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Originally published at Fantasy Literature.
Tendeleo’s Story is a short companion novel to Ian McDonald’s CHAGA series which is about an alien tropical plant-like life form that drops from space and lands in several equatorial regions of Earth. The first CHAGA novel, Evolution’s Shore, follows Irish reporter Gaby McAslin as she documents the biological, societal, and political changes that occur in Kenya as the Chaga descends from Mount Kilimanjaro and overruns Nairobi. In Kirinya, the second book, Gaby joins the people who have decided to (or been forced to) live in the Chaga rather than fleeing northward to safety. Meanwhile, a subplot follows Dr. Shepherd, one of Gaby’s lovers, who is studying and trying to figure out the purpose, mechanisms, and creator of the Chaga.
Tendeleo’s Story does not further the plot or give us more insight into the Chaga. It is simply the story of one girl’s experience growing up in Nairobi when the Chaga came. Tendeleo is a pastor’s daughter. When the Chaga appears near her village, she knows that they’ll eventually have to evacuate. Her father plans to stay till the end, to minister to his village, but as more and more of his congregation leaves, the family struggles to make ends meet. Tendeleo does what she can to help her family, even when it means getting involved with gangs, corrupt officials, and the American Embassy. Eventually Tendeleo moves to England and falls in love, but she discovers that she’s been touched by the Chaga.
In contrast to Gaby, the “heroine” of Evolution’s Shore and Kirinya, Tendeleo is a likeable protagonist with a story that’s compelling all the way through. (It helps that it’s short.) For this reason, I actually liked Tendeleo’s Story better than Kirinya. While I was disappointed that I didn’t get to learn more about the Chaga, I realize that it was never Ian McDonald’s intention to explain it to us. He leaves us with a wonderful sense of cosmic conjecture which, to my speculative fiction-loving self, is perfectly fine but is, to my scientist self, slightly disappointing. If McDonald does have answers to Dr Shepherd’s questions, I hope he’ll reveal them in another CHAGA novel someday. But if he doesn’t, I’m okay with that.
You could read Tendeleo’s Story directly after Evolution’s Shore, if you like. Chronologically speaking, that’s where it belongs. Once again, I listened to the amazingly wonderful Melanie McHugh narrate Audible Studio’s version of Tendeleo’s Story. It’s 3.5 hours long.
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