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The Lies of the Ajungo

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Member Reviews

This book did an absolutely masterful job of telling a complex story in a rich fantasy world in so few pages. It grabbed me from the first word and kept me reading all the way through. I loved the twist at the end, about the truth behind the Ajungo and the City of Lies, and while I was definitely sad for the fate of certain characters, I thought that the book ended on a satisfactory note. I will certainly be keeping an eye out for Moses Ose Utomi's next book.
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3.5 stars

This was such a hard book for me to rate. The things I liked in this novella I absolutely loved! But the things I had problems with still left me feeling dissatisfied weeks after finishing the book. 

My main issue with this novella was that the author tried to write an epic fantasy tale in 112 pages. The themes of this story, the plot of this story, and the characters of this story would have been more powerful and impactful as a 400-500 page book. 

We are introduced to some really interesting characters just for them to either die or disappear from the story a dozen pages later. Rather than getting to sit with a new plot point for a minute, the characters would be off doing something else. 

We learn how our main character, Tutu, a 13 year old boy who goes off in search for water for his village, suddenly changes into an entirely new character altogether with little exploration or explanation as to how this is possible. 

We end the book with incredible, epic things happening, a huge climax full of action, yet it was hard to feel invested at all when we were carried along at a break-neck pace to get there. 

I understand that this was supposed to be more of a folk tale or myth, but it read more like an epic fantasy with most of the quieter, character-building moments taken out.

With such interesting characters, I was so disappointed that they weren’t fleshed out more. They had amazing stories to tell that never made it into the book.

I will say that the world building was some of the most unique and intriguing I have ever read. I absolutely loved the lore and myths and world that the author created! I know that this is supposed to be a series, so I am beyond excited to read the next installment.

I did read read this very quickly and could have easily finished in one sitting if I’d had the time. It does make you want to keep flipping the pages to find out what happens next. The writing style was beautiful at times and flowed so smoothly that it was a pleasure to read. 

I’d still recommend this novella. Maybe having more clear expectations of what you will get out of the story might help you enjoy it more.
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Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for this advanced copy. 

Wow. This is less a hundred pages and is amazing. I love the protagonist. You quickly learn about the world and understand his feelings/motives/etc. right away. It doesn't slow down until the end. I would highly recommmend. 
Rating: 5/5
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3.5 stars rounded up

The Lies of the Ajungo is a fantasy novella that really reads more like a fable than anything else. It follows the journey of a boy on a quest to bring back water for his city and save his mother, but along the way becomes a man and learns a lot more than he had bargained for.

In the acknowledgements, the author talks about how this came out of his experiences being an immigrant from Nigeria to America but feeling like an outsider in both cultures. It's interesting, because in many ways this is a story about how the best way to see the truth and see how things fit together is as an outsider. Being stuck in one place can make you blind to the larger world and what is possible, but at the same time you lose something in going away from the place you were raised, something that you can't really get back.

Part fantasy fable, part coming of age story this is a very strong debut and I look forward to seeing more from Utomi in the future. It is admittedly on the short side and I might have wanted a bit more, but I did like it. I received a copy of this book for review via NetGalley, all opinions are my own.
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Let me preface this review by thanking the publisher, the author and NetGalley for an advanced copy of this incredible novella!
This was an easy five stars. Thankfully, because since the beginning of the year I’ve been reading nothing but meh books. And let me tell you, this is NOTHING OF THE SORT.
First of all, the narrative style was incredibly impressive. The overall voice of the book was clear and well established from the very beginning. It read unmistakably like a fable, a parable, a story to show and to teach, yet suddenly there were action scenes that fixed your eyes onto the page like glue, just as there were bits of tenderness and intimacy. Considering the fact that the author only had less than a hundred pages to set up the foundation of his plot the way he wanted to tell it, I believe he came remarkably through.
Onto another aspect, the character work was wonderful. We get these charming, sweet moments, in direct contrast to our ill-fated protagonist who has to go through bleak, unbidden growth. His corruption arc was executed so wonderfully that despite having gone twisted, you can tell that he’s still there, and his values are intact.
Lastly, how can I not talk about that ending. However tragic it was (and however much I cried!!), it sealed the whole package with a ribbon. you never get the sense that sacrifice is pointless, that knowledge only leads to helplessness, in fact, the conclusion unfolds into the best kind of joy: the one that arrives with peace in our hearts and freedom in our eyes.
SO. In conclusion, the thing was perfect! I’ll be reading the rest of the series, as well as whatever this person writes, at my own cost! It releases on March 21st, and I can't wait to get a copy and neither should yall!
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This book prefect! After the first 5 pages I knew this book would be heartbreaking.  Discovering the truth about life is hard for most people and our MC faces those same  harsh realities. 
What I appreciate most about this book is the way it was able to surpass all of my expectations. It's not your average fantasy with traditional troupes. It's a story about life, found family and deciding how to deal with the lies you've been told your entire life.

