Nor Any Drop to Drink
The Lies of the Ajungo (Forever Desert, volume 1)
By Moses Ose Utomi
The Lies of the Ajungo is the first volume in Moses Ose Utomi’s debut novella; it is the first entry in his projected Forever Desert series.
Faced with an unending drought, the people of a desperate city accepted aid from the Ajungo Empire. The Empire provided just enough water to sustain life, or perhaps a smidgen less. There was, of course, a price.
The Ajungo demanded human tongues, the tongues of every person over the age of thirteen. The thirsty people had no alternative but to agree. Having stolen adult spoken language, the Ajungo renamed the drought-stricken city the City of Lies, and settled down to enjoy dominating their victims for their entire lives.
Over the years, many young people set out across the Forever Desert in search of water. None ever returned. As the Ajungo smugly put it, there are no heroes from the City of Lies. Nor is any foreign person willing to assist a city whose very name proclaims that its inhabitants are not to be trusted. The people can do nothing but endure in misery until they die.
Tutu is just shy of his thirteenth birthday. Rather than lose his tongue, he decides to make one more try at finding water in the desert. If he can, he will save his mother, his whole city, from misery and domination.
He is given supplies and a promise that his mother will receive support. But there’s a time limit: he has one year to save his city.
Perhaps there is no river, lake, or ocean close enough to save the people of the City of Lies. There is something else even more precious: facts. What Tutu discovers out in the desert can transform his city … if he can survive learning it.
I read this book because I was very very tired; I had just completed an exhausting theatre shift. When tired, I read novellas. Note to authors who might like me to review your work, write a novella1. Of course, today’s novellas are often the same length as the novels I read as a teen, in the 1960s and 1970s , which might suggest that I have imprinted on this length. Or that it is a more humane length for those of us who like to consume fiction in one fell swoop.
The characters are a bit flat, but not cardboard. They are right for the story, which is narrated as if it were a folktale (which I suppose it is, for a world that doesn’t exist). The setting is deftly sketched, if horrifying. Tutu unwittingly sets out to solve a great mystery that he has no idea exists. The full extent of what the Ajungo are doing and how they are doing it extends well beyond Tutu’s City of Lies. Indeed, the issues involved are (no surprise) almost certainly relevant to the readers’ world as well as Tutu’s. Abusers in all worlds attempt to convince victims that their situation is hopeless, and escape impossible.
After I finished reading the novella, I found myself puzzled that this was the first entry in a series. The events of the novel do not appear to lend themselves to a series, comprising as they do a complete and satisfactory tale. However, perusing the description on the Tor site, it seems there are unforeseen long-term consequences of Tutu’s quest. Readers will have to wait to see what those are.
The Lies of the Ajungo is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Barnes & Noble), and here (Book Depository).
Chapters-Indigo’s site is still broken and I cannot determine what the proper link would be.
1: Flooding my inbox with epub ARCs is also acceptable.