In This Excerpt From Masquerade, A Kidnapped Queen Learns to Fight In More Ways Than One

Books Features O.O. Sangoyomi
In This Excerpt From Masquerade, A Kidnapped Queen Learns to Fight In More Ways Than One

Two of the most popular trends in publishing right now are Greek mythological retellings and fantasy inspired by the rich folklore and history of Africa. Author O.O. Sangoyomi is set to combine them both with her debut novel, Masquerade, a story loosely based on the myth of Persephone that explores all too timely issues of gender and power. 

Set in 15th-century West Africa, the story follows Ododo, whose home has been conquered by an invading army. But when she is abducted and wed to the powerful king of Yorubaland, Ododo must learn new ways to survive—and fight back. Described as perfect for fans of Jennifer Saint and Shelley Parker-Chan, Masquerade is a historical epic full of political intrigue, corruption, and self-discovery, as Ododo fights to change her destiny. 

Here’s how the publisher describes the story: 

Ododo’s hometown of Timbuktu has been conquered by the the warrior king of Yorubaland. Already shunned as social pariahs, living conditions for Ododo and the other women in her blacksmith guild grow even worse under Yoruba rule. 

Then Ododo is abducted. She is whisked across the Sahara to the capital city of Sangote, where she is shocked to discover that her kidnapper is none other than the vagrant who had visited her guild just days prior. But now that he is swathed in riches rather than rags, Ododo realizes he is not a vagrant at all; he is the warrior king, and he has chosen her to be his wife.

In a sudden change of fortune, Ododo soars to the very heights of society. But after a lifetime of subjugation, the power that saturates this world of battle and political savvy becomes too enticing to resist. As tensions with rival states grow, revealing elaborate schemes and enemies hidden in plain sight, Ododo must defy the cruel king she has been forced to wed by re-forging the shaky loyalties of the court in her favor, or risk losing everything—including her life.

Masquerade won’t hit shelves until July 2, but we’ve got an exclusive sneak peek of a key moment in the book for you right now. 

Chapter 13 

When Àremo returned to the royal city, he gifted me a necklace he had picked up during his travels. It was made of beads that were smaller ivory versions of the bouquet of bronze flowers I gifted him in return, as promised. 

There were still no developments in his search for my moher, nor was he any closer to understanding the blacksmith strikes. I consoled myself with the knowledge that Dígí was also helping me search for her. Although, thinking of my visit to the potter also made me feel guilty; learning that I was the one who inspired Yorubaland’s blacksmiths to strike made me slightly more informed about the situation than Aremo. But there was no point in telling him. It would provide him with more questions than answers, and those questions could endanger my place as his bride. 

The night following Aremo’s return, he came to fetch me for my training. However, we did not practice for long before he led me off our field and through the royal city. Heavy black clouds obscured the sky, and at first, I thought that was the reason my training was being cut short tonight. But as we embarked on a path that took us further from the women’s compound, I finally asked, “Where are you taking me?”

“Patience, my flower,” Aremo hummed, his hands behind his back. “By the way, is there anything I should be aware of before I meet with the generals in the morning?” 

I shook my head, knowing this was his way of inquiring about useful gossip I might have heard. “I’ve been making the flowers, so I have not been able to attend music sessions. I’ll catch up on what I’ve missed tomorrow.” I paused, processing his question. “You’re meeting with the generals? Is something wrong?” 

“No more than usual. I speak with my generals most mornings. Just a brief meeting to discuss various affairs across Yorubaland.”

“Can I come?”

My pulse accelerated; the question felt dangerous. I found myself holding my breath for his answer, ready to immediately apologize for such a suggestion if need be. 

But Aremo merely shrugged. “I doubt you will find much entertainment there, but sure, you are welcome to watch if you’d like—ah, here we are.” 

We had just turned onto a path occupied by a handful of sentries. As Aremo strolled up to them, they snapped into a salute, looking like wooden statues in the torchlight. Aremo clapped his hand on one man’s shoulder. 

“You, stay,” Àremo said. “The rest of you continue on.”

“Yes, sir!”

As the group marched past us, Aremo said to the man whom he had singled out, “The love of my life is going to kick you to the ground.” 

“Understood!” the soldier responded. Then wariness filled his eyes, as though his instinct to obey the Alaafin had preceded him actually processing the command. 

Aremo beckoned me toward the soldier. Still unsure what it was that Aremo meant to teach me, I walked up to the man. Although I was the same height as him, he determinedly kept his gaze above my head, a bead of sweat running down his face. I glanced at Aremo, but when he only offered an encouraging smile, I turned back to the soldier. I brought my leg around, putting all my strength behind the sweeping motion I had seen Aremo use to knock men off their feet countless times before. 

