A young adult fantasy adventure about magic, friendship and bravery, but also about bad judgement, rascally witches and thoroughly irresponsible adults.
Trouble is brewing in the secret African rift valley of Karibu and Gogo Maya, the witch, and her leopard familiar are about to make matters worse. Of all the dubious magic tricks in her repertoire, they choose a risky ‘switch’ she’s been working on, to escape from somebody lurking in the forest. Unfortunately they overshoot, switching right out of Karibu and drawing an ordinary Zimbabwean boy into the vacuum they left behind them. The whole disaster that followed might have been averted if another boy had not gone and sucked up what was left of the witch’s power, leaving her too weak to switch back again. CPR, the daft boy called it. He should know better than to risk kissing a witch.
If you had to choose between Joe’s two best friends, or his fifteen-year-old cousin, Ethan, to lead an adventure into the bush to rescue him, Ethan would be the last one you’d pick because, well … he’s useless that way. Yet, the witch’s leopard inexplicably chooses him, and starts issuing instructions right into his head. Apparently he’s Joe’s best hope because he has absorbed some of the witch’s questionable magic powers. Powers which might come in handy if he ever learns how to wield them, and if he can endure the painful backlash he suffers every time he tries.
In a world that quite literally defies belief, where magic seeps into the drinking water for anyone to use or abuse, and the terrain is impossible to navigate without help from extremely risky sources, this is the tale of Ethan’s struggle to reach his cousin, Joe, before Joe falls into the wrong hands and gets himself killed
“Switch (The Kingdoms of Karibu)” by Karen Prince is a wonderful and magic story for young adults.
Set in parts in rural contemporary Zimbabwe (with all its beauty but also its faults) and in other parts in the secret rift valley of Karibu the story ‘switches’ between two narratives, keeping up a sense of suspense throughout.
In Karibu, a witch and her leopard suddenly have to escape the Tokoloshe, but their getaway via a magic trick goes terribly wrong and forces an ordinary boy from Zimbabwe into the kingdom instead, while the witch is on the other side.
The rest of the story follows the attempts to reverse the switch.
The book owes a lot to modern fairy tales such as the Lion King or The Jungle Book that opened our minds to speaking animals and even animals that can be human. “Switch” pays a loving tribute to African tribal culture with the colourful characters as well as to the magical mythology.
Karen Prince has written an awesome book that overflows with her love for the continent and its creatures and culture but more importantly so with a lot of original ideas and vivid powers of imagination. One of my favourite parts of the book was about a group of crocodiles who are re-paying a moral debt and therefore help humans across a tricky waterfall.
Easy to read, entertaining and full of surprises this is an excellent debut novel and should do well with both African and non-African readers. I was quite captured by the romantic vision of nature on the continent and thanks to the great characterisation of the boys and the witch it had a light hearted and wonderful touch.
How did you come to writing? Is this your first written work?
Yet this is my first book. I came to writing on a whim, really, or a new year’s resolution. I kid you not. I sat on my friend’s verandah and said “This year I will give up working for an unappreciative boss and find another job, and while I am looking for that perfect job, I will write the book I always wanted to write.” I fondly imagined that I would sit at my computer and bang out a book in six weeks or so. Well, what a shock! It took at least six months of intense research and an online course just to learn how to write a good book, and then another year to write it.
Have you always wanted to write in the genre? And for young adults?
I have been a voracious reader all my life, mostly of fantasy. Anything from the epic “Wheel of Time” series by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson to the more offbeat and quirky “Discworld” series by Terry Pratchett, so in a way, it was writing what I know. Add that to a childhood spent mostly in rural Africa, which is practically like living in a fantasy. Between the awe inspiring wildlife, the lack of technology and the terrors of a civil war that raged for most of my childhood, there was plenty of fodder for story telling.
‘Switch!’ is marketed to young adults because the content is acceptable for advanced readers as young as ten, but it is, in fact, a straight fantasy adventure. Most of my reviews have come from adult fantasy readers.
A mash up of a couple of things that intrigue me. One is Ngorogoro crater in Tanzania, a vast naturally enclosed volcanic crater which is so difficult to access from outside that it almost has it’s own wildlife ecosystem. Another is Son Doong cave in Vietnam. It is the largest cave known to man but despite all modern technology was only discovered in 2009 because it is so well hidden in a remote jungle. A third idea comes from my childhood. The village where I come from, on the banks of the Zambezi in Zimbabwe, had no communication with the village across the river in Zambia because the two countries had closed the border and were not talking to each other. Despite the fact that we, and the Zambians, smiled and waved as we boated past each other, we had no idea what was going on ‘over there’. The idea of living so close to a nation that you can see them, and yet know nothing about them, has fascinated me ever since.
For this story I wanted to have today’s people, who we can relate to, fall into a fantasy milieu like ‘Harry Potter’ rather than jump straight into a fantasy where even the behavior is unfamiliar.
May I ask you about your geographical background. Tell us what Zimbabwe means to you and how you chose it as the setting for parts of your story.
As a child I spent a lot of time in the bush. I grew up on a game farm very close to the Victoria Falls — which, by the way, are so awesome that you never get tired of looking at them even if you go down there and stare at them every day. My mother was a tour guide, so I got to go on river cruises whenever I wanted and to fly over the falls and the game reserve in those little light aircraft whenever there was a free seat. What a thrill! Needless to say I think Zimbabwe is a brilliant place for a fantasy setting with all its wildlife, diverse tribes and fantastic terrain. In fact you should put it on your bucket list to visit at once.
