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Book Review: The Hangman’s Replacement by Taona D. Chivenko (1/5)

30 Aug

I was hesitant to read this one. I got it as part of a giveaway, but the reviews on it were really hit or miss and I know I tend to be critical. I put it off for years but finally gave in. Right when your child is born is probably the wrong time to be reading a slow book.

HangmanThe Hangman’s Replacement by Taona D. Chivenko

Summary from Goodreads:

Zimbabwe’s last hangman retired in 2004. As the nation drifted towards abolition, no determined effort was launched to find a replacement. However, the discovery of carnivorous flame lilies at the Great Zimbabwe monument triggered a spirited search for a new executioner. Those who know why this discovery energized the recruitment effort refused to talk.

The frantic attempts to find a new hangman were impeded by the lack of suitable candidates. Well-placed sources confirmed that the fear of ‘ngozi’ was a deterrent. According to this traditional belief, the spirit of a murdered person torments the killer and his family for generations. However, this is only half the story. Several promising applicants did come forward. None met the minimum requirements for the job. The selection criteria were designed to exclude the mentally ill, the vindictive, and the sadistic. However, they did not rule out the desperate.

This book did not work for me. It had a strong sense of magical realism, which I greatly dislike, so it really didn’t stand a chance. There were also a few stretches of characters talking that felt unrealistic which was a struggle to read. There were a set of chapters that took me two weeks to get through because it was such a struggle for me to read. And the info dumps! There were so many. This book was setting up for something, though I can’t imagine what with the intricacies it involved. There was an allergy to air, a carnivorous plant, blackmail, lawyers, assassins, prostitutes, and a British gallows builder. I’m not sure how it will all come together but the volume of it was a bit overwhelming.

None of the characters struck me as credible. There was a man who could have multiple strings of thought at once, a reclusive genius lawyer, many beautiful women, many strong men, and the most believable character fought off a lion with his bare hands. The lack of believable characters was part of what repelled me in this book. It felt like the author was trying to trick me into believing these people could really exist in a spiteful way.

I didn’t particularly like any of the characters but Able was the most sympathetic. I liked that he loved his wife and family very much and his motivation seemed more plausible than anyone else in the story. But there were moments that I didn’t like him. He was unfaithful to his wife for an unknown reason and seemingly not under his own control. This confused me. Though it’s strange, I feel my frustration is more with the author than the character. Probably because it seemed to out of character for Able to do this that it felt like a trick by the author.

I couldn’t relate to any of the characters in this story. The women in particular felt really unbelievable to me and it was a big part of my frustration with the story. The conversation between Anala and Vaida was the most cringeworthy part of the book to me. It felt forced and it was a lot of back story. I can’t imagine a conversation between two women going like this.

The first part of the book was the most enjoyable to me as it focused on Able. I was excited for the story and unsure of how it would play out. But all the other characters that were brought in and the other plot lines that were woven into the story took me out of it and made it difficult to enjoy.

There are a lot of dubious motivations in this book. The motivation to breed a carnivorous plant, the motivation to seduce a married man, and the motivation to devote your life to work are just a few. Abel’s motivation, to secure medical insurance for his family, is the only one I really understood. Protecting your family can drive you to do crazy things, even voluntarily become a hangman.

Writer’s Takeaway: I think Chivenko could have dealt with a beta reader or editor. There were few spelling or grammar mistakes in this book, but the plot was confusing and the dialogue needed work. At 466 pages, it was just too long. Sharing your work with someone for criticism can be unnerving or time consuming, but I see how it can be valuable.

Not a book I enjoyed or would recommend. I will not continue with the series. One out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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