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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Book review: The Lies of the Ajungo by Moses Ose Utomi

The Lies of the Ajungo by Moses Ose Utomi

Book links: Amazon, Goodreads

AUTHOR INFO: Moses Ose Utomi is a Nigerian-American fantasy writer and nomad currently based out of Honolulu, Hawaii. He has an MFA in fiction from Sarah Lawrence College and short fiction publications in Fireside Fiction, Fantasy Magazine, and more. He is the author of the novella The Lies of the Ajungo and the YA fantasy novel, Daughters of Oduma. When he’s not writing, he’s traveling, training martial arts, or doing karaoke—with or without a backing track.


Publisher: Tordotcom (March 21, 2023) Length: 96 pages Formats: ebook, paperback

The Lies of Ayungo opens with an excellent, memorable line: "There is no water in the City of Lies". I expect most reviews of the novella will start with it, and that’s ok. It’s that good :) I devoured the story in one sitting, and I’m impressed. Before I go into detail, a warning: not everyone will like it. It’s a bleak, disturbing story that comes with multiple content warnings. Even though most violence appears off-screen, the mention of child mutilation might make readers uncomfortable.

The City of Lies has no water, so it’s made a deal with the Ayungo Empire, which sends water in exchange for the tongues of boys. The protagonist of the story, Tutu, will soon have his tongue cut off. Sadly, his parched mother may not live long enough. Tutu makes a deal with his Oba: the city saves his mother, and he will go to the desert and bring back water for the city.

The desert challenges Tutu’s ingrained beliefs and worldview. It teaches him that life is full of lies, both superficial and profound. Along the way, he encounters other characters destroyed by Ayungo, who took advantage of people’s desperation, offered them a broken deal, and then called them liars. Each encounter reveals a different facet of the cruel world and its atrocities. I won’t go into details because I don’t want to spoil everything for you.

The story's pacing is excellent, almost feverish, which leads to my only criticism. Tutu’s mental and physical development feels rushed (to say the least), especially considering how young he actually is. Some readers may find this problematic, but hey, it’s a fantasy world. The tone is bleak and gutting - the more we learn about the various lies, the more horrific the reality seems.

The Lies of Ayungo reads like a mix of gritty fable and dark fantasy, interested in power struggles and the way powerful people deceive the unprivileged and keep them obedient.

I loved the story and the world. Brutally destructive magic thrilled me. The Lies of Ayungo is an excellent novella that packs a lot in just 96 pages. Highly recommended.

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