Cover Image: The Lies of the Ajungo

The Lies of the Ajungo

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Member Reviews

The premise of this story is intriguing and original. A great world was built in this short story. It's three stars for me just because I didn't quite connect emotionally with the stories.
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this was a beautifully done debut novella, it had what I enjoyed about the genre. Moses Ose Utomi does a great job in keeping my attention and creating a great universe. I enjoyed getting to know the characters and thought it was a magical journey. I can't wait to read more from the author.

"Two round creatures scuttled down a nearby dune. They moved mainly on their hind legs, their front limbs, a pair of little underdeveloped paws, hovering just above the ground. They had dozens of overlapping rings of soft flesh along their backs, and a mound of flesh jutted a half finger out the end of their snouts."
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I want more of this world...! Novellas tend to be a little hard for me to really get invested in, but I did find myself pretty invested in these characters and what happened to them. Watching the mysteries being unraveled was fascinating and I think the author did a great job building out this world in a short amount of time.
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This is a modern day fable. It's wildly good. The writing sucks you into this world of lies, mysteries, and friendships. This is the type of book that you'll want to clear an evening for. Kick everyone out of you way so you can devour it all in a single sitting. The characters will be in your heart for years after. The mysteries are fascinating and answers are revealed in a way that feels simultaneously shocking, obvious, and deeply earned.
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The Lies of the Ajungo is a dark fable about how power and privilege determine who gets to determine what's believed to be truth and history, and how these deceptions keep those with less privilege obedient and under their thumbs. It's a little book with big impact that left me dying to read more from Utomi.
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“Fiction is a lie. Good fiction is the truth inside the lie," Stephen King once said. It’s a statement that makes a complicated thing seem simple, which is another litmus test for good writing. Moses Ose Utomi succeeds on both accounts with The Lies of the Ajungo, a brutally good fable that’s simply told, belying the deep complexities at the heart of the story and the complicated emotions that go along with them. 

Tutu is a boy on the cusp of manhood who lives with his mother in the City of Lies. The city, which was stripped of its original name by invaders calling themselves the Ajungo, has been deprived by its conquerors of all but the barest trickles of water, and its people are perpetually on the verge of dying of thirst. Unable to bear watching his mother slowly waste away, Tutu demands the right to go in search of water in the desert that surrounds the City in every direction. Only children younger than the age of 13 are allowed to embark on this quest; once they reach their majority, their tongues are cut out, another tribute demanded by the Ajungo. The Ajungo Empire means to break not only their bodies but their spirits, taking away their ability to name themselves or speak their own language, unable to tell their own stories without the presence of the Ajungo bearing down. 

The people found new names and new ways to communicate, but only under the shadow of oppression. Raised in fear and deprivation, Tutu is incredibly strong but also deeply suspicious of everyone he encounters. Are they Ajungo? Do they want to inflict even more harm on him? He’s almost immediately forced to reckon with how to apply this strength and tame this anxiety, because he has no practical knowledge for surviving the desert. What travelers, what lessons should he trust, and what in the endless expanse is merely a mirage? 

Utomi plays his cards close to his chest when it comes to Tutu’s quest. It’s clear that there’s a moral here, but he wisely withholds the true nature of the threat until the very end, doling out a careful breadcrumb trail for the reader to follow. The pacing is excellent, and the book is exactly as long as it ought to be, which is remarkable for a first novella. Not only that, but the way that Utomi is bold with his action but sly in his narrative reveals increases the sense of tension throughout. 

The big climax will probably not come as a total surprise after all Utomi’s careful plotting, but it’s not meant to be a twist (thank goodness). It’s meant instead to twist Tutu’s—and the reader’s—sense of what a parable or fairy-tale should do. Who are the villains we should be confronting when we step outside of metaphor? Is evil something foreign, something Other—or is it intimate, familiar? 

