I’m rating this book one goodreads star for getting my hopes up but ultimately being a waste of time. I also want my review to be noticed by those filtering for reasons NOT to read the book. I want my time back.
This book promised a lot and hooked me with that gorgeous cover. I think that’s why I’m so angry. Another book I would compare this too is Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon, which was also a sci-fi and fantasy/mythology mix. Lagoon, however, deals with aliens giving people powers and making gods appear in the present day. This book deals with drugs giving people powers and making dormant gods more…powerful? I’m still not sure. In Lagoon, the system of gods make more sense. The gods in this story feel even more poorly-inserted than Lagoon’s were. Both books deal with African cultures and belief systems. This one, however, didn’t make me understand the culture/beliefs any more than I did before. Okorafor’s, at least, did that.
I should technically label this book as a DNF, because I skimmed to the end, wishing that there was something to compel me to go back and re-read. But I didn’t find it. If you found it, please comment on this post with a link to your review or explanation of how I am wrong. I really wanted to be wrong. It had so much potential.
The characters start off as interesting and well developed, but they quickly devolve into unrecognizable plot devices who confuse you with their actions. Toward the end, characters who have never met only need to hear each others’ names once to know who they are and have quite the ability to understand others’ intentions (that took hundreds of pages of backstory for the reader to understand…). Even if they have some form of a “reading memories” power, it still seemed unbelievable at times. For example, Muzi cries “They’re going to rip him apart” about the robots touching someone they “hate” on page 260. I mean, how could he know that if he’s never met the robots and hasn’t read their minds (they’re not human)? Did I miss something??? There’s just a lot of correct assumptions going on.
Also, the author supposedly ties in south African mythology/folklore, but it is never really fleshed out to my liking. This was what drew me to the book — the mythpunk promise of it all, tied into science fiction. The only mythology you get from this book is something about a man who makes tree wives and they have animal children or something. I am not even sure what to Google if I wanted to learn more, that’s how unenlightening this book is to me. I’m not even confident it’s based on a real myth but just the idea of animal hybrids/demons/witches. In the acknowledgements, Drayden says “This is not a story of South Africa.”
Well, the back cover says otherwise.
The “Tau” of Mr. Tau apparently means demon or spirit in parts of… South AMERICA. But otherwise, I have no leads to understanding where Drayden is drawing from.
I am willing to admit that my lack of understanding of south African culture and belief could be part of the problem. But it is not my only problem how the theological systems in this book work. At times it seemed like the power of the gods was fueled by belief systems like that in American Gods (which I did not like and also find illogical). But then,it seems that Sydney really feeds on fear instead. It doesn’t make sense why the villain is trying to make everyone more god-like by taking the drug just to create fear. You can use normal drugs for that. Where the drug comes from is never really spelled out. Hell, it seems like the villian needs to just use the drug herself to get by, if it’s amplifying powers in everyone else. Her motivation is never clear enough to me. Nomvula even asks her why:
“But why? If everyone is a god, then who will be followers?”
Sydney cups her chin, raises it up to her. “My dear sister, it is the way it was meant to be. Basos pales in comparison to the fear of a god. We’ll be able to feed from the weakest of them and gain great strength….”
Like, OK. But you’re already pretty powerful. You’re already a lot better than puny humans. Your motivation seems too risky because you’re effectively inviting someone to become more powerful than you…
This book tries really, really hard to be adaptable. To be like a tv show. There are so many cut away scenes that follow around the (too many) characters that it would probably translate better on screen. Some of the fight sequences/action scenes just got too long or didn’t make sense. At one point, a character is using her power of “charm” to talk to a crowd of people — a crowd that would probably have gotten the hell out of dodge way before she could have had time to get back on stage (or wherever the hell she was supposed to be at) and gather a crowd. I didn’t understand it.
There’s also too much going on in the story to ever be coherent as a book. At one point we are introduced to a character’s father who doesn’t want to see her or speak to her and then suddenly doesn’t want his daughter to leave — drugging her and trapping her in her childhood home. WTF? That was the first time this story felt more melodramatic than reasonable. And then it’s never really spoken about again and the character, Riya, actually has enough drama going on with her drug use and her multiple sclerosis. The father scene could have been cut entirely to speed this already-speedy story along. I want authors to respect their mediums. Write TV shows instead!
