Son of the Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa
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.
Danso lives in the city of Bassa, the seat of the great Bassa Empire. Although he is a brilliant scholar in training, he’s a Sashi, a child born between a member of the Bassai elite and an outlander. His engagement to up-and-coming politician Esheme (the daughter of a fixer) should help his status, but Danso’s feelings of unease and frustration have only been increasing. Until he witnesses a mysterious outlander performing forbidden magic, and his entire destiny shifts.
“I didn’t quite think this through, did I? I’ve been so fixated on a quest for my own truth that I didn’t consider the consequences.”
That. Is. How. You. Do. Epic. Fantasy!
The scope, the stakes, the characters, the world-building. Everything was fantastic and spot on and all-encompassingly breathtaking.
I loved how deftly Okungbowa weaved the layers of this story together, and how gorgeously intricate the world of the continent of Oon was. It’s not just a quest between several runaways searching for answers and magic, but an insightful and damning look into imperialism and forced cultural assimilation and power.
In the city of Bassa, the ruling elite are isolated and brainwashed into believing that Bassa is All. There is an inherent superiority of culture within the rulers, reinforced by rhetoric, power and the way the city is structured. Outlanders are allowed inside the city and can become proto-citizens, but they are forbidden to speak of the world outside or anything that is not Bassa, because Bassa is the universe and the world. It’s nationalism and xenophobia taken to the nth degree, and it works so well.
Danso, Esheme and Zaq are each different aspects of Bassa, all held back by the cultural structures in place to keep people in their place.
She was right, after all. He might have left Bassa, but it would take a long time, and a lot of intentional effort, for Bassa to leave him.
Danso, as a half-Sashi scholar and the son of a disgraced scholar turned healer, is literally a genius and is able to rise high within the structures of Bassai academia, although he’s quickly realizing the strange ways Bassa changes history to best suit its current goals. He is well aware of the fact that no matter how hard he tries and how much he succeeds, he will never truly fit in, because his face will always be wrong and signal him as an Other. He sees freedom in the form of escape, but slowly realizes how deep the roots of Bassai prejudice live within him.
Esheme knew that rules only worked for those who fit neatly within them.
Esheme is the daughter of a fixer in one of the middle districts of Bassa, and her mother has fought long and hard to place Esheme in a position where she can gain power and respectability for them both. I really, really liked Esheme, who was practical, ruthless and understands how power and control operates better than she should. She was also completely lacking in empathy, and became more and more ruthless as the story continued.
“You made me come, a decision that will change my whole life, and you didn’t even consider the weight of that sacrifice for me. You didn’t wonder, How can I protect Zaq, who doesn’t have the same privileges as me? You made me come, because you think me dispensable.
Zaq is Danso’s protector, assigned to Danso because Zaq is an immigrant and that is one of the tasks assigned to immigrants looking to gain access to Bassa. While Danso is focused on his own lack of privilege, he fails to see the lack in others, particularly in Zaq, who is forced to follow and assist and then face the consequences Danso will never see due to his Bassai self. If Danso is a reflection of Bassai prejudice and the intersections of mainlander and outlander within the elite, Zaq is the reflection of the everyman, the lower classes who are just trying to survive and thrive—and he is. Until Danso forces him along and Zaq must follow.
Anyway, there’s a whole lot more going on besides power differentials and inequality and imperialistic prejudice and cultural superiority, to include magic and genocidal reservations and a lot more, including Lilong, who is the outlander Danso spots and then follows.
However, while the third act is pretty much nonstop action and movement, the plot is rather slow to start. The build is literally forever, but once I was hooked I was HOOKED.
Definitely a must-read if you are into epic fantasy.
I received an ARC from NetGalley for an honest review.