An ambitious sci-fi debut pits a young man against ancient forces, heavenly armies, and his own bloodline.
Raymond is living with a secret, though he doesn’t know. His whole life, he’s been forced to abide by his parents’ odd and strict rules, most notably that he is to never participate in any physical activity. But when he heads to college in Johannesburg, South Africa, free from his parents’ reign, Raymond decides to start living by his own rules. Breaking the physical activity ban, Raymond participates in a boxing session, unlocking what has been hidden inside him since birth. Hastily returning to his room, he morphs into a monstrous, winged creature known as a Kazungul—a cursed beast that has plagued Raymond’s family for centuries. Just as suddenly as he transforms, he is no longer on Earth but transported to another realm. The new environment, an underwater city ruled by a mermaid, is the first of many vividly imagined landscapes Raymond soon encounters. Despite the cursed origins of the Kazungul, Raymond is eager to learn all he can about his newfound powers, which he soon discovers are far from ordinary, even by Kazungul standards. His quest takes him to faraway deserts, distant planets, and beyond as he seeks guidance and knowledge while transforming from college student to powerful leader. Though there is an inherent foreignness to these places, they are beautifully rendered and serve as a solid foundation for the story. While it’s clear that the worldbuilding and back stories have been meticulously imagined, the narrative’s endless ambition is also its downfall. Aliens, biblical saviors, gods, demigods, jaded lovers, secret assassin societies, and phoenixes, among many others, are all crammed together into this relatively slim first act. Consequently, each are woefully underdeveloped, resulting in muddled, inchoate storylines, none more so than Raymond’s potential lovers and nemeses, who function as obligatory stand-in pieces rather than fully realized characters.
The groundwork for a sci-fi epic is here, but the story falls short of its lofty aspirations.