I live in Cape Town now, and it is almost as beautiful but a city milieu is not as conducive to fantasy adventures.
You have created great characters. Which one is your favourite?
Aarg! It is so hard to say but when it comes down to it I would have to say Tarriro. He started off being a foil for Ethan’s pickiness but soon took on a life of his own. He will be the main protagonist in the sequel.
How did you choose the characters for the story?
I wanted to tell a story about a bush adventure and I love to make people think outside of their own experience so I started out with the kind of person who would be the most uncomfortable and inept in that situation. Preferably one who would not be there by choice. Hence Ethan; only child, extremely wealthy and privileged, with the world at his fingertips, if only you could tear him away from his computer.
Even though Ethan is picky, with all his education and resources, he’s pretty smart. I wanted him to have some competition along the way. Someone equally privileged, whose agenda would clash horribly with his. And that’s where Tarriro comes in. Anyone in their right mind would have chosen him to lead the group because he is a natural leader; confident, athletic, from a politically powerful family and he’s had practice bossing around his three younger brothers, so it is especially hard for him when Ethan is chosen. And he is grumpy about it.
Neither Ethan, nor Tarriro have any bush skills so I sent Jimoh along to guide them and keep the peace. . . If he can.
The three boys risk their own lives to save Joe. So Joe had to be fiercely loved by Ethan, Tariro and Jimoh, and for different reasons because they hardly knew each other before the disaster that started the whole trip. Honor is probably his strongest point, and bravery.
Are you like any of the characters (and how so)?
Not much, although I may be as picky as Ethan and am surely as bossy as Tarriro. I share their experiences though. Boarding school featured heavily for me like Joe and Tarirro, and I spent a lot of time in African villages and the bush like Jimoh.
Did you have to research for the magic, mythological or animal scenes?
The Tokoloshe, which feature heavily in ‘Switch!’ were as much a fact of everyday life where I grew up as ghosts are for westerners and probably with as many variations. From a mischievous character who’s toxic farts would incapacitate you so that he could tickle your feet, to an evil entity conjured up by a witchdoctor to cause real harm. Mostly they were believed to be about knee high, hairy, lived in crevices under river banks and would come and get you if you were naughty.
I did do a lot of research on the other mythological creatures but since the premise of the story is that the magic alters the DNA of a creature over time, I did not always stick closely to the original myths.
How did you research for the book?
For the magic and the mythology I was not that fussy because I could stretch the information to suit my story, but for animal behavior I preferred books to the internet for research because there is some accountability attached to the information. I read everything I could get my hands on because much of what I learned growing up was based on hearsay and I probably survived by sheer luck. For instance everyone swore blind that it was safe to water-ski because a crocodile does not have the strength to take you in deep water. That turned out to be a myth.
Were the plot and subplots completely planned from the start or did they change during the process, and if so, how?
I began to write the scenes only once I had a full synopsis of the plot. ‘Switch!’ is not a tale of wonderful good verses pure evil, but rather a tale of ‘what if’. I started off with a set of characters and tribes, complete with character sketches and politics, and a basic premise for the magic, then spent a long time loosely plotting how those people would react to the crises that came their way and how they would overcome them. Sometimes their actions set the plot off in a new direction so it was better to be sure where I was going before I wrote in too much detail.
Could this be part of a series? If yes, how many books will there be and can you tell us where this will be going – without any spoilers?
Yes, this is a series. There will probably be three books, but if this idea is completely mined out by the end of book two and there is nothing really entertaining to go on with, I do not want to force it. At the same time, if the plot naturally runs to four books I will do four.
Although ‘Switch!’ could stand alone, the boys will be sucked back into the politics of Karibu one way or another. Not only does the magic cause havoc with the current residents — the kind of trouble that only the boys can sort out — but all that free magic, just waiting to be harnessed, is mighty enticing for the boys themselves. And I am nowhere near finished with that dragon.
What are the best and the worst aspects of writing?
The best for me is plotting. How wonderful to spend your days making up stories. I also happen to love all the technical stuff; formatting for Kindle and hardcopy, designing covers, designing websites on which to market, even the marketing itself. The worst thing for me is that there are not enough hours in the day.
How do you balance marketing one book and writing the next?
It is impossible for me. Since I do everything myself it takes a very long time to get a book together. I have been marketing the Kindle eBook version of ‘Switch!’ for a year and only just now found the time to format and design a new cover for the print version to launch in a couple of weeks. In the mean time, I have been loosely plotting the sequel. When I write it, I imagine I will keep at it relentlessly until it is finished without distracting myself by dividing my time between writing and marketing.
What do you do when you don’t write?
I am a freelance Interior Designer. The kind that sits behind a computer and makes plans of people’s homes, kitchens etc. Occasionally I will design a pediatric ward for a hospital or paint a mural or something, but I like planning best.
What would you take to an isolated island?
A Boat?! Without my entire family, all my friends and the internet thrown in for entertainment, I’d go out of my head in a week. Besides, I have watched enough Bear Grylls to know that it is not much fun on an isolated island. . . It is all sweating and foraging and wondering if you are going to get rescued.
My website for young adults: http://www.books4youngadults.com/
Africa, fiction, jungle, Karen Prince, Karibu, rift valley, Switch, tribal, tribes, Witchcraft, witches, young adults, Zimbabwe