The Down Days by Ilze Hugo

The Down Days

by Ilze Hugo

  • Genre: Science Fiction
  • Publisher: Skybound Books
  • Length: 367 pages
  • Available: May 5, 2020

About the Author: Ilze Hugo is a South African debut author with degrees in fine arts and English studies, along with a Masters in creative writing from the University of Cape Town. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies like The Ghost Eater and Other Stories and My Holiday Shorts. As a freelance writer, she’s written for magazines to guidebooks to ad campaigns and even the odd comic. She lives by the ocean in Muizenberg, Cape Town, with her husband and two children.

Summary: As a deadly laughing disease grips a city in South Africa, decimating the population, it is no small thing to say that strange events are on the rise. But for Sans, a seasoned ponytail thief, and Faith, a professional dead collector and amateur “truthologist”, their lives are about to get a whole lot more complicated, especially after a series of child abductions and ghost sightings have them crossing paths on their way to the truth. Is the government to blame? A corruption of the spirit? Or is it simply a case of mass hysteria, bolstered by superstition and paranoia? Either way you look at it, there is something suspicious going on in Sick City—and it’s no laughing matter. 

While the timing of Ilza Hugo’s The Down Days will likely lead to a fair share of attention, there is a great deal to take away from this debut novel other than the ways it parallels the extraordinary times we are currently living in. This supernaturally charged dystopian, fueled by noir-like tones and a pulp mystery format, paints a poignant picture of the class division that plagues South Africa, magnifying it through the lens of a pandemic. With sickness and death the new norm, an abstract examination of the tenets of grief becomes one of the novel’s most persuasive themes, laying the groundwork to explore the frightening—and occasionally beautiful—ways that tragedy can transform a city and its people. Under these circumstances, it is not long before the very meaning of death becomes an unstable construct, and Hugo is given free reign to traverse the themes of this existential playground unabashed.

This crossover of science, tradition, and the supernatural comes together to form something wholly unique, where reality is as diverse as the people who are experiencing it, and the lines between the past and the present are unforgivingly blurred by the paranormal. With an eclectic cast of characters for support, all of whom are continuously crossing paths within the chaos, this genre-bending tale of both the lost and the found weaves together a colorful, intricate story line that keeps you happily guessing throughout, and pleasantly surprised at its conclusion. This approach goes to show that, despite its roots in science fiction and urban fantasy, it is the lean toward a procedural, hardboiled detective novel that really showcases the novel’s originality, giving it a noteworthy and persuasive flair.


Ilza Hugo’s The Down Days is an ambitious and timely tale that certainly reads well during a quarantine, but will also, undoubtedly, remain valuable long after its most obvious elements have left the news feed. Whichever aspect of this multifaceted novel appeals to you the most, whether it be the engrossing story, glowing characters, or time-tested format, this strange but familiar world will continue to reveal new and intriguing layers every step of the way.

Joe Buckler

Blind Corner Reviews

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