Tony Debajo’s debut novel, In the Shadow of Ruin, is a novel of generations. There is great strength and potency to be drawn from telling family epics, the weight of legacy and the making or breaking of kindred ties are as universal as any story telling tradition from any time or place.
That said, when we’re speaking about generations, readers should be aware that implied in that are many, many characters to keep track of. There is the first king, who had two wives, who each bore a prince. One of the princes becomes the second king and has three sons in turn, the other prince becomes an outcast with his witch mother. All of the kings and sons and princes have attendant bodyguards, advisors, tribal chiefs they consult with, and paths that they must follow, geographically and spiritually, across the novel, and on a technical level it’s a lot for both a reader and an author to balance.
It is a good thing, then, that Debajo seems to be something of a gymnast, deftly crafting his narrative across two timelines, a half dozen primary characters, and the expansive landscape that he has built for all of this to play out in.
Woven throughout the narrative are the gods of Nigeria, the Orisa, who help or hinder our protagonists and antagonists as gods are wont to do. The Nigerian pantheon is not one I am familiar with outside of their representations in the most recent season of American Gods (2017-present), so getting this take on the Orisa in their “natural habitat”, as opposed to transplants like all the deities brought to America in the TV show, was delicious. They fit the landscape and the narrative as naturally as any of the mortal characters.
The battles, and there are several to be expected when an exiled prince makes a bid to steal his brother’s throne, are appropriately epic in scale and bloody in detail. After the palace is sacked and the royal city burned, the three sons of the second king scatter to allies at three points of the compass and their journeys, likewise, are as arduous as you would expect for fugitives fleeing a wicked uncle. The terrain they flee across is lush in detail, textured by an author with an obvious familiarity and love for the world he has created.
Before wrapping up this review, I will give one spoiler—there is a major cliffhanger. The last pages of In the Shadow of Ruin make it painfully obvious that there is more to come from what Debajo has tantalizingly named his Fractured Kingdom Series. A frustration for greedy readers like me, because we’ll just have to wait for the next one and I’m not always good at waiting.
An excellent first outing for Debajo and a fabulous book for anyone looking for a family epic, a mythic landscape, and a bloody good time, In the Shadow of Ruin does not disappoint on any level.
4/5- but only because I’ll have to wait for the next one.