Loved it!
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The Lies of the Ajungo is the adult fantasy debut of Moses Ose Utomi. The novella explores the story of Tutu, a child from the City of Lies, and his quest to find water.

The City of Lies is an awful place. Long ago, after years of severe drought, they made a deal with the Ajungo in return for a trickle of water. The Ajungo, in their cruelty, took their price in flesh: the tongue of every resident over thirteen. Year after year, Ajungo wagons enter the city with water and take their payments. Tutu is a few days away from his thirteenth birthday and the loss of his tongue when he decides to instead flee the city and venture out into The Forever Desert on a quest to find water.

I found The Lies of the Ajungo to be excellent. It’s a short read that manages to establish a unique tone from the first sentence: There is no water in the City of Lies. Utomi invokes a folklorish prose throughout the book, and at times the sentences felt like they should be spoken around a campfire instead of read from a page. Utomi doesn’t manage to maintain this through the whole novella, but the sections that reach this feeling truly shine.

The Lies of the Ajungo is imbued with African influences throughout—which was a treat for a reader of primarily Western-influenced fiction like myself. The setting is harsh and unrelenting, and Utomi does a great job in emphasizing the ever-present severity of The Forever Desert. In the first few chapters, so much vivid emphasis was put on the stifling dehydration that I became emotionally invested in each droplet of water Tutu encounters. The book really excels in building that initial investment quickly, which is essential in such a short format.

The narrative closeness to folklore creates both strengths and weaknesses for The Lies of the Ajungo. On one hand, it allows for a unique voice, a tight story, and a mythic feel. On the other, it does mean that it can sometimes feel obvious and a little too clean around the edges. For instance, the ending has a great full-circle feel to it that often comes with parables—but it is also heavily foreshadowed and somewhat predictable (but not entirely without twists!). Additionally, some parts felt a bit too quick, and it would have benefited from more time developing Tutu alongside the other characters.

Overall, The Lies of the Ajungo was a great read and a very impressive debut by Utomi. Although I do think there were a few shortcomings, many of these seem common to the novella format, and I look forward to seeing what Utomi can do with some additional space. More than anything, it made me want to read more non-Western fiction, and it made me look forward to reading more from him specifically. And if a debut makes a reader say that, it’s a successful one.

4/5 stars.

You should read The Lies of the Ajungo if:

-You want an engaging, fast read in an African-inspired setting.
-You are fine with harsh, brutal stories.
-You want to read a strong debut novella that often feels like a fable.
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The Lies of the Ajungo is a stunning story about the damage that can be done when we pit people against each other. It's a brilliant exploration of how much stronger we are together and how it benefits the privileged for us to be eternally separate all wrapped up in not quite a fable, not quite a fantasy. 

This story packs a huge punch in the small length and is sure to stick with you for a long time. It's a story of survival, strength, and finding each other again. 

Never forget how much stronger we are when we don't let them turn us against each other.
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A creative and captivating novella with the tone of a fairy tale or a fable, THE LIES OF THE AJUNGO is a a wonderfully-crafted story, unlike anything I’ve encountered previously. 

This book is much more an attempt to write a “new fable” than to adapt a fable or fairy tale into book form (which is a common choice, done very well by many authors!). This approach made for a reading experience which was incredibly unique and engaging (once I’d gotten the “hang” of the story)! I found that I wasn’t looking for the same things in terms of depth of characterization or worldbuilding, though those elements were present; I was much more interested in the shape of the story, the archetypes which the characters represented, and the larger themes. I can see how these things might be alienating to a reader who goes in expecting a more “traditional” SFF experience, but I thought it was so very, very cool. The story also hits its emotional beats really well; no spoilers, but the ending in particular was really affecting and well-done. 

