In David Mogo Godhunter by Suyi Davies Okungbowa (author of Son of the Storm) the end of the world has come to Lagos. After a war among orishas, or gods, in Orun, home of a major pantheon, hundreds of spirits have taken over most of the city in the great Falling. Much of it lies in ruins, most people have fled, and those who remain need help in getting rid of minor spirits who annoy remaining residents. David Mogo, a daji or half human, half god, is the person they turn to for relief from spirit pests. But one day he is commissioned by a local official and sorcerer to capture twin gods, a considerably more complicated and dangerous task.
That’s the opening situation of this brilliant urban fantasy and godpunk novel that drives relentlessly toward one confrontation after another pitting wayward gods against David Mogo and his allies, both spiritual and human. (For a brief introduction to urban fantasy, see Wole Talabi’s recent essay on five novels in this subgenre.)
One of the things I love about urban fantasy is its ability (like good crime fiction) to plunge you into the reality of a great city, even while focusing on the fantastical transformations wrought by the infestation of fallen gods. So in David Mogo Godhunter, we see the desolate remains of emptied neighborhoods and business districts while also getting a rich sense of the vast inequities of the real Lagos. David drives his motorized three-wheeler from one real district of the city to another down actual streets, commenting on the way things have changed.
“The whole idea to clean up Lagos was simply an exercise in gentrification—shove all the poor people here, move all the rich people there (and of course, only show the investors and media the fun parts). The Falling was the perfect excuse, especially because it happened in Ìsàlẹ̀ Èkó, which divides the mainland and the island proper. Once the deities took over Ìsàlẹ̀ Èkó and the exodus followed, it was easy too for the government. All who could afford Upper Island moved there, and the mainland became a dumping ground for all else. … Now, it’s a matter of picking one of the Lagoses: the good, the bad, or the ugly.”David Mogo Godhunter, Kindle edition, Location 88
David Mogo narrates this story in the present tense, and, as he puts it, the end of the world changes people, makes them forget their pasts and adapt to the new state of things. He lives with Papa Udi, a man of spiritual power who adopted him, in a tumble down house desperately in need of a new roof. When he accepts his new job of capturing twin gods, he quickly finds that the man who commissioned him is allying with other gods who want to take over what’s left of Lagos and turn most of its residents into shadow slaves. He has to gather as much spiritual power and weaponry as he can from Papa Udi and from his wargod mother, who steps back into his life, but this is not an easy path to follow. He is mauled by more powerful gods and sorcerers, shot, stabbed, burned and made captive by magical spells that confine him in invisible domes that keep him paralyzed.
It is while in captivity that he falls into a spiritual darkness with no way out until he can use his special energies to latch onto someone else who is seeking something larger to be part of. He emerges from these states eager for his found family of allies and his mother, who is at times a welcoming, comforting presence, at other times a fearsome wargod. It is she who reminds him that he can’t be a solitary hero and win battles alone, that he must reach out to other gods and close friends who have been imbued with spiritual powers. Yet, as much as he wants this, he keeps falling into a kind of darkness.
In one great scene, he takes up weapons with spiritual powers that are activated by his own blood and defies the blunt warnings of everyone close to him to attack a god who is trying to be an ally. To escape from such abuse of his own power, he sometimes retreats into absolute solitude, even locking himself in the luggage compartment of a broken airplane. Half human and half god, there is no easy place for him, yet he has to keep returning to the fight against evil powers that threaten everything he has ever held dear.
To be sure, this is a male-centric story, though David’s real power derives mostly from his mother in her form of the wargod, Ogun. David Mogo is a complex character who gradually reveals a great deal about himself and his struggle to find a place that balances his human and godly dimensions. That gives depth to the fast-paced adventure. It’s a well told story in short chapters within a three-part structure that moves David Mogo and his allies through a series of ever more dangerous and momentous confrontations. This was Okungbowa’s debut novel. His epic fantasy series, The Nameless Republic, began with Son of the Storm and continues this fall with Warrior of the Wind. While the new series is much more ambitious and complex than David Mogo Godhunter, there is a freshness and daring energy in this debut novel that I find even more captivating.