Courttia Newland’s A River Called Time is a piece of speculative fiction that draws on elements of African futurism to create a near-future that is shifted from the real world in a number of ways, both minor and profound.
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In a dystopian version of London, Markriss has grown up in the poor Outer City, but his skills earn him entry to The Ark, the privileged and heavily guarded Inner City.
There he gets a job as a journalist and quickly realises things aren’t as they seem in an oppressive and violent society.
While all this might sound like standard dystopia, Newland subtly and smoothly incorporates elements of Egyptian mythology into his alternative landscape, building an altered history that is entirely believable.
In this world, colonialism and slavery never happened, instead the magical abilities of ancient Africans have grown to become a world religion.
Tying into this, Markriss’s ability to use astral projection sends him on a dream quest through different realities in an attempt to understand both his own powers and the truth about the unjust society he lives in.
This kind of thing is not easy to portray well in fiction, but Courttia Newland does so with a confident hand, leading the reader through different worlds with aplomb.
As the story reaches its climax, the reader is returned to the original dystopian setting, with Newland delivering a finale that is both dramatic and deeply satisfying.
A River Called Time by Courttia Newland is out now (Canongate, £16.99)