My foot met the side of the soldier’s thigh—and glanced off harmlessly. Pain shot up my ankle, but the soldier remained as still as ever. He had not even winced. 

As I gripped my ankle, the soldier looked between Aremo and me. Then, much too late, he lowered himself onto the ground, sitting with his hands behind him as though he had fallen. 

“Well done, my lady,” he said. 

“Aremo,” I snapped, whirling around in pain and embarrassment. 

He walked up to us, his face carefully angled so that the darkness did not allow me to discern his expression. “Stand, soldier, and stay here for a moment.”

The man did as he was told. Àr#mọ wrapped his arm around my shoulders, and as he led me away, he said, “Defeating an opponent has little to do with their own shortcomings. It is all about the advantages you possess. Because you are a woman, strength is not one of them—don’t look at me like that, my flower, we have just seen it is true—which means that your attacks must utilize precision rather than force.” 

With his other hand, Aremo placed his finger on the center of my torso. “It does not matter how much bigger or stronger your opponent is; he still needs to breathe. Take that away from him. She’s trying again.” 

He said the last part louder, and I realized we had circled back to the waiting soldier. Aremo removed his arm from around my shoulders, leaving me to walk up to the soldier alone. The man looked much calmer, perhaps prepared to act more convincing this time. 

I did not have much faith in my kick either, but I had to try. Instead of stretching my foot to the side as before, I bent my leg in front of me and, focusing on the spot that Aremohad showed me, slammed my foot into the man’s chest. 

Immediately, he doubled over and fell to the ground, clutching his abdomen. His frantic gasps for air were much too desperate to be faked. 

After a moment, I snapped out of my shock. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t think that would work—Aremo, it’s not funny,” I hissed over my shoulder, but he was laughing too hard to hear. 

I rushed to help the soldier to his feet. As the man muttered congratulations, I looked over my shoulder. Aremo grinned, his eyes twinkling. Although I felt bad for the soldier, triumph warmed my chest. 

A drop of water landed on my cheek. I gave a small yelp as the drop was followed by several more and it began to rain. Taking my hand, Àr#mọ led me as we ran through the royal city. By the time we reached a palm tree, we were gasping and soaking wet.

Aremo pulled me close to him, fitting us both beneath the shelter of the tree’s leaves. “I apologize, my flower. I should have  been paying more attention to the weather.” 

“I don’t mind waiting it out,” I assured him. 

A braid had come loose from his bun, though he had not seemed to notice. I pushed it out of his face for him, and I saw a small scar on his jaw. “This is new,” I remarked, trailing my hand over the scar. 

He put his hand over my own. “Is it? I must have earned it the last time I ventured east. But I am sure I returned my opponent’s ambition to him tenfold.” 

“I don’t doubt it,” I said with a chuckle. His words brought to mind the stories that the twins had told me, and my smile faded. “Is there a reason you continue to push Yorubaland east?” 

“I want to give her another ocean.”

 “Why?” 

“Have you even been to the ocean?” 

I shook my head no, and he said, “I know, because if you had, you would not have asked such a question. You would have already breathed refreshing seaside air and seen how the sea glistens when the sun dissolves into it. You would have already lounged in the shade of silk-cotton trees and watched naked children play in the water—and you would have already imagined our children to be among them, as I have.” 

Although I doubted anything would have justified the violence the twins and so many others had faced, Aremo’s reason for expansion was particularly lacking in substance. Nothing more than selfish desire drove him eastward. To some degree, I acknowledged that a different person—perhaps most people— would have been horrified at such an admission. 

But to have conquered so many lands and to have garnered such a fearsome reputation simply because he wanted to, simply because he could  The idea fascinated me. 

Above, a break appeared in the clouds, and the full moon peaked through. As the pale light broke over us, I suddenly realized how close we were, my front against his. 

We had been this close before, of course, when he was fixing my stance or pinning me to steal yet another win. But this time, he was neither the teacher nor the victor. Aremo seemed to have realized it too; he cupped my face, his tender touch made of rough calluses. 

He moved with an uncharacteristic hesitancy, a question shining in his black eyes. I pressed the answer against his lips. 

He pulled me closer, molding my body into his own. The kiss did not make my heart flutter or frantic; instead, I relaxed. It tasted sweet, as dulcet as the music I played with the other noble- women while lounging in our field. It was as gentle as the people who regularly attended to me, and it was as warm as the sun that I was no longer subjected to all day. The kiss tasted like reassurance, security. 

The kiss tasted like power. 

 Masquerade will be released on July 2, but you can pre-order it right now


Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB

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