it’s fascinating to get to know her and the Nameless Islands she comes from.

Lilong felt like the most elusive character to me. She felt like she was mostly going along with the flow, stuck with Danso while constantly pulling away and denying him the knowledge he thirsts for. But she is the one who sparks everything in the book.

True to her people’s decision to stay secret, Lilong offers very little about herself, her people, and the magic she wields. The magic is incredible and fascinating and plays a big role in the story, but I have to admit I still feel vague on how a lot of it works. But I really enjoyed watching her relationship with Danso settle into something less confrontational and more resigned. They played off of each other really well and sometimes lent something of a lighter air to a really dense read.

Overall

Son of the Storm is an incredible African-inspired fantasy. The characters are extremely well fleshed out and their choices directly impact the story. They’re three very different people surrounded by people who both support them and want to kill them, creating a bit of a brutal society. The world is incredible and well-detailed, making it feel like a living, breathing (literally) thing. Son of the Storm is often intense, often brutal, but surprisingly focused on the different kinds of relationships between the characters. The characterizations are so well done that I almost believed I was actually settling into the world, into their shoes, every time I opened the book. If there was one thing that didn’t really work for me, it’s that the ARC I have lacked a map, so the world felt a little vague to me, and it was difficult to keep track of all the skin tone based classes.

How many cups of tea will you need?

5 cups

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Thank you to Angela Man at Orbit for a physical review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.

Head over to the Bookshelf to check out my reviews of books from the Big 5 and self-published, indie, and small press books.

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