This book is quite possibly the epitome of a 3-star book. There were many excellent aspects, but each one was balanced almost perfectly by a negative. While I don’t regret reading this book, I’d only recommend it if you’re looking specifically for something featuring its positive characteristics and don’t mind overlooking a few flaws.
First up, code-switching. For those unfamiliar with this term, I’ll direct you to the Wikipedia definition:
In linguistics, code-switching or language alternation occurs when a speaker alternates between two or more languages, or language varieties, in the context of a single conversation. Multilinguals, speakers of more than one language, sometimes use elements of multiple languages when conversing with each other.
I loved the use of code-switching in Godhunter! It was a small bit of subtle social commentary each time David swapped from “proper” US-style English to his family’s vernacular. When speaking with the wizard or otherwise conducting business, David consistently used “proper” language so as to be more formal and taken more seriously. At home with his adopted father, we saw David use a more indigenous style language. Unfortunately, although this was very cool to see, it did sometimes obscure meaning a bit. It’s a bit tricky to parse “I feel like say pessin carry my body knack am for ground, arrange am back,” if it’s not a linguistic style you’re used to. I’m…. actually still not 100% sure what David was trying to say here, if I’m entirely honest. That said, these instances were not detrimental to the book overall. This is perhaps a more representative example of the vernacular:
“Eh.” I kick off my boots. . . “As you be like this, you go fit run ebo* for me this night? I gats work tomorrow.
*ebo is a substance explained in the novel which is harmful to the gods
Next, I thoroughly enjoyed the gods themselves. I would have loved a small slice-of-life style novel wherein David traveled around Lagos helping out folks with godling infestations, a la Mushi-shi (a lovely anime series for those who are unfamiliar). Unfortunately, we only had a slight glimpse of this portion of David’s life, as we rapidly jumped into the plot. On the bright side, we still got to meet many interesting high gods and saw quite a bit of how they had impacted Lagos’ culture post-fall. The twin god Ibeji turned out to be a much more interesting character than I anticipated, as did their interactions with Fati – I hadn’t originally expected either to get as much screen time as they did, but was pleasantly surprised.
Finally, a quick shout out to this being an #OwnVoices read. It’s always fun to read literature created from other cultural perspectives, and you can certainly feel that coming through both in tone and in the plot structure.
Sadly, there were a few major flaws to this book that balanced out the good and brought it down to a 3-star ranking.
David Mogo, Godhunter, is not actually a novel. It is three novellas hiding in a trenchcoat standing on one another’s shoulders pretending to be one cohesive novel. There are three small, obvious plot arcs with significant time jumps between them. Going in without knowing this makes the pacing feel strange and wrong. Things were happening in the first third of the “novel” that made it seem as though we should be approaching the novel’s conclusion – which, technically, we were… or at least the first novella’s conclusion. This was jarring and unexpected. If you’ve read the Binti novels by Nnedi Okorafor, imagine reading all of them at once if they’d been branded as one complete, singular novel. It just wouldn’t make much sense, as they are clearly each independent novellas. So it was with David Mogo, Godhunter.
Next, due to this novella structure, I felt a bit cheated out of the steady and thorough character development and worldbuilding I had been hoping for. The novellas were short enough that they had to be action-focused, which left little room for large-scale worldbuilding outside of the events surrounding the protagonist. While a main island with presumably more advanced civilization was discussed, we never found out much clear information. Additionally, we scarcely even got to see the village (town? city? I don’t even know what the population was!) David was living in. There are some faceless villagers, but we never got to meet anyone who wasn’t plot relevant in some way or have any sort of look into people who made up David’s culture and daily life.
In addition to these structural issues, there were some glaring issues with the writing itself. Far too often, the reader is exposed to info dump style monologues. It felt less like a slow discovery of the world and more like being spoon fed a few tidbits here and there. Rather than painting a picture for the reader, we were provided a few small photographs that didn’t really provide nearly enough context.
In conclusion, if you’re hankering for some African fantasy featuring gods and seeing code-switching in a novel, David Mogo, Godhunter is probably a worthwhile read. If those two things don’t interest you particularly, you may be better off looking elsewhere for your next book.
Thank you to the publisher for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review!
About the Author
Suyi Davies Okungbowa is a Nigerian author of fantasy, science fiction and general speculative fiction inspired by his West-African origins. He is the author of the highly-anticipated epic fantasy series, The Nameless Republic, forthcoming from Orbit Books in 2021. His highly acclaimed debut, the godpunk fantasy novel David Mogo, Godhunter (Abaddon, 2019), was hailed as “the subgenre’s platonic deific ideal” by WIRED and nominated for the BSFA Award. His shorter fiction and nonfiction have appeared internationally in periodicals like Tor.com, Lightspeed, Nightmare, Strange Horizons, Fireside, Podcastle, Ozy, and anthologies like Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy (Saga, 2020), A World of Horror (Dark Moon Books, 2018) and People of Colour Destroy Science Fiction (John Joseph Adams, 2017).
As a speaker and instructor, Suyi teaches college-level writing at the University of Arizona, where he is also completing his MFA in Creative Writing. He has guest lectured at public workshops at venues like the Piper Writing Centre at ASU and the Tucson Festival of Books, as well as appeared at various conferences, conventions, readings and school visits, including at the University of Washington and University of Chicago. His work has earned him appearances in the San Francisco Chronicle and SFX Magazine, interviews on NPR, as well as a Carl Brandon Scholarship. He was named one of 50 Nigerians in the YNaija 2020 New Establishment.