Far into the future, humanity has conquered the challenge of deep space travl, traversing solar systems while terraforming worlds and increasing the reach of humanity. In one final push toward godhood, a scientist attempts to create a new intelligence by seeding a planet with a nanovirus that essentially speeds up evolution with the intention of landing apes there to be the test subjects. Pushback from people against the idea of humans as creators of sentience derails the project, sparking a massive civil war, and the monkeys never join the lower lifeforms already on the planet. 2,000 years later, the remnants of humanity that survived the war and the subsequent ice age leave the broken Earth en masse, looking for the lost worlds of their ancestors that may provide them with a new home. Little do they know that the nanovirus has been at work the whole time, creating an ecosystem of intelligent (and large) non-vertebrates with their own catalyzed histories, cultures, and mythologies. With the last remaining humans hell-bent on survival and the jumping-spider queens of the planet ready to defend their newfound consciousness to the death, a battle for the survival of the two species is inevitable. Incredible evolutionary and zoological insights set the stage for a beautifully imagined future that puts two species on a collision course that will leave them both irrevocably changed.
To be perfectly honest, I have not been as blown away by the end of a book since I first read A Game of Thrones. Dickinson’s attention to detail is remarkable and his commitment to fleshing out the minutiae of imperial life is as comprehensive as anything I have read, but where he really takes it to the next level is in his deep understanding of economics and his ability to wield that understanding like a weapon in the hands of his protagonist. Baru is a force of nature, a political savant so dedicated to her revenge that she wears it like armor and uses it against the very people who want to exploit her. She’s willing to sacrifice anything and anyone to achieve her goals, even if it means breaking herself and helping the very people she has sworn to destroy. This is the kind of story that makes one question the true natures of betrayal, hatred, honor, and loyalty, and it is hands down one of my favorite fantasies ever.
What can you do when the very thing that is threatening you and your family has you convinced that it’s one of you? The creature in this story takes advantage of the discrepancies between reality and our reconstruction of it by slithering in and inserting itself into all of the gaps, removing any sense of doubt or discomfort and making itself into an irreplaceable part of the family. Once the thing has its hooks in, it controls your past and creates your present. Think of a creepy uncle that can make you forget anything he doesn’t want you to remember and replace the people in your favorite memories with himself. And he’s hungry. Good luck.
Set in a fictional African country called Aburiria, The Wizard of the Crow draws deeply from both historical and current sociopolitical climates in Africa as we know it. Thiong’o’s personal experiences with the totalitarian regime in his home country of Kenya shine through the slightly mystical and deeply metaphorical experiences of his characters as they attempt to make their way through a society as convoluted and treacherous as anything that exists in our world. However, in spite of the complex political analogies, the book reads like a campfire tale told by a master storyteller. Important and beautiful, The Wizard of the Crow is a book that will challenge your perspective on money, power, and perspective itself.
If I had to pick one word to describe this book, it would be feral. James creates a fantastical Africa that invokes the violence and brutality of the old world, but wraps it in delicate layers of myth and magic that make the reader want to cozy up to the savagery in order to get a better look. The characters add to the effect, as they are mysterious enough to entice and real enough to despise. The sense of displacement and lack of certainty enforces the message that nothing and nobody in this world can be trusted, not even the self. If people want to call this the African Game of Thrones, I won’t necessarily argue, but I will say that the Tracker and his frenemies would make any of the big baddies in Westeros run for cover with their tail cut off