Along with the critique of easy moral absolutes, The Lies of the Ajungo also makes a dark and relevant point about another of the tropes SFF loves best, namely the teenaged protagonist. To be clear, I have no overarching problem with this trope. Teens deserve the chance to see themselves as heroes as much as anyone else, and the young are just as capable of changing the world as anyone else. However, it’s good to have this and other counternarratives, the ones that critically examine the burdens we place on children to solve the problems we find too intractable. Just because Tutu is capable does not mean he should be wandering the desert in search of salvation for his people. One of his eventual companions jokes about being his wife, but Tutu is not doing this for romance. He longs for his mother only, and it’s a terrible world in which a child must work to save his parent and not the other way around.  

Without revealing too much, I can say that the story succeeds at both a piercing criticism of the current moment as well as a timeless caution like any great fairy tale. It’s a parable for modern times, full of violence and promise. The Lies of the Ajungo was one of my most highly anticipated books of 2023, and I’m happy to say that it lives up to the hype and more. I was expecting a twisty, thrilling adventure tale, and while I certainly got that, I also got a fairy tale as gruesome and eternally timely as any Grimm brother could pull together. 

I was overjoyed to discover that there will be a follow-up novella entitled The Truth of the Aleke, and I cannot wait. That book will be out in October of 2023; as for The Lies of the Ajungo, you fortunately only have to wait until March 21, 2023.
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There is not much to this small novella, but it is interesting throughout. The setting is unique, the writing was good, but it wasn't as exciting as i would expect from a novella. I am interested to see what else this author comes out with.
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The world of young Tutu is one where every drop of water is a rare gift and one where children's tongues are cut away as an offering to the ominous, great Ajungo. When his beloved mother falls sick with blood drought he set out to find water for her and his people. Out there in the desert he finds out that nothing is as it seems. 

I really enjoyed this story with its dark, gritty worldbuilding. There were glimpses of hope and love everywhere while the world tried to tear the protagonist down. It's a fast-paced story and full of heart and loss. There is a distinct feeling of a fairytale or fable to me. 

I would love to read more about this world and the characters introduces but this novella comes full circle and has a believable, strong ending.
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The strength of this is in the world building, it's an interesting and compelling world that I REALLY hope we get to see much more of in the future.
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I loved this book. I felt like the writing style is transportive and made me feel like I was in the dry desert along with the characters. It works beautifully as a stand-alone novel, but I also want more!!!!!

Thank you to the publishers, author, and NetGalley for this ARC!
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Me gusto todo lo relacionado a la ciudad de las mentiras. El plot twist no lo habia esperado, eso me gusto bastante.
No logre encariñarme con las 3 primas pero fuera de eso es una linda historia.
Probablemente cuando lea el segundo libro lo lea tambien y ahi creo q voy a tener una opinión más armada porque no se q más decir porque lo lei muy rapido al ser corto
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The Lies of the Ajungo is a short but devastating story about a boy and his quest for water. I was originally drawn to it by the cover (which is gorgeous wow) but it was the synopsis that fully ensnared me. I saw the author said he pitched his story to someone by saying it’s “Attack on Titan in North Africa vibez” and I can’t believe I didn’t see it! But as someone who has read Attack on Titan, despite the inspiration being clear (in hindsight) this story sits apart. The theme’s are similar but this story goes another way, and dare I say it, I loved this more than AoT. 

The story is short. Less than 100 pages. The time in the story lasts half a year but it doesn’t feel like it to the reader of course but it never becomes an issue. The pacing never fails. There’s action, there’s character building and connection, there’s a mystery, and there’s poetry. Not actual poetry but the story’s themes felt like poetry to me; gutting, satisfying, and bittersweet.

