Every traveller begins his journey in the Valley of Souls; the very first gift of new life. It is only this once that he is Immaculate.
Published by Flipped Eye publishing, Only This Once Are You Immaculate follows the story of twins Aftab and Afya, and their adopted brother, Khaled. After war drives them from the protected valley that they once called home, they are plunged into an unknown world in a state of civil war. With only their uncle to protect them, they must navigate this unforgiving land as a new threat rises in the shadows.
Hailing from Zimbabwe, Blessing Musariri is an author best known for her children’s stories and poetry, so Only This Once Are You Immaculate is a different beast compared to what she normally writes. Though it easily falls into the sub-genre of dystopia, its narrative structure feels more like a piece of fantasy, with protagonists being thrown into an unfamiliar world and embarking on an unlikely adventure to resolve a new evil that threatens the land. However, it also interweaves this in with graphic modern violence. The material can feel depressing, with themes of genocide, refugees escaping warfare, and implications of sexual assault popping up throughout the book.
The characters are referred to as ‘travellers’ in this book, with each of their ‘journeys’ representing a different reincarnation they’ve had in life. People who kill are called ‘Interrupters,’ for both literally and metaphorically putting an end to travellers on their current journey. The title of the book comes from Afya and Aftab, who are described as ‘Immaculates’ – new, innocent souls on their first journey.
There are many aspects to enjoy about this Only This Once Are You Immaculate. Narratives in this genre traditionally focus on westernised settings, so having a world which is heavily inspired by African culture felt refreshing. Musariri is a very talented writer, and her style of writing mixed in with her characters make this novel an enjoyable read.
Having said that however, there are some flaws that prevent it from being a truly outstanding novel. For one thing, the chapters are short, constantly jumping between the perspectives of the main characters. This really breaks up the flow of the novel because by the time the reader is invested by what one of the protagonists is doing, they’re very quickly following someone else, and it is very easy to get confused if you aren’t fully focused on the story.
Additionally, there are times when the novel can drift from its initial focus. One example is when Khaled is watching Aftab take part in a bout of Donga pole fighting, and rather than reflecting on the situation, or worrying about his brother and thus developing their relationship a bit more, it instead provides exposition about himself. Instances like this are thankfully few in the book, but when they do pop up, they are memorable enough to be noted. Another example of this is the ending. Without giving away too many spoilers, it can leave the reader stunned, both for good and bad reasons.
Despite some of its flaws however, Only This Once Are You Immaculate is a beautifully dark story of adventure in a time of war. Though the story can feel a bit formulaic, Musariri keeps her readers enticed in such a way that makes this a worthwhile read, with a breath-taking setting, and memorable characters. If you consider yourself a fan of dystopia, go pick this one up.
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