“[S]peaking means nothing if you don’t have voice. The real voice. The voice that never fears. The voice that never doubts. The voice that wins without being loud.”
4.5/5 paper planes
What’s This Book About?
Genre: Sci-fi-fantasy; post-apocalyptic utopia/dystopia
Publication: 21 July 2021
Pages: 164 (paperback)
Synopsis: In the near future, a machinist, a monk, and a mesmerizer are looking for the Source of the universe, but among the ancient scriptures, they only find the devil…
Few humans in the future find the secrets of what words and sounds can do, for the Apocalypse and war led them to evolve in mind and physique. Two of them end World War III with just a speech. Some say they did a mass hypnosis. Others say it was their voice and will.
Fifty years later in South Asia, KUSHA, a twenty-three-year-old machine-geek with social awkwardness and amnesia, tries to get the Devil’s Book with secrets of voice.
In a society that worships the evolved High Grades with voice, how you speak and which words you talk with is important. As someone who finds all solutions in books, Kusha thinks the secrets in the three-foot-long ancient book will teach her to speak mesmerizingly. She believes it will help her evolve. So, she decides to attend the auction where the book will be sold. But there’s a problem. Her idol of voice and everyone’s beloved war heroes, YUAN and RUEM, are also after it for power.
Content warnings (highlight to see): animal death; reference to rape (off-page); sexual references; violence, injury and death
What I Thought:
This was such an intriguing book with a nice blend of genres – a futuristic sci-fi-fantasy with bits that felt like a dystopia, with themes running throughout of mythology and philosophy. Not to mention that the strength of Kusha’s narrative voice and journey towards coming of age remind me of what I love about the detailed character work I often read in contemporaries. Interestingly, the narrative voices of Ruem and Yuan felt more high fantasy, which aligns very well with how Kusha has only seven years of memory while Ruem and Yuan are much older, unaging, evolved to the point of being practically superhuman.
The chapters are short and engaging, especially near the end, when risks heighten and hints surface increasingly frequently about Kusha’s ‘purpose’, the murky reasons behind her amnesia, Ruem’s plans…etc. The book also ranges from lightly humorous (e.g. Kusha’s dynamic with her adoptive sister; the AI Pico Jr.) to downright dark and alarming (honestly, most encounters with Ruem). Misba’s also has a really nice writing style – incisive, insightful and expressive. (The Acknowledgements section also touched my heart.) Several passages made me re-conceptualise everyday things (like human curiosity) in ways I’d not seen them before.
“I don’t understand the reasons for the walls sometimes”…
Walls are covers.
Walls are human’s instinct to hide their sins.
Walls are society’s collective guilt.
The sci-fi/dystopian/utopian world-building was amazing, so immersive and convincing. I liked how aspects of their futuristic world clearly link to present-day cultures, and the way that ‘evolving’ (more the mind than matter?) relates to mythology – Hindu epics as one example given in the blurb. The relation between time and the ability to evolve endlessly felt both so simple and mind-bogglingly fantastical, and worked really well to ground the culture of this futuristic society.
Mind-boggled looking Jungkook from Korean group BTS
I enjoyed reading from Kusha’s POV the most, as I found her the most real/relatable (though the others felt distinctive too!). Kusha’s intuition/alarms/sometimes-prophetic abilities were so fascinating and I loved the way it worked.
[Kusha] can find the answer to a yes-or-no question, but it all depends on the question itself, doesn’t it? Answer changes when question changes; question changes if its meaning changes. And the meaning depends all on the mind, for the devil lies in the details.
She’s so powerful but limited by her own experience, constraining the questions that she can ask (the universe? Herself?).
Jungkook from the Korean group BTS thinking hard with lightning crackling around their head
I’ve never read any ‘power’ like this before and I’m really looking forward to seeing how Kusha’s abilities develop!
Sometimes, curiosity overpowers the warning of danger. It just does. Especially, when the human brain doesn’t have enough memories to measure the level of danger. Because the brain lacks examples, past references. People call it experience. So, when the reference data is few, the only option is to get more of it. Curiosity is an inexperienced brain’s call to collect reference data. Right now, this very human curiosity burns her brain.
Another side character, TJ, was very intriguing too – the hints about their backstory and why they got demoted were very tantalising – and I wonder if we’ll be seeing them more later on…
Overall this was a very unique and refreshing book with interesting characters, great world-building, and an action-plot-character balance that leaves me wanting to know what happens next. Looking forward to more answers in the sequel!
Thank you to the author for a copy for an honest review.