Today is my stop on the Son of the Storm blog tour, hosted by Caffeine Book Tours and I’m excited to be sharing my review and favourite quotes from the novel.
A big thank you to Caffeine Book Tours and the publisher, Orbit, for sending me an advanced reader’s copy as part of my participation in the tour. Make sure to check out the full blog tour schedule and the other bloggers taking part.
In the ancient city of Bassa, Danso is a clever scholar on the cusp of achieving greatness—only he doesn’t want it. Instead, he prefers to chase forbidden stories about what lies outside the city walls. The Bassai elite claim there is nothing of interest. The city’s immigrants are sworn to secrecy.
But when Danso stumbles across a warrior wielding magic that shouldn’t exist, he’s put on a collision course with Bassa’s darkest secrets. Drawn into the city’s hidden history, he sets out on a journey beyond its borders. And the chaos left in the wake of his discovery threatens to destroy the empire.
Son of the Storm is the first novel in Suyi Davies Okungbowa’s new adult fantasy trilogy, The Nameless Republic.
And what a first book it is.
This isn’t just a fantasy story about magic, it’s a breathlessly good tale of survival, political upheaval, and carving out your place in the world.
The story spans many themes and topics, including imperialism, revolution, racial and social hierarchies and prejudices, colonialism, and the bonds of family, and the author gives equal time and attention to each while delivering a tense, dramatic plot and enigmatic characters.
Plot and pacing
The story benefits from a slow-moving pace, as the author has more time to develop complex, multi-faceted characters, brimming with emotion, ambition, and hope. Despite having a plot juicier than a ripe orange, at times this book feels more character-driven, which is why we end up getting to know so many characters so intimately.
Having said that, the plot itself is gripping. It takes the form of an adventure/quest format, beginning in the city of Bassa and moving outwards into the rest of the kingdom of Oon. This is epic fantasy at its finest, with compelling action scenes and a bounty hunt for the ages. I would love to see this adapted for the big screen (somebody please make it happen) because I just know it would be excellent.
The world building in this novel is nothing short of sublime. Steeped in African culture and myths, the world of Oon comes to life in intricate detail through the author’s detailed descriptions.
Suyi Davies Okungbowa has stated that the world of Son of the Storm is inspired by the Benin Empire, with the societal hierarchies and geographical divisions being loosely based on this period in history.
We learn that Bassa is split into wards, with the inner circles being the most affluent and the outer circles being less wealthy. The university, courtship with an intended, the many languages of the continent, and the caste system Bassa upholds all come into focus through Danso’s eyes.
We see imperialist values sweeping across Bassa, as the people’s desire to simply survive in their city is outstripped by their desire to glorify Bassa in power. Bassai rule already holds sway over Whudasha, the Soke mountains, and other islands, who live in vigilance of them, and this tenuous balance starts to tip out of alignment as Bassa’s zeal to subjugate other lands grows.
The magic system is clever and unique; ibor can be wielded using red or grey stones, and different stones allow users to do different things. But not everyone can wield ibor and the conditions that must be met for an individual to do so make for some of the most electric moments in the novel.
The author gifts us a large, vibrant cast of characters, all with differing personalities and motives.
It takes a lot of skill to balance the focus between your protagonists, antagonists, secondary and tertiary characters without stretching the narrative too thin (and while still giving the major development to the main characters), and Davies Okungbowa does this exquisitely.
He achieves this balance through multiple third person POVs, with the main characters getting most air time, and the rest being divided between secondary characters.
Some characters only get one chapter (for reasons I won’t mention because ~spoilers~) but this still works to give us a new perspective on current events, expanding the scope of the world.
Danso is one of the three main characters in the novel and a Jali scholar at the university in Bassa.
He begins the novel relatively naive and only invested in his own learning and future, but as he battles adversity and hugely unexpected events, he begins to grow and change. By the end of the story, we see someone who wants to help free and liberate all of Oon from Bassa’s clutches.
