The Truth of the Aleke by Moses Utomi fantasy book reviewsThe Truth of the Aleke by Moses Utomi fantasy book reviewsThe Truth of the Aleke by Moses Ose Utomi

The Truth of the Aleke is Moses Ose Utomi’s sequel to his fantastic The Lies of the Ajungo, which I said in my review was “as close to perfect a modern parable as I’ve read in some time.” I’m happy to report that if the follow-up isn’t quite as “perfect,” it’s nonetheless a fantastic read, and one that makes me oh so eager to see how Utomi wraps up this loosely connected trilogy set in the Forever Desert.

The story opens with a brief history that tells of the rise of the fearsome Aleke and his Cult of Tutu that conquered all in the Forever Desert save for the one last free city, The City of Truth, which stood for three centuries against the Aleke. Young Osi hopes to one day join the ranks of the city’s elite soldiers, the Truthseekers, and protect his city against the Aleke. But an Aleke attack/massacre leaves the city reeling and Osi missing an arm. Now, he heads out with a small band of Truthseekers on a mission to kill the Aleke and retrieve the God’s Eyes — the magical artifacts stolen in the attack. The mission will take him across the desert, where he will learn more about the Aleke and his own people than he ever could have imagined.

I called The Truth of the Aleke a “sequel,” but in some ways that’s probably overstating things a bit. It certainly follows its predecessor in time, but rather than pick up immediately or shortly after the events of The Lies of the Ajungo, Utomi has chosen to leap ahead five hundred years, leaving not only book one’s characters behind but much of its social and cultural underpinnings as well, even though it is set in the same basic location, as noted above. Instead of considering it as following the first book, therefore, I like to think of it instead as being in conversation with it.

One way this occurs is via an echoing of plot. In both books a young boy, Tutu in The Lies of the Ajungo and Osi here, set out on a quest to save their respective city. In both books that quest quickly goes awry. Both boys learn to fight, both end up captured, both find a mentor. And in both books the world they thought they knew and understood turns out not to be that world at all. The similarities are clear and obviously intentional. I’d love to say more about these echoes, but honestly, this is an incredibly difficult book to review without ruining the reading experience, not simply by revealing basic plot points of either book, but by also ruining the reader’s movement through those points that is so integral to the themes.

Moses Ose Utomi

Moses Ose Utomi

So best I can do is say the plot is compelling, tense, twisty and turny, and both well sign-posted and pleasingly surprising. And to note as well that while one needn’t have read The Lies of the Ajungo to enjoy The Truth of the Aleke, which works fine as a stand-alone tale, but to read it out of the larger context is to rob it of much of its richness, its layered exploration of truth and lies, of the power of history and story-telling and how that power can be warped, of power itself and its corrupting nature, of deception and willful blindness.

So I’d recommend reading The Lies of the Ajungo first, and rereading it (or at the least skimming it but really it’s so short and so good why deny yourself the pleasure of a reread?) to wade more deeply into the book’s waters. For instance, knowing exactly what happens with Tutu in The Lies of the Ajungo will enhance one’s pleasure in how Utomi shows us the way in which history gets distorted as it is passed down, and how it can also become both a weapon and a weakness, especially when it moves from history to myth.

It’s also a good idea to have a better idea of not just the similarities in the two boys’ stories but also in the differences. For example, Tutu is motivated for love of his mother to go out in search of water, while Osi’s early motivation is a desire to be a hero. As he thinks, “Most people believe history was the story of other people … History was the story of those worth writing about.” He plans to be one of those people. Osi is not as easy to relate to, is not as “likable” a character, nor as “simple” a one, both in himself and his viewpoint. This second novel on the whole is filled with more grey, is overall a darker novel (and The Lies of the Ajungo was pretty dark). Some of this greater complexity is mirrored in the style as well, with The Lies of the Ajungo reading much more as a stylized fable or parable and The Truth of the Aleke written more as gritty realism.

A good author changes his voice and mode to fit their aim, and with these two novellas, Utomi leaves no doubt he is a very good author indeed. On a sentence level, on a structural level, and particularly on a thematic level. The thought-provoking nature of the story is all the more impressive given its relatively scant length. I look forward to rereading the first two in advance of the third and final story, which can’t get here soon enough.

Published in March 2024. The Aleke is cruel. The Aleke is clever. The Aleke is coming. 500 years after the events of The Lies of the Ajungo, the City of Truth stands as the last remaining free city of the Forever Desert. A bastion of freedom and peace, the city has successfully weathered near-constant attacks from the Cult of Tutu, who have besieged it for three centuries, attempting to destroy its warriors and subjugate its people. Seventeen-year-old Osi is a Junior Peacekeeper in the City. When the mysterious leader of the Cult, known only as the Aleke, commits a massacre in the capitol and steals the sacred God’s Eyes, Osi steps forward to valiantly defend his home. For his bravery he is tasked with a tremendous responsibility—destroy the Cult of Tutu, bring back the God’s Eyes, and discover the truth of the Aleke.


  • Bill Capossere

    BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.