Book Review: God of Clay (Ryan Campbell)

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God of Clay
by Ryan Campbell
Sofawolf Press (September, 2013)

 

What a gem I have found. God of Clay, a book full of great imagery, great dialogue, and exciting adventure follows three main characters: Doto, an anthropomorphic leopard deity, son of Kwaee, the leopard god of the forest, and Clay and Laughing Dog, who are two young princes to the king of a small tribe out in the savannah. Each character has their own internal struggles that they must face.

For Doto, he must please his harsh and sometimes cruel father by bringing one of the fire-bearers (humans) to him. Doto has a grudge against humans because of his father’s feelings against them. According to Kwaee, the Fire-bearers serve Ogya, the god of fire, who burned a huge part of Kwaee’s domain, which created the Savannah.

In the human tribe, Clay and Laughing Dog do not see eye to eye. Clay believes the gods should be worshiped and respected, while Laughing Dog believes that their culture’s stories are false fables meant to keep everyone away from the forest, to cower in fear, and to obey in ignorance, limiting their potential.

When Doto kidnaps Clay, the two of them embark on a journey of self-discovery, while Laughing Dog, who is banished by his father for defying their culture and their gods, wanders the savannah attempting to claim mastery over Ogya himself.

First of all, the book is very well written. The sentences are not over the top prosy, but they do have a lusciousness to them. The imagery is descriptive, like biting into a rich papaya fruit. The story has a good pace without sacrificing dialogue or description to move the plot forward. More importantly, the story takes place in an African setting, which means the characters look different than what you would expect from a fantasy novel. Rare is there such an occurrence in fantasy literature where the characters lack the Northern European skin color. Also there is a moment of male-male bonding near the end as the character development comes full circle, which is also extremely rare in fantasy.

Each of the characters changes throughout the tale. Doto grows the most in the story, for he starts off much like his father as harsh and cruel towards Clay, but as they journey to his father’s temple, Doto changes his outlook on humans and performs a compassionate act.

Laughing Dog changes only in that he becomes even more convinced that what he believes is true. Clay changes near the very end when he learns to stand up for himself and defies a god.

The dialogue has a great flow and feels believable. There were a couple of times, however, when the dialogue sounded a little odd, but that may have been due to the story’s mythic prose style, which inherently sounds somewhat different and peculiar, and takes a little while to get used to.

The novel plays with the story within a story motif, bending mythological archetypes to its will. Part of the conflict arises in the story when we, the readers, learn that there are two different accounts of a particular mythic story, which naturally raises more questions on who did what to whom. The story also brings in the idea of story as religion and whether gods answer prayers or not. The story has a strong spiritual feel, and Campbell plays it up again with rich descriptions and scenes.

This book is not a Dostoyevsky or an Ursula K. Le Guin book. But it is a gem hiding in the earth-mounds of books. I loved this book and related to Clay the most. I still feel his emotions, his pain, his love, and his compassion. Even Doto was relatable, and it was fun to watch and experience him grow.

Here in fantasy we can push away our differences and go on a thrill ride. This book is no fast paced action thriller, but it is an adventure that is well-paced and well written. This book can also leave one pondering about spirituality. Who ever said a book had to be overly complicated and complex? If a book can get you to think or feel, it matters not how much intellectualness is in it. It’s worth reading. My only sorrow was that it ended all too soon. This book is a trilogy with the second book, Forest Gods, already out. I look forward to adventuring onwards with Clay and Doto in their long journey to find truth.

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Travis Kane

About Travis Kane

Travis Kane is author of A Dragon's Tail, a play produced by Tardigrade Theatre. He has a poem published in Threshold, and a music review in Glass Mountain. He is an English major at the University of Houston with a minor in History. He is also interning in the Anthropology department at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. He has a huge passion for ancient and medieval history, mythology, and literature. He lives in Houston, Texas.