Tunde Leye’s Guardians of the Seal is a fantasy fiction cum thriller novel that delves into a whole new world of African Literature, or to bring it further home, a whole new world of Nigerian Literature. One can very well argue that his entry indeed isn’t the trailblazer into this sub-genre. The likes of Ben Okri with his award winning novel, Famished Road and of course Nnedi Okorafor’s long list of titles are some of the works that have come before TLGOTS. That notwithstanding, Tunde Leye has taken quite a bold step in telling this tale, thereby announcing himself in this unique sub-genre.
Guardians of the Seal is a daring tale with a plot that ranges from the very beginning of creation to a time far into a future where cars can fly, where a chosen few mortals have the power of angels, and where angels and demons walk amongst men. In this tale, Lucifer, formerly high-ranking archangel in the Order of Seraphs, now ruler of the Neatherworld schemes his way once more – using his legion of demons and susceptible mortals – to gain access to the Wicket Gate (a supposed hidden entrance to heaven). To achieve this, he must use all of the resources available to him including; a legion of both low and high ranking demons, mortals, and his guile and ruthlessness, to retrieve all four seals from the guardians (mortals imbibed with supernatural powers, specially chosen through generations to guard the keys to this secret entrance), and battle his way to heaven and claim God’s throne, his supposed rightful throne. But there is an interesting caveat – only the Seed of a mortal Woman can stop Lucifer permanently and put an end to his power grab attempts.
In this book, one almost gets the same feeling as of someone watching a heightened version of an episode of Supernatural blended with the action minutes of The Avengers and a few scenes of Mortal Combat. You get to read about man and angel battling demons in scenes that could have best been described as epic (I say could have because the author didn’t quite succeed with his pictures). One comes across Lucifer in battle with mortals, with moves that would make your heart race and would keep your eyes glued to the pages. There are mortal men who can transform; who can with commands, unleash mayhem with flashing swords that spit fire and thunder or who can wield a hammer more powerful than that of Thor of The Avengers, or whose sword can multiply – men who can move through portals at the speed of light. And there are demons too, with amazing, scary abilities, shapes and forms.
I have read quite a number of books by Nigerian authors in the last few years and sadly, I have seen the same mistakes recur with unfailing precision, hence this review and the many others that will follow. In critiquing this work as well as other works henceforth, I consider it imperative to reiterate the basic developmental stages of a novel. For simplicity and ease of understanding, I have designed a model of three stages. In no particular order:
– Plot development.
– Character development.
– Visceral development which I like to call the instinctual, visual and oral development.
All three stages are linked, and a flaw in one would mostly likely affect the others – which is exactly what happened in TLGOTS. In his third book, Tunde Leye pays blatant disregard to the last two stages of a novel’s development. The only stage that was quite developed in this work was the plot. In it, he spins a tale of hell, of Lucifer and his minions; of earth, of Tara, Imani, Lucan and the guardians. I would pass by this stage with a shrug and thumbs up.
Tunde Leye’s characters though exciting in their actions and inactions were not fully developed or even developed at all. They are best described as what I call ‘stick characters’; puppets in a story who have no wishes or desires or lives of their own except what is designed and dictated by the author, solely for the achievement of his plot timelines. In as much as creating characters to achieve set timelines in a plot isn’t a bad thing, fully developed characters are those that live independent of the author. They must have a life of their own, a possible past, futures, memories, needs, just like actual people. It is in the craft of creating real people in the pages of your novel that makes your work truly come alive. It is also this feat that makes a work of literature linger long on your mind, even years after one must have read such a novel. Unfortunately, I forgot every single one of Tunde Leye’s characters a few days after I dropped the book. I remember a few names but that’s about it. None of them stuck, because he failed at developing them to their fullest potentials, hence he ended up with a bunch of puppets!
