There is no water in the City of Lies.
Let me make this easy. 5 stars, ten out of ten, gold medal, everybody go buy and read this now.
Why are you still here? Fine, let me explain…
This short, sweet West Africa-inspired fairy tale is my second favorite 2023 read so far, nipping hard at the heels of the wonder that is Shubeik Lubeik. (Readers, take note; my two favorite reads of the year so far are both African fantasies!) The first five pages let me know I was in for something great–so great, in fact, that I rationed the remaining 107 pages over the next two weeks. I didn’t want it to end, even from the beginning.
The story focuses on Tutu, a brave boy living in a grim place. His city, the City of Lies, is in a permanent state of drought, and in order to get a survival pittance of water from the cruel, wealthy Ajungo Empire, a sacrifice must be made–the tongues of the City’s adults. Days before he reaches the age where Ajungo soldiers will cut out his tongue and leave him mutilated and speechless, Tutu decides to go on a quest for water and finally save his city, his people, and his beloved Mama.
Like all good quests do, this one has companions–badass aunties, mysterious blind men, and a camel called Shokolokobangoshe. (No, really.) There are epic highs, tearful lows, personal transformations, incredible fight scenes, and chilling foes–although not always where you’d expect them to be.
At its heart, this is a fairy tale and a hero’s journey, so please put away your overly literal fanperson judging hats and sneering spectacles in order to enjoy this. Utomi does an excellent job of setting out a simple story and seasoning it thoroughly with world-building details and ever-heightening stakes, creating a really satisfying read. My only complaint is that it’s too short–but apparently there are sequels coming.
A lake of drinking water to The Lies of the Ajungo.
(Beautiful people, this is one of those books I recommend buying without reservation. If you agreed with me on other favorites, go and snag this one from the Equal Opportunity Bookshop. Remember that anything you buy there from a link here will result in a commission being paid. Thanks for visiting, peace, and go read something good!)