Jayde Brooks’ debut fantasy trilogy, Daughter of Gods and Shadows was an emotional roller coaster ride of anger and intrigue. Many personal expectations diverse fantasy races and well thought out villain held were never met. But that didn’t stop Brooks from surpassing the expectation that her novel would feature a heroine as the only person of color through her outstanding implementation of diversity.
Daughter of Gods and Shadows follows Eden Reid, the reincarnation of the ancient warrior Mkombozi, who is destined to save the world by slaying a resurrected tyrannical demon known at Sakarabru. Eden wanted no part of her destiny, but with the help and guidance of her guardian Prophet, the two search for three omens that will aid in Sakarabru’s destruction.
Like many fantasy novels Eden’s adventure was ripe with magic and fantastical creatures, yet that didn’t stop brooks from diversifying other characters besides her heroine. Eden, Prophet, and Kifu, Sakarabru’s loyal mystic, were written as black characters, counter to typical fantasy novels which do feature few people of color let, alone a multiple characters on both the good and evil side. More importantly, Brooks managed to affirm the race of her characters to her readers while not giving the topic undue attention. This showed that she wasn’t trying to force the character’s color and allowed for seamless immersion of reading.
If cast diversity wasn’t groundbreaking enough, Brooks blended in snippets of African culture into her novel. To start, reincarnation, a strong belief in many African religions, plays a definitive role in the story. As mentioned earlier, Eden was the reincarnation of a warrior known by the name of Mkombozi which translates to Savior in Swahili. In addition to her savior identity, after receiving one of the three omens, Eden was gifted a Kpinga an African throwing knife used only during war time by certain clans.
Unfortunately, even with diverse characters and references certain flaws about the story remained difficult to look past. The most unforgettable was the uselessness of certain side characters. Had they not existed in the story there would have been almost no change to the plot. The most infuriating example of this was the Mer Nation (mermaids and mermen). The most common reference towards Aelia, the nation’s leader was, “Out of water, Aelia was pretty much useless,” and sadly that summarized not just her but the Mer Nation as a whole since merfolk were unable to fight on land. Although the merfolk had suffered by Sakarabru’s hand before he returned, why wasn’t the idea of Mer Nation offering help in help some way other than man power written in? Could the Mer Nation have offered some type of technology to help combat Sakarabru?
On the other hand the Weres (werewolves) had some contribution to the story. But Jarrod, a surviving were was almost as useless as Aelia. He brought Eden and Prophet to a pair of seers to aid in their search for the omens. While there, however, Eden found the omen by a completely unrelated way without the aid of Jarrod or the seers thus negating their use within plot. Maybe if there was something special about the place Jarrod brought them too or if the seers had done something magical to Eden the Jarrod would have seemed useful.
If useless side characters weren’t enough, Sakarabru, Eden’s tyrannical adversary, felt hollow. Similar to many fantasy novels, a villain with a deep backstory gave the reader a reason to hate sometimes even sympathize with their motives. Unlike Voldemort from Harry Potter, Grendel’s mother from Beowulf, and many other villains,
“The Demon had not been born. He had no origin, as far as he knew. Sakarabru
just . . . was. For as long as he could form a thought, his nature had been to rule, to conquer, to reign over those he knew to be beneath him.”
As a reader who silently rooted for the villains this felt . . . wrong. Where was the misunderstood villain or the odd creature whose hobbies or interests were so far from unacceptable that evil was the only word for it. Even a small amount of background could bring more depth to Sakarabru and many of the other characters. And unlike a villain’s cheer squad some actually enjoy the simplicity of good versus evil. No questioning of morals, or motives, just knowledge that the world is saved can be enough.
Thankfully Brooks’ emotional roller coaster consisted of startling twists, heartfelt romance, and a pleasant ending too. On Eden’s adventure the reader is witness to many other fantastical creatures. So if you’re someone that can stomach a few flawed characters better than this uptight editor then Daughter of Gods and Shadows will probably be an enjoyable beginning to an unforgettable trilogy.
By: E. Velasquez