If I have one hesitation about it, it’s that it took a little bit for me to feel fully engaged with the book; I actually started it twice before it “stuck” on my third read through. But it was very worth it: once I had settled into the flow and shape of the story, I absolutely tore through the remaining three-quarters of the book, and didn’t want to put it down. 

THE LIES OF THE AJUNGO comes out 3/21, and I most definitely recommend picking up a copy. Thank you so much to Tor and Netgalley for the ARC!
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For such an itty bitty book, this had a big punch. I can't say I necessarily enjoyed it, but this is a story that will stick with me for a while. It's something everyone should read and, perhaps, reread.
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The Lies of the Ajungo is a hell of a debut novella.

With a folk tale feel and brilliant storytelling and thematic approach, this under-100-page novella delivers a powerful and lasting message in a way that only fairy tales can: in the most enchanting of ways. I'm using the term "fairy tale" loosely here as this story veered away from the optimism and cosy vibes that are often associated with those and it got dark.

The Lies of the Ajungo is a story about a boy whose city is doomed to never have water again and whose people are forever destined to cut out their tongues in exchange for the slightest amount of water sent by a neighbouring empire, the Ajungo. It's a fantastical tale that explores many themes, from family and friendship to the abuse of power and oppression.

The magic could have been explored more in-depth, but in just under 100 pages this novella packs an emotional punch and takes the reader on a journey through the desert and the highs and lows of survival.

Cannot recommend it more if you need something short, but with strong worldbuilding.
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"They say there is no water in the City of Lies."

With that opening line Moses Ose Utomi transports readers to a dark secondary world where water is so scarce that dying from dehydration is common. The peoples of The City of Lies are so desperate for water that they are willing to give up their tongues to the oppressive Ajungo in exchange for the precious liquid. There is little hope for change, as no other sources of water have been found, no matter how many young people have traversed into the Forever Desert. 

Often times in fantasy we are always looking for longer books. It seems to be a commonly held belief that a fantasy novel under 100k words is incapable to balancing character, worldbuilding, and plot. And yeah, I will admit that a lot of time it is the big chunky books that stick with me because I dwelled for so long in those worlds. But Utomi's novella, clocking in at around 2 hours of reading time, challenges the belief that to be better in secondary-world fantasy that you have to be bigger. In this book, which is short even for a novella, Utomi envisages a world that feels complete and lived in, while taking us on a wonderful character journey. I cannot get this novella out of my head, and it is going to occupy a lot of my brain space for a while yet!

The main character in The Lies of the Ajungo is Tutu, a thirteen year old boy who quests into The Forever Desert to find a source of water to save his mother. One of the most fascinating aspects of this novella is that Utomi takes one of the most common tropes in epic fantasy, the coming-of-age narrative, and remixes it into something wholly different. Tutu starts the novella ignorant of the ways of the real world. He takes everything at face value and believes all of the adages and saying passed down from one generation to the next. He travels into the desert to bring water back to his people; he sees himself as the mythical hero figure, the Chosen One that will be worshipped for finally finding water. 

But his dreams are quickly dashed as Tutu finds out that not everyone and everything is as it seems. Rather than seeing Tutu overcome adverse challenges and ascend to fulfill some kind of Chosen One role, we see Tutu has he becomes disillusioned with the world as his eyes are opened to what is really going on. 

One of my favorite things about novellas as a storytelling vehicle is their ability to pull the rug out from under the reader. They are longer than short stories and so have more time to build out the characters and world, but are short enough that twists and turns don't feel like the reader is being cheated or bamboozled in some way. Utomi uses the novella's length and pacing to his advantage to not only keep things moving along at a nice clip, but also to shock, awe, and surprise the reader at many turns. 

Throughout the novella, Utomi's main theme is power. How do people gain power? How do people keep power? How do people manipulate and quell the masses to prevent questioning of that power? Many of the things Utomi explores in this novella are prescient to the situation in many of the West's democracies - how are lies and political rhetoric (particularly xenophobia and the demonization of outsiders) programmed into our own political systems? I say this often in my reviews, but one thing I look for in a "five star read" is thematic depth and development; in other words, how the author uses the unrestricted imaginative limits of the genre to comment upon the social conditions we live in today. Utomi cleverly deepens his cultural critique as the world expands beyond the border of the City of Lies, and as Tutu broadens his own global understandings. 