It’s a big challenge to set up an entire world in less than 100 pages and still have space for plot and character but Moses Ose Utomi juggles it all expertly. I never felt lost, never felt like I didn’t feel or connect with the characters, and it never felt bogged down. When you don’t have enough space, it might feel tempting to infodump but the way the exposition was handled in this story seamlessly fit into the tone and style of the writing. Utomi mentions that his story sits at an “intersection between fable and fantasy” and yes it does and it’s why his exposition works so well. It reads like a fable and so when you are getting information about the world, it works itself into the style of the story.

The pov character, Tutu (who I loved) comes from a small and distant part of a city and is a child. He is yet ignorant of the world and so is the perfect character to have things be explained to (and by extension, us). Because he’s a child with a limited understanding and view, it makes sense that the world most of the time feels limited. We only truly see 3 places: his home, the palace, and the desert. So it does feel like the world is small but it makes sense? One place in a desert is not so different from another place in a desert. I could say that as a child, the world beyond his home should feel vast and scary but that feels nitpicky because it’s not really that important.

What’s important is the characters themselves. I felt for Tutu. I cried when he cried. I felt his fear and hopelessness. It’s a testament of skill that Utomi was able to connect us to the characters in such a short amount of time. I cried like twice while reading this book! The atmosphere and tone were so engrossing, I was absolutely absorbed into the story. 

Speaking of atmosphere, the antagonists of the story were amazing (I’m running out of synonyms for amazing and incredible but if you can think of anymore just know that it would apply to this book). We are given just enough information (little, as little as Tutu and basically everyone else knows) to let our imaginations fill in the rest, and the little we are given is that the Ajungo are cruel, ruthless, powerful, and greedy. Our imaginations will always fill in with morbid ideas of why and what and how. It made it so that every time we came across someone there’s the immense feeling of fear and dread that it’s the Ajungo.

There’s an entire world carefully laid out in less than 100 pages and I will not go into detail about any of it other than the praises for the incredible job Moses Ose Utomi has done and thank him for sharing his story with the world. I think everyone should go into it blind, don’t do anything but go straight into reading. You will be transported into a new world for a few hours and you will come back changed. Some of us will see the themes of the story and the answers coming and it’s a bitter feeling being proven right. But it’s an important story because of what it stands for and what it is saying. I wish I could say more but it would spoil everything and everyone needs to experience it fresh like I did. 

thank you netgalley and tor for the arc.
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From the perspective of a third culture kid, this story is one that feels personal and relatable. All children of immigrants from formerly colonized lands will tell you stories of displacement and deception. So this story and other like it are small triumphs.
Overall, though, I feel the story could’ve been told better. There is a lot of exposition which isn’t really my taste. 3-stars for me - because I loved the overall concept of the story and the originality.
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Far more a fable than a fantasy epic, and a pretty bleak and brutal one at that. The concept is intriguing and the language captivating, but the character development was thin and the magical solution felt too easy.
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The Ajungo Empire forces the residents of a parched, waterless city, called The City of Lies, to cut off their tongues in exchange for water. But it's not enough, and as Tutu watches his mother wasting away from thirst, he decides to undertake the quest to go outside the city into the Forever Desert and find water. Many have gone out before, and no one has ever succeeded or even come back alive. 

