Son of the Storm
Epic fantasies can be a storm of plot threads coming together in either chaotic entanglement or interwoven beauty. Son of the Storm has the good type of an epic storm. Flipping some epic fantasy ...
Epic fantasies can be a storm of plot threads coming together in either chaotic entanglement or interwoven beauty. Son of the Storm has the good type of an epic storm. Flipping some epic fantasy tropes on its head, while keeping ones that aren’t problematic, the novel fluidly sets up a world, while never bogging it down with exposition. The action sometimes takes the form of combat, sometimes politicking, but whether swords clash or stratagems are devised, Suyi Davies Okungbowa always makes his story intriguing.
The book’s world is based on African culture, and begins in a city called Bassa, home to nobility that favors people with a darker shade of black. In Bassa, lives Danso, a smart and personable man who doesn’t possess the right shade to be considered noble. Early on, he stumbles upon a Yellowskin named Lilong (a lighter person) whose maligned culture lives many miles away in isolation. Things become complicated when Danso discovers that Lilong possesses ibor—a magical mineral that’s sought after by those seeking to abuse its power. After saving Lilong from Bassa’s wrath, Danso goes on a journey of discovery, finding out that those in power are more sinister than they appear. And pursuing Danso is the woman he was supposed to partner: Esheme, a ruthless and powerful person, willing to do almost whatever it takes to achieve dominance.
The hierarchy of Bassa is one that starts to teeter once the inciting incident occurs. What seems like a majestic, impregnable city starts to show its weakness for reasons that are partly their own fault. A place of power sometimes stays that way, not because they possess the means to defend themselves, but because they’ve sat in a place of comfort for so long that their wariness is dimmed.
Blackness in epic fantasy can often take a turn for the worst, particularly because much of the genre is rooted in European, medieval settings. The majority show Black characters as lifeless, subjugated props for the for a white protagonist to swoop in as the hero, telling a white-centered message on accepting people’s differences. Or, if they are not subjugated, they’re portrayed as a barbaric race, isolated from the decorum of society. Son of the Storm doesn’t fall into that trapping. Instead, Bassa – the hub of civilization – values Blackness, particularly the darker shade of black. Nobility, themes of accepting differences, and power are all centered on the Black characters. Even having the main antagonist be Black is a boon to the genre because it showcases them exhibiting power and riches without devolving into barbarism. Despite its fantastical setting, the novel is in many ways truer to life than even some contemporary stories.
A grand tale can be just a desolate expanse if it’s not filled with vibrant characters, and Son of the Storm more than brings vivacity. Danso has some traits of a typical underdog protagonist, but the choices that he makes deviates from that template to make – without spoiling anything – someone who is both more noble and conflicted than you’d expect. Esheme is ruthless, refusing to bend to norms that baggage her, effortlessly marching toward what she wants, often without fail. Lilong is initially filled with doubts, but as the journey continues, her perspective changes and resolve forms.
And Lilong isn’t the only character who feels markedly changed by the end of this installment. Every major character experiences at least one development that should surprise even the most discerning readers. And the novel manages to avoid the pitfall of grand stories that have characters feel like empty chess pieces that the author moves along in their grand design. All of the characters choices are informed by their development with a plot that manages to thrust along a path that occasionally grazes against classic epic fantasy stories, while spending even more time veering off course into fresh lanes.
The magic in Son of the Storm isn’t overexplained. It gives you enough to make it believable, while leaving a level of mysticism that feels, well, magical. That parallels the book itself. It lays out what it’s trying to do on the page, but the way it worked its way into me, with both thrills and emotional attachment was magical. I only have a vague idea of how it did it, but by the last page, I was completely under its spell, eager to see how the story continues.