“The boy took his seat at one side of the fire, his men arrayed about him like the spikes on a porcupine’s back, all bristling with spears.”
Wow! I just finished the historical fantasy “In the Shadow of Ruin”, Book One in “The Fractured Kingdom”, and the debut novel by the outstanding author Tony Dejabo! What a rush!
A simply outstanding book, filled with political intrigue, tribal warfare with harrowing battle scenes, mysticism, and lore in the form of African mythology, impressive, atmospheric settings in ancient Nigeria, love, betrayal, and vengeance!
The novel centres on King Jide, who is the ruler of ostensibly all the major tribes in the Yoruba region. The King is desperate because war is brewing, he is outnumbered, and the situation looks dire. The king’s formidable half-brother, Olise, is rebelling against his sibling, attempting to overthrow Jide, and seize power. Olise is bolstered by his mother, Ekaete, a sorceress, who dabbles in the black arts. But in his despair, the King feels compelled to also turn to witchcraft, to prevent the destruction of his kingdom.
The novel takes us to lush locations in West Africa, where brave, compassionate, and beautiful women, proud, fearsome, devoted warriors, and eerie, sinister magicians fill the pages of the heart-pounding tale. If you have not read books with not only flashbacks but multiple POVs, including POVs that can change and transition mid-paragraph, this is not the read for you. I have read several authors now that employ this method, and it takes a lot of skill to pull it off without completely disorienting the reader and detracting from the enjoyment of the novel.
I am pleased to say Dejabo has this type of ability, and it only served to enhance the reading experience, particularly during the fight scenes. We get to hear the voices of Jide, the hero, but also Olise, Ekaete, the sons of Jide (named Toju, Niran, and Enitan), many of the noble chieftains and warriors, and ordinary folk caught up in the titanic struggle for supremacy waged between Jide and Olise. I found all the characters to be very realistic, believable, and driven by their own unique motivations. Toju, one of the least likeable characters, and heir to Jide, I found to be the most fascinating, including his disdain for commoners. I am always drawn to flawed characters and can’t wait to see where Toju’s arc is headed.
Dejabo’s worldbuilding is immersive and will make one want to visit the area he describes with loving detail. He is obviously well-versed and intimately familiar with Nigeria, and his credibility on the subject shines through in his work. Dejabo won big points with me for the exceptional glossary provided outlining the various tribes, characters, and important elements including food, drink, and clothing that those unfamiliar with African culture will no doubt find handy.
The book is very fast paced, and the fight scenes are extremely well done: bloody, frenetic, and not for the faint-of-heart! This is a major strength of Dejabo’s writing. He had me on the edge of my seat, wondering who would live and who would fall, regardless of whose side of the conflict the character was!
“In the Shadow of Ruin” is a powerful first novel that compares favourably to another highly-touted book called “The Rage of Dragons” I have read, by the breakout star author Evan Winter. Lofty praise in terms of a comparator, yes, but Dejabo’s debut lives up to it.
If you like your battle scenes explosive, your outcomes unpredictable, strong, and well-drawn characters, delightful prose, African lore sprinkled with a hint of the black arts as the magic system, then look no further! Dejabo is an author to watch, and I am very much looking forward to the next entry in “The Fractured Kingdom.”!