old fears, new deaths

I’m not really sure where to begin this post, so I suppose I may as well go back to where it all began.

I’ll begin with a thank-you to Buffy for this review of ‘Who Fears Death’ (by Nnedi Okorafor) that so inrigued me and compelled me to seek out a copy. I quite possibly would have never read it, or even come across it otherwise.

Ironically, there’s so much I want to write that I don’t know what to write first, yet if I had to, I can sum up WFD in just three words: graphic, confronting and unique. And I mean “unique” in a good way; it’s probably a story I’ll remember for a long time. I’m not entirely sure what I actually expected from WFD but it’s certainly unlike anything I’ve read before – granted, I haven’t really read post-apocalyptic fantasy novels before, but I feel like I’ve read my fair share of the fantasy genre.

I’m also struggling to think of any novels I’ve read in recent years that were set in Africa, or had some significant link to that continent. Admittedly, I don’t have a particularly great understanding of African culture and history, so my appreciation of underlying themes and messages mightn’t be the best. Not that WFD is overly subtle or anything. As I said, it’s confronting and not shy about big issues like rape, oppression, genocide, ostracism, etc. (Onyesonwu, the protagonist, is born from rape. Although this makes her “evil”, she eventually finds a way to realise her role in ending the conflict between the two races that have both ostracised her.)

Something I really liked about WFD is the “magic”, particularly the shape-shifting. The other forms of magic, or “Bushcraft”, also had a sort of fascinating quality about them, although the “going to the wilderness” thing kind of reminded me of the Eon/Eona books (by Alison Goodman). Again, I’m not well-versed in African mythology and novels of this genre, so I’m not sure how accurate it is to say that the magic in WFD was very original. However, I will commend Okorafor for her descriptions of not only the magic itself, but of the actual experience of performing these feats and the repercussions on Onyesonwu herself.

Ok, now, I don’t want to spoil these positive vibes, but there is a “but” that I feel obliged to mention. As I read WFD, I did come across a few grammatical errors and other small mistakes that seem to have been missed in the editing process. Never major things, but I feel like as soon as I found one, I was subconsciously hyper-alert for more. It kind of saddens me to think that this may have detracted from the overall reading experience (even a little).

The other thing that kind of bothered me was the references to tigers. Based on the various descriptions of the landscapes (mostly sand and more sand) it doesn’t seem like somewhere you’d find a tiger, especially considering that it’s post-apocalyptic, and tigers are already endangered as it is. Maybe tigers of this future are different to the ones we know now. Maybe I missed something in the description somewhere.

Having said all this, I don’t think that ‘Who Fears Death’ is a book that I’d read again (keep in mind here that I rarely re-read novels (because there simply isn’t enough time!) but there are a number of books that I intend to re-read one day). However, I’m definitely open to reading more works from Okorafor, or other dystopian/post-apocalyptic fantasy novels.