A mythic tale of disgruntled gods, revenge, and a heist across two worlds…
We’re thrilled to share the cover and preview an excerpt from Shigidi and the Brass Head of Obalufon, the debut fantasy novel from award-winning Nigerian author Wole Talabi. Shigidi and the Brass Head of Obalufon publishes August 8, 2023 from DAW Books.
Shigidi is a disgruntled and demotivated nightmare god in the Orisha spirit company, reluctantly answering prayers of his few remaining believers to maintain his existence long enough to find his next drink. When he meets Nneoma, a sort-of succubus with a long and secretive past, everything changes for him.
Together, they attempt to break free of his obligations and the restrictions that have bound him to his godhood and navigate the parameters of their new relationship in the shadow of her past. But the elder gods that run the Orisha spirit company have other plans for Shigidi, and they are not all aligned—or good.
From the boisterous streets of Lagos to the swanky rooftop bars of Singapore and the secret spaces of London, Shigidi and Nneoma will encounter old acquaintances, rival gods, strange creatures, and manipulative magicians as they are drawn into a web of revenge, spirit business, and a spectacular heist across two worlds that will change Shigidi’s understanding of himself forever and determine the fate of the Orisha spirit company.
Wole Talabi is an engineer, writer, and editor from Nigeria. His stories have appeared in Asimov’s, F&SF, Lightspeed, and several other publications. He has edited three anthologies: Africanfuturism, which was nominated for the Locus Award in 2021, Lights Out: Resurrection, and These Words Expose Us. His fiction has been a finalist for multiple awards including the prestigious Caine Prize, the Locus Award, the Jim Baen Memorial Award, and the Nommo Award, which he won in 2018 and 2020. His collection Incomplete Solutions is published by Luna Press.
Northumberland Street, London (Spirit-side), England | July 5th, 2017 | 04:40 am.
So, there he was, barely conscious in the back of a black cab being driven down the Haymarket road on the spirit side of London by a man who died seventy years ago, when Nneoma finally told Shigidi that she loved him. He would have laughed if he wasn’t already half past dead.
The driver downshifted gears and swerved the hackney carriage so sharply and violently that the two left side tires lifted off the ground. Shigidi lost his balance on the plush leather seat and fell over into her thighs, pressing the open wound where one of his arms used to be and leaving a large, ugly red mark on her lovely blue dress. A smear of blood, clay, and spirit particles. The contact forced every muscle in his body to contract. He felt like his insides were being separated from each other, like he was being torn apart from within by an angry pain shaped animal. He was forced to lift his head out of her lap to shout out some of the hurt. The sound that came out of him was strained, strident, and strange. It was a sound he didn’t recognize, even though it was not the first time he had screamed out in agony.
The fog of pain cleared just enough for him to stop screaming. I don’t know how much longer I can hang on to what little consciousness I have left.
Bright light was spilling in through the windows, accompanied by a sound like the beating of the old Oyo empire war drums. It was almost funny because he had once used those same fearsome sounds as inspiration a long time ago, when the Ooni of Ife had sent him to give nightmares to six of his enemies. He was no longer a nightmare god but he still remembered what it was like to weave the disparate myriad threads of deep-seated personal fears into a tapestry of terror and pain and uncertainty. And he still knew what it felt like to be caught inside such a web, in a nightmare, desperate to wake.
Everything about this feels like a nightmare.
In the blur of movement and disorientation, he caught a glimpse through the rear window. The sky was a maelstrom of thick, neon-edged clouds and constant flashes of electric-white lightning set against a pitch-black sky full of thick, dark clouds.
No god could hope to reign over such wild spirit-sky.
Down on the ground, four bronze horses with flames for eyes were galloping madly behind them, leaving a trail of broken asphalt, sparks, and fire in their wake. A large angry figure rode behind the horses, driving them forward with vicious purpose. A bronze rope that extended all the way to the horses’ strained throats was wound tightly around the imposing figure’s forearm as it rode the back half of a crudely bisected gray sedan, giving chase in a makeshift chariot.
Shigidi’s vision swam. The glare from the horses’ flaming eyes became nothing more than an afterimage superimposed on a million others that danced on his irises, but he could tell that their pursuers were fast—faster than any flesh-and-blood horses could ever hope to be—and drawing closer. But their cab driver was supposed to know the spirit-side of London better than anyone else, living or dead—or kind of both—and so Shigidi hoped that knowledge would be enough to get them to the rendezvous point before dawn, before the life leaked out of him completely.
I don’t want to die in a foreign spirit land.
Just then, the driver swung the wheel madly again, forcing the car to swerve right, barely missing two ghosts in long gray frocks . The cab scrambled clumsily down a short flight of cobblestone stairs before reconnecting to actual road and accelerating again. He fell back down into his lover’s lap, and his head bounced against the car door so hard he feared for a moment it had cracked open. His vision went blank, and he wasn’t sure if it was because he had closed his eyes or if the impact had damaged something in his head, but he didn’t really care . All he knew was, everything hurt.
“Careful!” She shouted at the driver as she pressed her hand into Shigidi’s and pulled his head into her bloody bosom.
“Sorry! I’m doing my best here, luv,” the driver called back, “but in case you haven’t noticed, we are being chased by four living statues and one pissed-off giant.”
She ignored the driver and whispered into Shigidi’s ear, “Hold on, my darling. I love you. Do you hear me? I love you. Just hold on. Everything will be okay. We are almost there.”
Stunned, he forced his lead-heavy eyelids open and looked up into her large, wet eyes shimmering with a glaze of tears and the reflection of bright yellow spirit particles. He wanted to embrace her and tell her he loved her too, the way he’d always imagined he would when she finally said the words to him, but he was short one arm and his mouth couldn’t form the words. His tongue felt swollen and numb in his mouth, saturated with the sharp taste of iron and clay. He could still hear her; he was still mostly there, but her voice sounded woolly and far away, and the galaxy of blurry lights reflected and refracted around him were becoming too bright. He could barely feel his arm or his legs or his face or his anything anymore.
I guess my time is running out faster than I thought. He hacked out a bloodstained cough. But it’s not too bad. I suppose there are worse ways to die than in the arms of someone you love.
A force slammed into the vehicle with a deafening sound like an explosion made of other explosions. The driver let out a primal scream that Shigidi could barely hear above the cacophonous violence of metal crunching against metal, the shattering of glass, the screeching of rubber on asphalt. In that moment, he was sure it was over. They were done for.
He focused on the thing that mattered most to him—her. His eyes remained fixed on her open mouth and her widening eyes as the world around them turned into a chaotic galaxy of smoke and metal and glass. And then, when he could barely see her anymore, he shut his eyes against the army of white light invading his consciousness and braced himself for what he was sure would be the final, endless fall into nothing.
I love you too.
And I’m sorry, for everything.
This is not how I thought things would end.
Excerpted from Shigidi and the Brass Head of Obalufon, copyright 2023 by Wole Talabi