Argentinian author Liliana Bodoc is being billed by her UK publisher as “the Tolkien of the Americas”. We don’t quite see it; yes, there’s the odd song, a Dark Lord, and most of the story revolves around a Council at which representatives of different peoples argue over how to resist said Dark Lord, but Bodoc’s style is about as far from everyone’s favourite Oxford don as it’s possible to imagine. Her sing-song sentences have the rhythm of oral storytelling: clear and simple language, assembled for the syllables’ sounds as much as for their meaning.
The mythical past she’s imagining is also very different. This is a fantasy of pre-Columbian South America, of hunter-gatherers in the jungle, llama-herders in the desert, and pyramid-building city-dwellers who live on pumpkins and maize. Bodoc evokes the texture of daily life through attention to the rituals and customs of her various peoples, but it’s all deftly incorporated into the story and the characters’ experiences, rather than delivered as infodumps. The Dark Lord’s shock troops from the east, meanwhile, are (fittingly) coded as Europeans: they’re pale-skinned and bring horses and guns, neither of which anyone in the Fertile Lands has seen before.
This is a larger-than-life fable, with lovely, quirky touches (a sign of approaching evil is the flavour of a particular honey disappearing; a good wind and a bad wind have a fight). A hugely charming and infectiously readable book.
Nic Clarke twitter.com/bibliolicious
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