After surviving a sacrificial ritual, an African teenage girl is tasked by God to end the custom once and for all in this historical fantasy novel.
Every seven years, the citizens of Jigoland gather to honor God with a ritual sacrifice of a virgin maiden, and this year, they’ve selected a 14-year-old girl named Nankyer. After they cast her into Ampidong Lake, she has a spiritual experience in which she discovers she’s been chosen to end the tradition of blood tribute and usher in a new age for Jigoland. Nankyer survives the ritual, and many citizens label her as cursed, or even a witch; meanwhile, the land’s leader, known as the Jigolo, and his array of advisers are unsure how to proceed. Nankyer finds few allies beyond the psychic village drunk, Darlong; a woman named Satzen, who first offered the maiden aid; and Satzen’s father-in-law, the Chief Hunter Dadet, whose dead ancestors have called upon him to protect Nankyer. However, the Chief Warrior Gwol, a powerful sorcerer and shape-shifter, stands between the maiden and the Jigo traditions she seeks to alter. In this fantasy set in precolonial Nigeria, Kwardem crafts a unique culture with its own customs, sayings and social norms, complete with greetings and extensive folklore. This worldbuilding makes it easy for readers to become invested in how Nankyer will change the society. However, the protagonist herself isn’t as engaging; she shows little agency in the story, always looking to others to move her to action. This flaw is assuaged, however, by the novel’s impressive supporting cast. Darlong, for example, joins the delightful Shakespearean tradition of the visionary fool, and Gwol grows ever more desperate in his villainous machinations. The book’s female characters are particularly exceptional, from brave Satzen, unmoving in her support for the maiden she rescued, to Jigoland’s queen, brazenly defying tradition for her king and people. The narrative relies heavily on Christian teachings, with many obvious analogues to the stories of Adam, Noah, Abraham and others. This choice effectively blurs the lines that separate religion, mysticism and superstition, in order to further explore how doubt, panic and fear can spread in uncertain times.
An engrossing world and a strong supporting cast put a fresh veneer on familiar moral allegories.