Reviews: Joshua N’Gon – Last Prince of Alkebulahn
Short version: the best piece of science fiction I have read this year – I absolutely loved the imaginative ideas and fabulous characters in this book, and adored the Alien, African and Fantastic in the London settings.
Joshua N’Gon, Meena, Brick and Zion, four youths of teenage years, drawn out of the cultural substrate that is a modern London, unmistakably realistic yet dealing with an incredible situation. Joshua is special and his adventures begin with the first line, as he encounters explosive violence.
The setting, mostly a current London, is well drawn for the reader, but it is the language and the interpretation of the fantastical things that are happening to Joshua that gives a level of realism that was wonderful to read. Joshua has a piece of technology on his arm, a wrist cuff that can increase in size that carries ancient African script, but in reality has a much more fascinating background. This RCT as he calls it– really cool tool – has been gifted to him, as are other physical gifts that alter his life from the age of ten, and set him on a path of learning and excitement, as he acquires talents he never expected, doesn’t always understand and frequently make him doubt a little, from mental assisting enhancements and data streams which he calls his ‘bees’ to HUD’s that appear in his vision and abilities that seem to take him beyond the corporeal. These gifts are from his birth parents, who he believes are African, but he is really the last prince of a fascinating civilisation.
He is skilled, kind, thoughtful, and with his talents he creates ‘vents’, ideas stirred by the gifts that help him create what is wonderful technology.
As Joshua struggles with a variety of adversaries, we also learn a lot about his friends, Jamal Brickmanworth III, an amazingly vibrant and astute charming business person, always looking to profit. His first encounter with Joshua, some years previously is well portrayed, but also a desperately depressing and saddening reminder of the realities of London, as it is during a moment of intentional but discreet racism, the exertion of power in a subtle but sinister way by a game store manager, and the realistic fear and position of weakness that a young black person can feel in a modern city. It is a terrible moment, where one feels suddenly wrenched back to reality, or the reality for a young person who has to do nothing wrong to be treated unfairly, and the threat of police is more fearful than just a chat with a constable.
Meena is so wonderfully calm and brilliant, her skills coming through in a number of situations, be it controlling drones that Joshua has made or de-escalating a potential fight as we see Joshua confronted by an entitled bully, who feels his heritage is to be revered while Joshua should be humble to him. Zion, who knew why Joshua’s Dad was sent to prison, who saw the aftermath of the incident to which Joshua caused but ‘slept through’, who saw the incredible violence that was rendered upon a gang, who deserved it, but who was loyal as Kenneth Taylor, Joshua’s dad went to prison to protect his son. Zion stood by Joshua as he stood toe to toe with the Police Inspector who carried out that miscarriage of Justice, when he taunted Joshua, the underlying racism inherent in the situation, supporting her friend, while her own father was an ally to Joshua’s family.
We journey forwards and back a as we come to know what has occurred to Joshua and the man who wants to get him, Kanu, genius criminal who has found a way to recreate his memories. Kanu has been ostracised to London from Alkebulahn with his mind wiped, but has the help of ‘arachnobots’ and now he controls a huge armaments corporation which is a front for a sinister organisation The Black Axis. He comes across with some considerable strength and charisma, indeed in one moment where he speaks of making people uncomfortable because of ‘My ethnicity, my bearing and my outspokenness’ and although is an absolute villain, his story is nicely interwoven, as it is important to the back story that is Joshua’s heritage.
Its a cracking good read, this one.
It rockets on, the chapters are nice and short, and all the time there are adventures. Joshua is set tasks by his learned school teacher, at a very impressive school, and these end up involving explorations and inventing, taking part in extreme sports, or combative and challenging excitements, and soon we see that our team gets into some tights spots culminating in a wonderfully tense set of scenes.
This book has it all: a sinister, cloaked Black Airship, mechanised Mayhem, ancient elements with science fictional connections, alien technologies and black history, white pulsed energy blasts, portals, a robotic and somewhat intelligent drone called Ballz, super soakers turned into weapons that make water solid like a ball bearing until they strike an adversary, a visit to the British Museum, Notting Hill Carnival and to imaginative places that are portrayed with an element of brilliance. Music, food and language give strong cultural indicators, offering elements that I was not aware of before.
There is much in the novel that makes one think; there are obvious and subtle Easter eggs, the Taylor’s, Joshua’s family live at 17 Asimov Street, which is in a council estate in north London. They have adopted him, although this is only alluded to much later, and names are fluid, Brick for instance calls Joshua ‘Prince’ which initially feels just a nickname but is more apt than one realises. Joshua’s dad researching while in prison the Black influence and presence in medieval Europe and renaissance artists, an interesting subject and the mention of a saint reminds one that there are over 900 black or African saints, and that three popes were either from Africa or children of African immigrants.
The wonderfully inventive Democratic Republic of Rumundiland (DRR) wedged between the Ivory Coast and Ghana, interestingly cited as distinctly impenetrable with mountains protecting it (like one of those fabled lost kingdoms beloved of medieval traveller’s tales), one of the richest nations on the planet due to technological developments and mineral deposits, and the second African country which has never been colonized by Europeans was a possible tip of the hat to Wakanda, being the other. Or leading to consideration of Ethiopia, Liberia and Lesotho, and the status of invasions, protectorates and colonies, but it gets one thinking.
This is the beauty of this book, it is well thought-out and provides great action and excitement, while displaying realistic issues and problems, faced in a modern and contemporary London, while throwing in some wonderfully thought out science fictional and alien elements, that come together to rip one through the novel at high speed and a level of action and excitement that was fab.
Just as one reckons that one has comes to the end, the later segments brings the story around a little, presenting a new and personal challenge to Joshua, as he surveys what has occurred, destruction that he feels responsible for, and it is a fine moment.
I really enjoyed this book quite a bit, and was pleased with how quickly I went through it. I felt that the story and setting were distinctively fresh, and indeed that the world-building was unusually brilliant. The reality is that Britain today we have very few Black Science Fiction writers, and like Joshua, that is hard to understand logically, especially when there is such rich and fertile heritage and ideas to unearth, cultural references that are new and of interest to readers, and when one can see that the calibre that is presented here.