Utomi packs a lot into this novella, and immediately the reader is curious to how Tutu can overcome these insurmountable odds, The relationship he forms with three women he meets in the desert, his journey to manhood, and the surprising truth about the Ajungo Empire make this a memorable and rewarding read.
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I think this was a pretty strong debut from this author. I liked the writing style which flowed nicely throughout the novella, though it lacked a bit of lyricism that I prefer in fable or folktale type of novellas. But that's more of a personal preference than an actual issue with the writing. It's a fast-paced story which is expected for a novella of this length. I was engaged with the plot for the most part but towards 60% of the book the plot kind of lost me but it wrapped up pretty nicely towards the end. I also appreciated the themes around totalitarian regimes trying to limit people's access to knowledge and resources and the accumulation of wealth by the upper classes which were incorporated into the story and the reveals in an interesting way. In addition, this book tonally is quite sad while at the same time doesn't fail to give the reader a hopeful ending. I will definitely check out other novellas or long-form works from this author.
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A wonderful novella that masterfully builds tension that culminates in a well thought out twist.
At the heart of this Novella is one boys search for water for his people, for lige itself. The first thing I really liked about it was how great the author is at conveying the slow draining horror of being constantly at the brink of death by dehydration. The writng is absolutely amazing at pulling you into the world.
The plot itself is also really interesting. Discovering that Tutu's people aren't the only people suffering at the hand of the Ajungo is an amazing base for the themes of the book, that the way to keep people opressed is robbing them of their basic human needs of life and safety and deiding the masses so they can't colaborate. I found that theme to be very consistent throughout the book and it even held up really well after the truth about the Ajungo was revealed. I also liked the ending. Keeping the future of Tutu's people open like that was a good choice I think.
There are some things that I didn't like as much, mainly how Tut is treated by both the narration and the other characters. He is 13 at the beginning and still 13 at the end. I was very uncomfortable with how it is constantly said that he is a man now, after the eight months that are depicted in the book. No. He is still 13, he is still a child.

Another thing I really liked is the length of the novella. It felt neither stretched nor unnecessarily condensed, it fits the page count perfectly.

I will definitely keep an eye out for future works by this author, this was a wonderfull debut.

*A review on my Instagram account will follow at a later date, I will update the review with the link then.
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"There is no water in the City of Lies.
There are no heroes in the City of Lies.
There are no friends beyond the city of lies."

That's just so damn good for an introduction. I saw the blurb for "The Lies of the Ajungo" and had to read it. Looking forward to more stories by Moses Ose Utomi.

In the City of Lies there is no water, except what they are given by the Ajungo Empire. But in exchange they cut the tongues from everyone at the age of 13. Tutu is nearly 13, but his mother is dying of thirst, so he makes a deal with the Oba to go find water. Many have tried, none have returned.

Reasons to read:
-THAT moment
-The pacing of the story and when we get context for some of the concepts or backgrounds is spot on
-Seeing, it just makes sense
-People met along the way
-Leaving home gives you clarity about where you were
-Justified actions

-Wouldn't have minded more pages, but I'm greedy, and I understand that would have messed with the flow.
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March cannot simply come fast enough!! wow wow wow - what a spectacular story. 

my review must be the shortest one I've written as I'm at a loss for words. 

I read this in one sitting, it's 91 pages of excellence. No notes.
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The Lies of the Ajungo
By Moses Ose Utomi
A Review by Jamilla (@LandsAwayBooks) 

There’s no water in the City of Lies. 
There are no heroes in the City of Lies. 
There are no friends beyond the City of Lies. 

But who would believe in anything they say in a city named such? 

Tutu, our protagonist believes. 

These are things he can see with his own two eyes. 

In the City of Lies, where it never rains, and nothing, not even cacti grow. Of course, there’s no water, bodies collapse in the streets as people die of blood drought. 

What leader could watch on as this horror unfolds and do nothing? 

In the City of Lies, children who reach the age of thirteen have their tongues “cut away by hot blades”. But before that age, a few brave and hopeless or hopeful children can take up the noble quest put forth by their leader, centuries past: enter the forever forest, search for allies or water— which ever you find first. 

None of these children have returned. 

As desperate circumstances forces Tutu to seek death or glory in the search for water, he finds so much more in the stark expanse of the forever desert. 

Friends. Foes. And the truth behind the lies of the Ajungo. 

This is a stunningly written story set in an intriguing world I’m eager to see explored in the other books in this series! 

Utomi crafts a compelling protagonist, you’re rooting for him to succeed, and praying that he can save his mother, all the whole captivated by his growth and strength ! 

There’s also kick ass fight scenes, gore and strange creatures in the sand. 

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an opportunity to read this eARC in exchange for a fair review.
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