Sometimes with short stories and novellas it can feel like the entire "point "is the theme or the narrative twist. I know I felt this way (and to some extent still feel this way), and as a predominantly character reader I am often hesitant about shorter works. However, Utomi doesn't allow theme or plot twists to get in the way of developing some great characters in a very short amount of time. Obviously, the star of the show is Tutu, who feels so layered in just the first few pages, and whose character arc is more emotionally satisfying than what other main characters take 14 700+ page books to accomplish. But Tutu is not alone. Through Tutu's journey there at least 4 or 5 really well-developed characters that you will cheer and weep with/for (but remember - we don't waste tears in the City of Lies!). The characters just leap off the page. 

And all of this works for two main reasons. The first is that Utomi is really smart and considered in how he establishes his setting. As the readers we get enough of the history, culture, and ways of being in the world without feeling inundated. While readers who only read fantasy for the worldbuilding might find the setting a bit scarce here, I thought it provided a really nice backdrop that supported the characters and themes. The world felt complete without being overbearing.

And the other reason the novella comes together is that I was also completely swept up in Utomi's prose style. Without being overwritten or flowery, Utomi evoked an oral, mythical style. Amongst many other reasons, this is a key element of why the book industry should support books written by POC authors. The Euro-American tradition has its own tropes and story-telling styles that have been passed down, but after a while all of these stories start to feel the "same". And it is not just in who is being represented or the struggles the characters face (although those can start to feel restrictive and one-note as well), but there is also the style of storytelling. How plots are constructed, narratives are weaved, and characters are brought to life are closely linked to cultural understandings of myth, legend, story, cosmology, and worldview. They are closely linked to how stories are told in a society; the specific and nuanced ways story is integrated into one's daily life. Utomi's words and sentences, the very way he constructs the novella itself, not only matches the kind of story he is telling here, but also is just a different way of engaging with written stories than many other authors. Utomi is definitely not alone in this kind of story, but it is that kind of book where the first page indicates that you have gotten something "different" from the publishing norm. Hopefully more kinds of diverse storytelling and prose styles from different cultural traditions continue to be pushed and welcomed in mainstream publishing. 

If you are a fan of P. Djeli Clark, Saara Al-Arifi, or CL Clark, you will definitely be drawn into Utomi's world. I think I saw that two more novellas in this series are planned (Amazon already has a March 2024 release date for book 2), and I will be one of the first ones to pick up them up. 

Concluding Thoughts: An emotionally gripping novella about how far powerful people who go to maintain their power and one young boy whose eyes are opened to the real world, Moses Ose Utomi  wrote one of the most memorable reading experiences I have had in a while. In less than 100 pages Utomi brings to life an entire world, filled with fascinating characters, and relevant sociopolitical commentary. Readers should definitely consider picking up this book.
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In a vast desert, there is no water in Tutu’s city, the City of Lies. The Ajungo Empire would provide them with water in exchange for cutting the tongues of 13-year-olds. That is horrendous! And for what purpose? Tutu is three days away from turning thirteen; he will soon lose his tongue; and his mother is dying of dehydration. Tutu is determined to search for water in the big desert to save his mother and his city, only to find out that what he has believed all along was a lie.

This short story novella is not an epic fantasy adventure about a boy going on a journey to become a hero. This is more of a symbolic story, a fable story set in an African-inspired world, about how we live in a world full of lies, and we believe these lies until we discover the hard truth. Despite the fact that I prefer traditional epic fantasy tales, I thoroughly enjoyed this 96-page book and the underlying meanings of the characters, the city, and the world. This is Moses Ose Utomi's debut novella. I hope he continues this series as a longer fantasy tale so we can explore more of its world and its magic.
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This novella was absolutely riveting and a treat to read. It gripped me and didn’t let go. I loved the twist.
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The Lies of the Ajungo is a story about the dangers of not questioning those in power & the dangers of believing something because you have been told it's the truth. There is no water in the City of Lies, that is what Tutu has been told his whole life, and the citizens of the City of Lies have been told for centuries. A people called the Ajungo have water, but they asked for something in return, when any citizen of the city turns thirteen they have their tongue cut out. Tutu is about to turn thirteen, and has spent his childhood watching his mother waste away, making sure he receives the majority of their water rations, and he has had enough. He decides to journey into the desert to find water, but what he finds instead shows the truth behind the city of lies, and Tutu is more than willing to tell the truth.

