For readers searching for something queer and fantasy-filled, "Son of the Storm" is the book for you.
Suyi Davies Okungbowa is the author of "David Mogo Godhunter," and now begins a new epic series with "Son of the Storm." I had the pleasure of talking with Okungbowa about the new epic series.
What was your inspiration behind your most recent novel?
Benin, the city in southern Nigeria where I grew up. It used to be part of the Benin Empire, whose origins date back to the 1100s. If you take a walk closer to its center, you’ll see all these vestiges of its former glory: crumbling moats, statues of conquerors, a majestic and still functioning palace. It opened a world of questions, for me, about empires past across the African continent — and West Africa in particular — and what they could’ve become if allowed to flourish. I wanted to engage with some of that, but also not write a historic retelling. So I ended up with a fantasy novel that borrows from cultures across the region and interrogates similar notions of power and marginalization and colonialism, yet remains its own unique creation that stands apart from anything past or present.
What character in this novel do you most relate to and why?
Danso, I’d say. I’m well versed in the repercussions of being afforded some societal privileges — as a writer who has been able to occupy space and use my voice in the wider world — while also bearing a heritage of severe disenfranchisement — as a Black African man in this same world, where folks like me still have to emphasize that we matter. I have often straddled these lines in a way Danso has to, and his ruminations on handling the obstacles and challenges that come his way are informed by how I have handled mine in the past.
Why do you feel novels with powerful and unique characters are so popular and have such a voice right now?
I feel that this past decade has seen so many pivotal moments — all accelerated by technology — that our desires and craving as a people have also accelerated in this manner. One of those is a quick turnover of what we once dutifully consumed, and a yearning for more, for different, for better. Often, that more comes in the form of people who show strength in ways we wish we could and demonstrate weaknesses in ways we can relate to. Whether in real life or in stories, we’re drawn to such people always. I guess this same acceleration has made the desire for such representation all the more pronounced.
Please describe the content of your latest read and what readers can expect from it.
I’m not reading anything as I speak, but my last read was "Riot Baby" by Tochi Onyebuchi, which really has to be experienced, not heard about. It follows a young Black girl with wild and mysterious powers, but who is still kept in check by the limitations placed on Blackness. It becomes especially ironic how helpless she is despite these powers, to protect her brother who falls into the hands of the brutal US criminal justice system. As I said, needs to be experienced for oneself.
What's next for you in the book world?
Book 2 of "The Nameless Republic" series, mostly. I do have a few other things I’m working on which may or may not have been announced by the time this interview is published, but trust that when they are, they will be just as exciting.
Who is your current favorite writer? Why?
I tend to enjoy different kinds of work at different times, so rather than favorite writers, I tend to have favorite works. But some people would always have a place on my shelf: Octavia Butler, Neil Gaiman, Helen Oyeyemi, NK Jemisin, Stephen King, Carmen Maria Machado. More recently, I’ve enjoyed the work of authors like Aliette De Bodard, P Djélì Clark, Roseanne A. Brown, Namina Forna, Kwame Mbalia, and others.
Any writing advice for aspiring writers?
Finish what you’ve started. The foremost thing a writer has to find some way to achieve is staying the course. Because no matter how beautiful one’s words or how worthy one’s themes are, if the story remains unfinished, it cannot find its way into the world to be discovered.