Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher.
“As soon as the soles of my worn loafers hit pavement outside the school, my proximity with Kasim breaks and the queasiness is back. The emotions that Kasim’s closeness had tempered come raging forth so quickly, I pitch over from their impact in my gut.”
With six vices to his brother’s six virtues, and only one virtue of his own, Auben Mtuze is what society calls a lesser twin, just like his mother. While his aunt and cousins live in luxury on the other side of the wall, Auben’s family ekes out a living inside the confines of the slums. One day his brother Kasim, a greater twin, might hope to rise up, but will he, like so many before him, leave his lesser twin behind when he goes? Growing up often means growing apart, even for bonded twins who can temper one another by their presence. Auben and Kasim have always been close, but when Auben begins hearing voices that goad him to indulge his vices, and he develops an inexplicable craving for blood, their fragile bond may be stretched to the breaking point, and beyond.
Nicky Drayden sets her sophomore novel in an alternate South Africa with its own unique mythology and history. Through the process of Discernment, twins are branded early with the distribution of their vices and virtues. Lesser twins, and singletons—those born without a twin—are both looked down upon. Religion teaches that the first twins were the gods Grace and Icy Blue, one all virtue, the other all vice, and that all twins are their creations. Secular science teaches than twins and kigen—male/female fraternal twin pairs that have shared DNA in the womb and thus created additional genders—are the result of genetics, but science is secretive and supressed in this world. These distinctions and classes set up a world that is rife with tension, both within and between families.
In both Temper and her first novel, The Prey of the Gods, Drayden is interested in examining what separates gods from people. In her worlds, these boundaries are decidedly imperfect, and even permeable, particularly when science and religion meet. Kasim and Auben are deliberately raised secular, but their six-and-one tempering places them at the extreme, and sends them searching for answers in all directions, including to Gabadamosi, the elite religious private school their cousins attend. Though this world is supposedly ruled by Grace and his virtues, it proves to be a no less complicated place than the slums, albeit with different dangers, because even the virtuous are human, with myriad talents for screwing things up.
On her website, Drayden lists her favourite authors as Neal Stephenson, Octavia Butler, and Christopher Moore, a blend which accurately evokes the atmosphere of her two books to date, combining Stephenson and Butler’s grimmer sci-fi talents with Moore’s weirdness and humour. Drayden describes Temper as “a story caught somewhere between dark fantasy and horror.” Certainly there is an element of the surreal about her work, as well an ambitious, genre-spanning scope. I quickly learned to stop trying to predict what was going to happen, and simply go along for the ride as Drayden raced through a plot that could easily have been stretched over multiple volumes in the hands of a different writer. Unlike The Prey of the Gods’ multiple narrators, Temper is told only from Auben’s perspective, but it still covers a lot of ground. Every plot twist left me pleasantly stunned by Drayden’s weirdly fresh imagination.
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