A Visual Artist’s Debut Fantasy Draws on a Deep Well of Inspiration

From his childhood in a small city in Côte D’Ivoire to his adulthood as a gaming and fantasy fan in Vancouver, Yessoh G.D.’s imagination has always run wild. His debut novel, TA LE: Book 1: Knowledge, is packed with action sequences, magical secrets, and mystical creatures rooted in African folklore and imagery. One of the characters at the novel’s center is Kobenan Jean Marc, a young man who works for the president of Côte d’Esperance but dreams of working for S-cell, a secret organization that deals with magic and sorcerers. When Kobenan is instructed to help the head of S-cell, he soon discovers how much he has to learn about what working for S-cell would entail:

The sound of a strong, slightly vibrating voice pierces Kobenan’s right ear. The accent and low tone are completely unfamiliar. He jerks to his left, snapping his head in the voice’s direction. He loses his balance and sits on the road, dragging himself away. There stands something in the shape of a man, something or someone with a complexion so deep, he barely looks like he has a skin, or has a skin so dark he seems calcified. Stretched eyes, free of eyebrows and red, as though filled with blood, stare down at Kobenan, whose heart might stop at any time. He quickly looks to his left, searching for the only man who can protect him right now, Biafle, but he sees only another dark man with gaze locked on him. It may well be a state of extreme shock or the mind breaking under such stress, but not a single word or sound escapes Kobenan’s mouth.

Kirkus Reviews notes that Knowledge “moves at a steady clip” and calls it “a gripping and swiftly paced mystical tale primed for a sequel.” The review also covers Yessoh’s “illustrative prose,” deep bench of supporting characters, and mysteries meant to draw readers to a future sequel.

Yessoh’s Ivorian upbringing came with an immersion in African folklore and art of all kinds that gave his young mind plenty of material for daydreaming, and he still describes himself as “lost in thought.” As an adult working in visual effects, Yessoh’s artistic tastes are anchored in those African influences, but they also encompass the many fantasy-genre video games and movies he has been drawn to over the years. 

His early appreciation for various forms of art extended to including illustrations in the book (by artists Cristiana Leone, Charlie Utting, and David Leahy), an idea that was important to him from the beginning of his writing process. “Besides the specific mood I wanted to convey, it was a way to allow the reader [to have] a more immersive experience if they…knew what they were looking at,” he says. “I was lucky enough to find incredible artists who could translate [and] convey the kind of detailed artwork and mood I specifically wanted.” 

Yessoh describes his novel as “puzzle-like,” with details that readers might pick up on if they read it a second time, including hints about what might happen in future installments. Someone looking in from the outside might wonder how a writer could possibly keep track of writing a coherent story while also including extra rewards for readers who are paying close attention, but for Yessoh it was all part of his process. He had already figured out detailed arcs for all his characters, so from there, he found places where he could drop hints for the reader.

His goal was to foreshadow what might happen further on in the book without spoiling the plot. “There were two different kinds of clues and mysteries,” he says—events that would be crucial to understanding the action and other details that would bring further enjoyment for readers who wanted to try and predict big reveals and plot twists. 

But even those puzzle and plot elements needed to exist in a solid framework of magical beings and fantastical characters, like sorcerers and djinns. Not only is the novel set in Africa, but Yessoh also drew on his childhood love of African art and folklore when he was building his setting as well as modern forms of storytelling like video games and movies. “The 3-D world was one I could easily escape to and let my imagination run wild when I wanted to create,” he says. “As a writer, my upbringing has undoubtedly influenced me. My being around the varied African art forms, from masks to patterns, sculptures, scriptures, African books, folklore stories and proverbs, certainly shaped me.”

Puzzles and mysteries aside, Yessoh’s main objective was to tell a good story, whether readers pick up on any hidden surprises or not. More than anything else, he hopes that readers simply enjoy his novel. “That was my main objective as a storyteller for any first read of the book.”

Readers can find Knowledge (and even read a sample chapter) as well as keep track of upcoming installments on Yessoh’s website and by signing up for his newsletter.

Chelsea Ennen is a writer living in Brooklyn.