This surreal African fantasy follows the trials and tribulations of an innocent girl whose errand for her pregnant sister turns into a quest involving magic, human sacrifice, love and war.
Agwarota employs a variety of fairy-tale elements in her debut novel, with the main character, Mamuke, overcoming trials, reuniting with her lost parents and encountering startling revelations. While lost on an errand, she wanders into the home of Prince Uwami, a man whom she’s destined to marry. There, she inadvertently witnesses a secret ceremony, causing Uwami to be trapped between the mortal and spirit planes. To free him, she must undergo a number of trials. The plot deepens when Uwami’s enemy, Chief Shumatu, gets wind of these events, leading to more serious difficulties for Mamuke, including a kidnapping and a battle involving thousands. To save them all, she faces yet more trials and rituals, and along the way, she learns the identities of her parents, finds love and brings about cultural change. The prose is simple, with some very nice, almost childlike imagery: “[B]irds on nearby trees chirruped happily to each other as the fog slowly lifted. The smell of fresh earth filled the air.” It’s a style that works well for the book’s first half, but as the story evolves from the tale of a young girl into an elaborate interplay of personalities, grievances and tribal war, it loses readers in a maze of characters and a pantheon of fickle gods. Even with a glossary of terms, the multitude of intricate ceremonies and rituals and the baffling hierarchy of priests, wise men and shamans can be confounding. Overall, it’s a solid story with a good feel for its own magical realm, but it bogs down in minutiae and expands into an epic that engulfs the original narrative.
An intriguing, if overwhelming, look at African culture that may appeal to students of mythology and fantasy.