Danso has many questions about his mixed-race heritage because he never knew his mother. He feels keenly the injustice of being seen as an outsider by the people of Bassa, who view him as not Bassai enough, but being seen as too Bassai by the people of Whudasha and therefore an unwelcome intruder.
Lilong is probably my favourite character. She’s a yellowskin warrior who can command ibor with skill. (Davies Okungbowa explains in his GR author’s note that this is not a slur towards Asian people (there are no non-African characters in the novel), but a term used historically in African communities to refer to the skin colour of people who had a form of albinism.)
Lilong’s transition from grumpy and selfish towards others to trusting Danso and wanting to do good in the world is a subtle shift, but a poignant one. She gradually realises that their actions could alter the face of Oon and makes the decision to help others rather than helping only herself and the people of her islands. She and Danso both realise they share a common understanding of what it’s like to be outsider and I loved their burgeoning friendship.
Esheme makes up the third of our three main characters and is perhaps the character I liked least, but also the character whose progression I found the most interesting. She begins the story as an unflinchingly ambitious young woman, the daughter of a fixer, who will do anything for power.
Her lack of care or empathy for those around her (even her own mother) unless they can further her gains made her hard to sympathise and connect with. But I also had to admire her single-minded ruthlessness and cunning. She’s always two steps ahead of everyone else and constantly plotting her third step.
As the plot progresses, we see her enact violence and shed blood, all in the name of reaching the top of Bassa’s political structure. She’s definitely the most morally grey character, but her descent into darkness fuels her rise in power and by the end of the novel, she’s a very different person to where she started.
Overall, Son of the Storm is a rich, bold novel with brilliant characters and world building so enticing that you’ll happily spend hours swallowed up in the story.
It manages to capture both the subtle, small details of character feeling and the expansive, explosive nature of cinematic fight scenes. This book marks the beginning of a magnetic new fantasy series, and one that I can’t wait to continue in Warrior of the Wind (2022).
Representation: Own-voices, author of colour (Nigerian author), POC representation (Black, African), LGBTQIAP+ representation (nonbinary, pansexual/polysexual), and disability representation.
Content warnings: Violence, gore and blood, murder, bones, miscarriage, colourism, ageism, emotional manipulation, and misogyny.
The two moons lined up in full bloom above, so that Menai, with her ring of fire, eclipsed her sister. But Ashu’s light, never dulled, shone around, so that their overlap was seen everywhere on the continent s concentric circles of red and white, casting orange light so bright it negated the need for streetlamps.
Danso shot his uncle a hard look. “Uncle Uduuwe, I said I am speaking to my daa. I suggest you focus on eating your food, so you don’t choke on all the contributions to this household that you never make.” His three uncles’ jaws dropped.
He was asking her, an islander, mortal enemies of the mainland – so mortal that the mainland had committed to their erasure from the minds of its people, assured that if they did not exist in minds, they did not exist in body – to trust him, the embodiment of everything the mainland stood for.
She was a window to a world he had only dreamt of, and the fact that she was sitting here now, talking to him, was a manifestation of his dreams and a vindication of his blind belief. Did people just let dreams come true walk away?
You say you want liberty, but you can never be free alone. None of us are free until all of us are. To be free of Bassa requires power – power in service of all.
Lilong nodded again, and Danso placed his head on her shoulder. She was stiff at first, unsure of how to respond. Then she eased out a breath and let her head fall on his too, and for the first time in a long time, she felt something akin to camaraderie.
About the author
Suyi Davies Okungbowa is a Nigerian author of fantasy, science fiction and general speculative fiction inspired by his West-African origins.
He is the author of the highly-anticipated epic fantasy series, The Nameless Republic, beginning with Son of the Storm (Orbit, May 2021).
His godpunk fantasy debut novel David Mogo, Godhunter (Abaddon, 2019), won the 2020 Nommo Ilube Award for Best Speculative Novel by an African.
His shorter fiction and nonfiction have appeared internationally in periodicals like Tor.com, Lightspeed, Nightmare, Strange Horizons, and anthologies like Black Panther: Tales of Wakanda (Marvel/Titan, 2021) and Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy (Saga, 2020).