Temper by Nicky Drayden (Fantasy Novel, 2018).
Drayden’s second novel, like its predecessor, offers elements of multiple genres (including SF and horror), but overall it’s mostly a fantasy. The setting is the southern tip of an alternative Africa. Here magic of a sort is a commonplace and a pair of Gods (one allegedly all-good, the other all-evil) compete for control. Almost everyone is born a twin and a semi-theocratic social order divides up a list of fundamental vices and virtues between them. It’s almost as if a set of twins share a single soul, with one inheriting most of the “good” tendencies and the other more of the “bad” ones. Yet if too-long separated, physical and emotional pain results for both twins–an indication of the level of their connection.
Not only is the twin who got most of the “virtues” seen as superior to his/her “lesser twin,” but society is also strongly divided on economic/class lines. Race is not an issue, yet the location and the literally walled neighborhoods holding the less-well-off brings to mind something not unlike South Africa’s old Apartheid set-up.
Yet another downtrodden group are the Singletons–that small minority born without a twin, they are looked down upon my most everyone else. And there is an outlawed movement that favors science over the somewhat stagnant culture maintained by the powers that be.
Auben Mtuze is a “lesser twin” to his brother Kasim. They’re naturally very different people, yet neither is complete without the other. In the course of the novel, they will be seen not only as living illustrations of their society’s many contradictions, but will in time come to be possessed by and to finally embody the two feuding yet intimately connected Gods.
In the process, they will discover disturbing family secrets. The identity of their previously unknown father is but one of these. Equally shocking is the fact that their mother is a leader of the banned science-focused movement. Their own desires, sexual and otherwise, also figure greatly in the story. Sex, violence, political maneuverings, revolution and counter-revolution, betrayals, redemption and reunions are all aspects of what proves a compelling and evocative, one-of-a-kind story.
All that said, I must admit that it took me a while to get fully into the narrative. but once it happened, I was fascinated.