TA LĘ: Book 1: Knowledge, by Yessoh G.D., bears all the hallmarks of a classic fantasy tale. There’s a pair of intriguing protagonists, an expansive world, and, of course, magic. Still, it’s downright refreshing to read genre fiction that’s not indebted to the Tolkien-verse. Be it the hero’s journey narrative or the prevalence of supernatural elements (like demons and sorcerers), Yessoh’s novel infuses tried and true genre staples with a fresh, unfamiliar element: African culture.
The story centers on Kobenan Jean Marc, an analyst working for the West African Government of Côte d’Esperance. From as far back as he can remember, Kobenan has wanted to work for S-Cell, a clandestine group that tracks sorcerers. When a prominent Brazilian official dies under mysterious circumstances, Kobenan is paired with S-Cell’s Biafle Herbert to investigate the claims that African sorcery had something to do with the heart attack in question. Together, the eager-to-prove-himself Kobenan and Biafle make their way to Sector O, a maximum-security prison for all things magical. Kobenan immediately zeros in on a prisoner of interest, but what begins as an open-shut case soon spirals out of control. Meanwhile, a ‘gifted’ student (Kouadio Joel) is entrenched in a supernatural battle to save his family. As the novel progresses, the two seemingly separate storylines ultimately converge in spectacular fashion.
At its core, TA LĘ is a compelling murder/mystery set against a paranormal backdrop. The characters are well-crafted, the world is fully realized, and the action is ever-present. Still, TA LĘ is hardly your standard fantasy adventure. This is primarily due to Yessoh’s decision to fully immerse the reader in his African heritage. Whatever cultural stereotypes readers may possess are quickly dispelled by the vivid world-building. By pairing African history and folklore with a contemporary urban fantasy, Yessoh delivers something that feels both familiar and refreshingly foreign. For all its positives, TA LĘ occasionally stumbles under the weight of Yessoh’s ambition. For instance, the increasingly-complex plot flirts with derailment during the book’s third act. And while the shifting first-person perspectives aid in establishing the story’s brisk pace, it ultimately shortchanges both characters. As for the novel’s ending, there are numerous loose ends and plot points left unresolved. While this was likely an intentional move aimed at setting up future sequels, the sense of incompletion is undeniable.
Cliffhangers notwithstanding, TA LĘ earns massive points for originality. Yessoh’s writing is also surprisingly refined, especially for a debut author. From the realistic dialogue to the vividly rendered action sequences, the Vancouver-based author nails nearly every facet of this story. Additionally, the stunning, full-page illustrations scattered throughout the text are a nice touch, adding to the novel’s cinematic feel.
Yessoh G.D.’s TA LĘ: Book 1: Knowledge is a refreshingly original piece of paranormal fiction that succeeds in setting the table for future installments.
~James Weiskittel for IndieReader