cover image The Down Days

The Down Days

Ilze Hugo. Skybound, $26 (368p) ISBN 978-1-982121-54-9

Science fiction and spirituality intertwine in Hugo’s fun, apocalyptic mystery debut set in a near-future Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, that has been quarantined to prevent the spread of an epidemic of fatal, uncontrollable laughter. When Tomorrow Pretorious’s little brother disappears, she seeks the services of freelance investigator Faith September. As the pair search, they encounter a motley collection of hustlers and charlatans, including sin eater Frank Mostert and black market hair dealer Sans, and begin to unravel the mystery of the sickness that has decimated the population and precipitated a government ban on public mirth. Hugo adeptly juggles multiple points of view, but the disparate plot elements vying for attention occasionally become muddled; secret societies, conspiracy theories, prophecies, and spirits abound, creating a feeling of unstable syncretism. The arresting prose, an effortless blend of Afrikaans slang and invented jargon, peppered with evocative turns of phrase (“the mountain was undercover, going full vigilante in a smoking gray cape”), elevates this from run-of-the-mill science fiction thriller. Fans of gritty environmental sci-fi will enjoy this dynamic, fast-paced debut. Agent: Stacia Decker, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner. (May)