In Eugen Bacon’s novel Mage of Fools, an African nation suffers the rule of a grotesque, inscrutable royal advisor.
In Mafinga, everyone is equal: so say King Magu and his mystical adviser Atari, who rule from a sprawling palace while the people live in “temporary” units, forbidden from singing songs or telling stories. When Jasmin, a factory worker whose rebelliousness attracts the wrong kind of attention, is taken to the palace for punishment, she learns shocking, terrible truths about how Mafinga sank to its current lows. To save her nation, her young children, and herself, she has to risk it all.
The story begins at its end, then retreats to trace how this ending came to pass. Its lush prose twists and entrances, bringing Jasmin’s harsh, regimented world to life: here, independent thought is punishable by death and sunlight caused a deadly plague, forcing survivors to venture out only at night. Horrible executions and mind-numbing drugs leave the populace unwilling to resist the ubiquitous government propaganda. In the midst of such tragedies, Jasmin also grapples with personal losses, mourning her husband and her lover, who was sent away to labor in the mines.
Strengthened by the morals of forbidden stories and the words of those she loves best, Jasmin grasps her chance to take down Atari, a shadowy figure with a gruesome past whose arrival in Mafinga coincides with every bad omen and catastrophe. Knowing in advance how Jasmin’s efforts end in no way affects the story’s power to surprise, horrify, and enlighten. Stories, after all, are more than their conclusions: it is the messages taken from them, and the actions that they inspire, that truly matter.
Mage of Fools is a dystopian novel in which truth is the people’s most potent weapon—if they choose to wield it.
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