Tutu was a brilliant character. Someone so young shouldn't have to deal with the things he does, but this is the reality for so many around the world which added a realness to the story. He is naive, and at thirteen you can't really blame him, he trusts those in power blindly, and risks himself to go into the desert and try and find more water for his people. As the story goes on, he really grows as a character, loosing his childish naivete and becoming wise beyond his years, but he still carries a weight that shoulders that young should not have to carry, and his story is not a truly happy one. 

The story kind of borrows from the hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil mantra, and the author does a fantastic job of bringing this to life in his story. It reads almost like a fable, and if you're expecting a boy venturing off to fight dragons to demons and return victorious to his people you would be wrong. Don't get me wrong, there are battles and plenty of exciting scenes, but the story is not an overly joyous one. Rather the story of a boy whose eyes become opened to the world around him, to the greed and danger and reality of the world as it is. 

Despite this being a novella, Utomi still manages to fit in a depth of world and character building that had be glued to the pages. On his journey to bring water back to his people, Tutu meets up with multiple other characters from other cities in the desert, characters that start his questioning to the truth behind the city of lies and characters that he forges a bond with, despite what little time he spends with them. Utomi's writing style propels the story along at a breakneck speed and carries the characters along with it, and the only issue I had with it was Tutu's growth, both physically and mentally seemed overly rushed. I didn't feel like we truly got to see his development, and  I would have liked a little more time to see him grow. 

If you're looking for a quick read that still packs an emotional punch, I can't recommend this enough. Utomi has created a world that I would love to spend more time in, and filled it with characters that, despite the little time we spend with them, still manage to worm their way into your heart.
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Questo è un romanzo molto breve che racconta il viaggio di Tutu per cercare di salvare sua madre e la sua città dalla siccità. Infatti sono ormai centinaia di anni che la loro città non ha più acqua. Degli invasori soprannominati Ajungo hanno stretto un patto con loro e hanno offerto loro dell'acqua (ma a malapena abbastanza per sopravvivere e nemmeno per tutti) in cambio delle lingue di tutte le persone sopra i 13 anni. Questo per evitare che andassero in giro a raccontare cosa era loro successo e in modo che nessuno credesse alle loro storie. Da allora la loro città è stata rinominata La città delle bugie.
Tutu sta per compiere 13 anni e sua madre sta per morire di disidratazione. Decide quindi di andare dalla reggente della città e chiedere di partire alla ricerca di acqua, onore concesso a qualunque bambino volesse cimentarsi di quest'impresa. La reggente gli promette che darà per un anno dell'acqua a sua madre, ma passato quel periodo darà per scontato che lui sia morto nel deserto e l'impresa fallita.
Tutu inizia così il suo viaggio e a vagare per il deserto scoprendo il mondo sconosciuto che circondava la sua città. Sin da piccolo aveva imparato a non fidarsi mai di nessuno, perchè tutti sono bugiardi, o perchè avrebbe potuto incontrare gli Ajungo. 
Dopo molte settimane la sua scorta d'acqua è esaurita e lui stanco, ma incontra tre donne sul suo cammino. All'inizio prova a scappare, ma le donne lo raggiungono e cercano di aiutarlo. Lui è reticente a fidarsi di loro e appena riesce a strappare loro l'informazione sull'ubicazione di un'oasi scappa via.
Il gruppo però si ritroverà e dopo essere stato salvato dalla furia di alcune bestie, Tutu imparerà che non tutte le persone fuori dalla città sono bugiarde e inizierà a stringere dei legami con queste tre donne.
Per molti mesi i quattro personaggi viaggeranno insieme, imparando cose l'un l'altro rispetto ai luoghi da cui arrivano. A quanto pare la città delle tre donne è stata rinominata allo stesso modo di quella di Tutu, ma loro venivano privati dell'udito e delle orecchie in cambio del ferro.
Le loro avventure continueranno fino a incontrare anche un altro personaggio, questa volta cieco, ma la sua città è circondata da fiumi. I tre quindi capiscono che le loro città potrebbero salvarsi a vicenda.
Ma come risolvere il problema degli Ajungo? Sarà la scoperta che compiranno attaccando un convoglio degli Ajungo a rivelare la verità che viene nascosta da secoli e a portare i protagonisti ad affrontare il ritorno verso casa e diventare degli eroi.

