This did not affect my opinion or the content of this review.
In the ancient city of Bassa, Danso is a clever scholar on the cusp of achieving greatness—only he doesn’t want it. Instead, he prefers to chase forbidden stories about what lies outside the city walls. The Bassai elite claim there is nothing of interest. The city’s immigrants are sworn to secrecy.
But when Danso stumbles across a warrior wielding magic that shouldn’t exist, he’s put on a collision course with Bassa’s darkest secrets. Drawn into the city’s hidden history, he sets out on a journey beyond its borders. And the chaos left in the wake of his discovery threatens to destroy the empire.
There is no better feeling than going into a book expecting one thing, and getting a quite different and even better thing, and Son of the Storm was such a pleasant surprise for me. Especially as I didn’t know beforehand that it would feature queer characters/be inclusive in that regard, and if you know me, you know that queer characters are the way to my heart.
Son of the Storm was a bit of a wobbly start for me. I started reading it and was definitely enjoying it on some level, but as someone who cares about characters the most, I was also struggling a bit (not enough that I would not happily pick back up the book every chance I got). Son of the Storm features quite a few (5+) POV characters. That in itself isn’t a bad thing, especially as Suyi Davies Okungbowa did an amazing job at creating diverse, distinct characters, with each their own voice, that were easy to tell apart. What I struggled with was how short their chapters were and how quickly we moved between them. It took me some time to really get a feel for the characters, to get to know them and like them. This being the first book in a new fantasy series though this is something I can expect and am fine with, it didn’t leave a lasting impression on my overall view of the book, especially as the problem easily went away after a while and I pretty much inhaled the rest of the book, unable to stop reading.
Speaking of characters: I really love how Suyi Davies Okungbowa turned the usual hero/villain trope on its head and instead gives us characters that are neither one or the other. When you are so used to reading the same type of heroes and villains that populate most fantasy books, it’s definitely a bit of a mind-fuck when you question yourself constantly regarding whether you should root for a character and their actions or not. It inherently brings out the fact why we root for villains in the first place: it’s their motivations and why they do the things they do, what drives them. In Son of the Storm, you’ll definitely root for characters that are doing BAD things, but you root for them just the same. And you’ll let go of the idea of wanting to put characters into categories of good and bad, because they all have good agency, even the ones working against the others.
On top of that, I just loved how Suyi Davies Okungbowa wrote *real* people. This is just the first book in a series and you already get to see quite a lot of character growth but what really got me was just the small little details that turn characters into actual beings. Like a woman on an adventure, out in the wilderness, while being on her period!? LOVE to see that.
I also loved that Son of the Storm is inclusive in regards to queer identities and that this isn’t a binary world. One of the main/POV characters is explicitly queer (we see casual sex, hell yes!) and side characters who use they/them pronouns exist.
Sadly, this is also the aspect where my only criticism lies for this book. While I always love to see characters who identify outside the binary represented, as is still often the case, Son of the Storm plays into the idea of gender having a certain look. There is never an exchange of pronouns, they are always known immediately, even of strangers. They use they/them pronouns for people who look of “indeterminate gender”, people who all seem to be bold, and during a sex scene, body parts that are described are limited to “arms” and “legs”, shying away from the fact that non-binary/intersex people have a penis, or tits or a vagina just as everyone else, and rather leaving with the idea of featureless bodies, and that of a “third” gender.
As to what kept me going through that first part, where the characters were not quite there yet for me: it was the world building, the history and magic system Suyi Davies Okungbowa created. Having a character come across history that is kept secret, seeing magic that should not exist, is really quite clever to introduce the reader to it all. You definitely won’t find any info dumps in Son of the Storm, instead you learn it all alongside the characters. Also: I’m a sucker for forbidden/secret magic and characters suddenly able to do magic. It plays out beautifully with the morally gray character trope, when they can suddenly wield magic and need to think about what to do with this newfound power.
A very big part of this story and its characters is the topic of race. I highly recommend reading reviews by BIPOC and especially biracial reviewers as well, as I, a white person, obviously can’t say much about that aspect of the book. I’m saying though that Suyi Davies Okungbowa did a wonderful job at depicting Danso’s (and other characters) struggles with being biracial, and his deep longing to find his place in the world, learn his own history, and feel accepted.
My issues regarding queer rep aside, Son of the Storm is the start to a new favorite series, that I can’t wait to see continue. Strong characterization, amazing world building and a plot that kept me stuck the pages, this is exactly what I like my fantasy to be like.