I once read Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness and its sequel, Piercing The Darkness. In both books, Peretti does such a great work in describing angels and demons that one cannot help but marvel at his imagery. One can almost touch their fluffy black wings dripping with evil or even feel the malice that oozes off them. Ted Decker’s description of Lucifer in Black, left such a picture in my head that I still cringe when I think of it. In Tunde Leye’s book, Lucifer appears more like a gangster than a frightening fallen angel, even though the author kept reiterating throughout the book how frightening the devil was. Almost as if he was entreating the readers to agree with him. And this brings me to my second observation – description, which aids the visceral, visual and oral development of a novel.
In this novel, it’s almost as if the author is scared of describing anything at all. His prose is scanty, and his dialogues are mostly heavy and unrealistic; most of it, things you wouldn’t ordinarily expect real people to say in similar circumstances as portrayed. An instance of such scanty prose and stilted dialogue is in Chapter Two, pages 48-50, and Chapter Three, pages 57-59.
If one takes the time to check all the great stories that have become movies, one would realise that they weren’t written as scripts first; they were books, which is where your proses come in. Prose tells a story . . . but it needs to be vivid. As a writer, you need to build the scenes, the characters and the story. That’s how books get turned into movies.
Again, in Chapter One, pages 38-40, a scene where several human-demons are meeting in a conference room, I find the authors lack of description once more, very tiring and annoying. Here were some of my thoughts while reading that scene: How many people are in the meeting? What does the room like look? What is the lighting like? What kind of clothes are they wearing?
I have no idea!
This happens again in Chapter Seven, Page 108, where Lucan and Imani are taking a walk around a park. What does the park look like? Who else is in this park? What’s the sky above like: blue, a fading sunset, cloudy? No idea!
This happens throughout the book. Even the fight scenes could have been so much more, especially the one with the demons and the Guardians in the Valley of Megido. And this brings me to the one literary fact that has been flogged over and over in writing history – Show and don’t tell. In Tunde Leye’s third book, there is way more telling than showing.
I had a few other issues with the work, like the Guardians always stripping to the waist to show off their tattoos as shown in pages 101 and 117. But hey, maybe I’m the only one who felt old men, going half-naked just to show off a tattoo was odd.
Then there is the issue of the setting. One cannot tell if Tunde Leye’s story is set in Africa or England or even what time in the future or past. I totally understand how tricky it is for stories in this genre to be set in a fixed point or place in time. But be that as it may, this lack of a proper setting also affects the readers ability to visualise the scenes and even the characters, especially in this work where the author skips basic character information such as skin colour or even ascents. Some of the greatest works in this genre succeeded because they were able to set their stories in a fixed place and time. Take J.R.R Tolkien’s classic tale of adventure, Lord of the Rings, for instance. The story is set in the medieval ages, in a place called Middle-earth. Its spans from a hobbit-land called The Shire and meanders to the Cracks of Doom. Tolkien’s ability to set his story and give his characters an identity – race, colour and even language – sets his work on a pedestal of its own.
The first half of the book was riddled with so many punctuation errors. The second part of the book however; picked up nicely and read almost as if it was handled by a different editor, albeit it still had puppet characters and stilted dialogues.
Four themes stood out for me in Guardians of the Seal: The Reach and Steadfastness of the Darkness, The Triumph of Good Over Evil, The Power of Love and The Omnipotence and All-knowing Nature of God. For this review however, I will not bother with the themes or with the ultimate question of whether the author was able to realise them in his plot.
My conclusion: Guardians of the Seal is a great book by all means. It’s a book any keen reader would love, if only one can plough through the first 92 pages. The rest of it will be like watching a movie, even though the pictures portrayed could have been clearer.
I have read quite a number of Nigerian authors this year, and if I were to pick my best ten Nigerian books for the year, with number one topping the list, Tunde Leye’s Guardian of the Seals would come in somewhere between number six and number nine. But hey, don’t take my word for it. Go pick up your copy from any good bookstore in Nigeria, read it and be kind enough to share your thoughts.
Until the next book that forces my pen, Ciao.