Questa storia, seppure breve, ha tutto il necessario per raccontare l'avventura di Tutu e coinvolgerti nello struggimento dei personaggi che affrontano difficoltà e dolori davvero devastanti. Eppure questa brevità è per me un punto debole. Se la storia fosse stata sviluppata con maggiori dettagli e intrighi sicuramente sarebbe un fantastico romanzo standalone. Potrebbe anche avere la possibilità di diventare una serie se non avesse questo finale . Purtroppo la conclusione della storia preclude una continuazione.
Peccato! Mi è comunque piaciuta molto perchè mi è sembrato quasi di leggere una fiaba.

Grazie Netgalley per avermi permesso di leggerlo in anteprima.


This is a very short novel that tells about Tutu's journey to try and save his mother and his city from drought. In fact, their city has run out of water for hundreds of years now. Invaders called the Ajungo made a deal with them and offered them water (but barely enough to survive or even not for everyone) in exchange for the tongues of all people over 13. This was to prevent them from going around telling what had happened to them and so that no one would believe their stories. Their city has since been renamed The City of Lies.
Tutu is about to turn 13 and his mother is about to die of dehydration. He therefore decides to go to the regent of the city and ask to go in search of water, an honor granted to any child who wanted to try their hand at this enterprise. The regent promises him that she will give his mother water for a year, but after that period she will assume that he died in the desert and the expedition failed.
Tutu thus begins his journey and wanders through the desert discovering the unknown world that surrounded his city. From an early age he had learned never to trust anyone, because everyone is a liar, or because he could have met the Ajungos.
After many weeks his water supply is depleted and he is tired, but he meets three women in his path. At first he tries to run away, but the women catch up and try to help him. He is reluctant to trust them and as soon as he manages to get information from them about the location of an oasis he runs away.
However, the group will find each other again and after being saved from the fury of some beasts, Tutu will learn that not all people outside the city are liars and will begin to form bonds with these three women.
For many months the four characters will travel together, learning about each other places they come from. Apparently the city of the three women was renamed in the same way as that of Tutu, but they were deprived of hearing and ears in exchange for iron.
Their adventures will continue until they meet another character, this time blind, but his city is surrounded by rivers. The three then realize that their cities could save each other.
But how to solve the Ajungo problem? It will be the discovery they will make by attacking an Ajungo convoy that will reveal the truth that has been hidden for centuries and lead the protagonists to face the return home and become heroes.

This story, though short, has everything you need for telling the story of Tutu and immerse you in the yearning of the characters who face truly devastating hardships and pains. Yet this brevity is for me a weak point. Had the story been developed with more detail and intrigue it would surely make a great standalone novel. It might even have a chance of becoming a series if it doesn't have this ending. Unfortunately, the conclusion of the story precludes a continuation.
It's a pity! However, I really liked it because it almost felt like I was reading a fairy tale.

Thanks Netgalley for letting me read the preview.
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The Lies of the Ajungo, by Moses Ose Utomi, is as close to perfect a modern parable as I’ve read in some time, with prose as sparse as its desert setting and lessons just as unforgiving. I loved pretty much everything about it from its opening line — “There is no water in the City of Lies” — onward.