My real issue is with the last third of the book, when things get too convenient and contrived. It’s like the editors stopped caring about the direction Drayden was taking this story because they had invested too much in her ahead of time or something. At one point we are introduced to hybrid rhino-lion-hawks. And…one has a human brain? OK. Just throw that in there for fun, sure. Why not!
It doesn’t seem to go anywhere anyways.
In another scene, a robot sect that has gained consciousness but doesn’t like humans says (maniacally) that they need humans because “Human labor will be the backbone of our empire.” In what fucking world?
This is why machines were made. They’re literally more efficient…
Spoilers from here on out.
I also have a major problem with a few scenes regarding Felicity Lyons, the alter-ego-turned-identity of the character Stroker. Side note: He turns into a she as she establishes what she wants throughout the story. I really loved the representation at first. But, at one point, she is dressed in her femme clothes and her “tuck” (as it is phrased in the book) comes undone and WAIT NO HER DICK BECOMES A SNAKE.
I am not even sure what the fuck that phallic nightmare is supposed to represent, either, because her mom is a snake as well. Is her mom her dick? I mean, her mom appeared as a snake in her dressing room, right? But then NO. No, her mom is…plants? And lightning?
It made me very uncomfortable to think about. And, it made no sense. For one, because if Felicity tucked her dick in for a reason, why is it taking over? Why is the author whipping it out? It reads as almost negative for body modification. You can put on a dress and say you’re a girl but your dick will always be there to protect you. I don’t get it.
I also don’t get how, when her mom is dying and says she is proud of Felicity WHYYYYY. Stoker literally almost killed someone and mom had to cover it up/”take care of it.” Also, how did his mother DIE?!? If she can be called upon and enter into the form of the tree…how can she not also just…
And don’t get me started on that dream-sequency bit about being in the afterlife and how Mr. Tau just appears like a Deus Ex Machina and makes Muzi and Nomvula “work together.” WHY? It makes no sense. Why were they ever together? I DO NOT CAAAARE.
And Muzi is the one who gets put into the robot body??? Why not Elkin? It makes no sense why Muzi’s soul wouldn’t go back to the body it was in and Elkin would take the only space available. I don’t get it. It makes no narrative sense or suspended belief sense, either.
Other goodreads reviews I agree with:
My next issue with the book was the pacing of the plot. It seemed like there was no gradual reveal of the “gods” aspect of the book, and, in layman’s terms, ” the book went from 0-60 in two seconds”. Much of the book felt rushed, and the character development didn’t feel like character development, it was closer to “look at this thing, that’s who the person is.” It seems to me that no one is even mentioning how this book could be sci-fi. How on earth does this book get to be called sci-fi? If anything it’s closer to fantasy than sci-fi, the only prominent sci-fi element in the book was the alphies and robots.
5. Again, cut Riya and Stoker!
But Part 5…I have never seen a book’s plot so utterly implode like this one did. I was left with SO MANY UNANSWERED QUESTIONS from all of the plot holes. The tone changed, the pacing changed, the universe’s rules even changed.
But by the end, these characters with all their subtlety, moral ambiguity, and rich inner lives had transformed into cliched heroes and villains fighting to save/destroy the world. Not only that, but the finale includes hastily handwaved trips to the afterlife, weird bodyswapping, genetically engineered super-animals (which are alluded to in the vaguest ways possible until they just suddenly appear), and, an actual giant robot made of hundreds of robots that just…form themselves together? With both a human controller, and a single consciousness uniting them, which would negate the necessity of the human controller?
I’m not saying that I didn’t like the book. My rating was headed for 4 stars until the last 25% of the book really went off the rails. I thought that the author was quite clever, sometimes funny, occasionally silly (i.e., a monster’s concern for her chipped nail polish) and showed a lot of promise, but boy did this book need an editor with a stronger hand, and maybe a whip and chair to wrangle this book under control. I’m sure that the author’s next book will be better if she learns to exercise some restraint.