The novella opens with a brief bit of worldbuilding history: Long ago when the City of Lies suffered greatly from its lack of water, when “Mamas drank the blood of their children to fend off thirst, only to die anyway,” the powerful Ajungo Empire, with “water like sky … [and] trees fat with fruit,” made a horrific bargain — “In exchange for water, the Ajungo demanded the tongues of every citizen.” The literal nature of the torture is appalling enough in its cruelty, but as the narration notes, this was “a twofold price, a price of blood and a price of history: an untongued people cannot tell their story.”  Ever since that unfathomable bargain was struck, upon reaching the age of thirteen all citizens have their tongues sliced off, tossed into a wagon, and sent off to the Empire, which in return sent only enough water to keep the City of Lies alive, “only a trickle.”  Also, since then, children have set out from the city (renamed by the Ajungo from its long-forgotten true name so no one would believe citizens from the city) in search of water and in hundreds of years, no water has been found, nor no help,  and no children ever returned. As the narration says, there are no heroes within the City of Lies and no friends beyond.

We jump then to present time and young Tutu, who will turn thirteen in just a few days. But when his mother falls prey to life-threatening dehydration, Tutu declares he will leave the city to seek water. The Oba of the city, Oba Ijefi, gives him a camel, three weeks’ worth of water in canteens, protective clothes and arm, food, and a promise of one year of water for his mother until he either returns successful or not at all. As months go by and he travels a desert of sand and bones, Tutu becomes harder (physically, mentally, emotionally), loses his innocence, learns fighting skills, meets both enemies and allies though it’s not always clear to him, which is which, and uncovers secrets even more terrible than the truths he knows. 

The writing, as noted and as is appropriate for the parable form is spare and precise, matching its setting perfectly. The pace too is perfectly set, with Utomi jumping ahead as needed in just a line or even a phrase, like “after a few months,” and still making the coming-of-age aspect clear and effective.  Those who like detailed world-building may find it skeletal here, but it fits the fable/parable form and is certainly adequate to both theme and intent. 

The coiled tight pacing of the novella makes those themes, and the associated emotionality surrounding them, all the more effective powerfully effective. The gut punches begin with that early history summarized above — the horrific bargain, the imagery of tongues being carted off to the empire, the larger loss of history that comes with the loss of voice, the hundreds of years of desperation, the many lost generations — and the punches keep coming one after the other with each new person/group Tutu meets. The bonds that form out of those encounters are surprisingly impactful considering the brevity with which they are conveyed, a testament to the efficiency of Utomi’s prose. Meanwhile, the cold, calculating nature of what he fights against only grows more terrible as truths are slowly revealed. How much of a revelation the ultimate truth turns out to be will in part depend on how attentively one reads, as Utomi does a mostly masterful job of layering down the breadcrumbs. If I had one small quibble, it would be that perhaps he doesn’t quite trust his own early brick-laying skill enough, but that’s all I’ll say about what is, as noted, quite a small quibble. 

Highly effective in its language, style, voice, pace, and plot; powerful in its exploration of themes of power and cruelty and self-blindness; darkly imaginative, and heart-breaking at times, Lies of the Ajungo is my favorite read of so far (late February) this year. Even better, it’s listed as being Book 1, which means we’ll be getting even more. Highly recommended.
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For such a short novella, it carries quite a punch. I genuinely loved this. The characters were memorable and the story sticks with you even after it’s finished. 

I received this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Oh this was such a fantastic debut!

The story follows Tutu, a 13 year old boy that lives in a desert city where water is very sparse. So sparse in fact, that people regullarly die of thirst. The only way the people can get atleast some water, is by sacrificing their tongues to the Ajungo when they reach 13 years of age. The only alternative to this horrid fate is to leave before turning 13, to venture into the desert in search of water. When Tutu's mother almost succumbs to thirst, he decides to venture out into the desert in search of water for his people.
What follows is a journey with many trials and tribulations, which reminded me in many ways of a fairy tale - there's a hero's journey, helpers and clues he finds along the way, and a grand evil that must be defeated in the form of the Ajungo.

The writing was also gorgeous, and the author really excells at writing that hot, oppressive atmosphere of the desert. Also absolutely loved Tutu as a main character, he was just such a kind and stubborn boy, in the best ways! The lenghts he was willing too go to save his mother and people was so touching, and I admit I shed a few tears at that ending (while on my commute, even!). There's also some found family feels here, which I'm always excited about encountering, especially in novellas.

Fantastic novella, and I will keep a very close eye on this author and this series in the future!!

Thank you to netgalley and the publisher for the arc!
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A wonderful, disappointingly short story about a young man and the lengths one will go to save their people. I look forward to visiting the Forever Desert again
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