A post-apocalyptic, post-technology fantasy set in an Africa plagued by ethnic conflict, genocide and sorcerers.
Despite its heavy topic, there is no question that Who Fears Death will appeal to teens. A young girl becomes a young woman while accepting the responsibility of saving her people, helped only by equally young friends and the occasional, untrustworthy adult. There is sex and violence, despair and confusion. There is plenty of action, and writing that conjures startling, unique images. Despite its female protagonist, this one will appeal as much to boys as girls. Hand it to the teens who read Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone (FSG, 2007) or fans of Octavia Butler.
Okorafor has written for young adults, but this is her first adult novel.
OKORAFOR, Nnedi. Who Fears Death. 386p. DAW. 2010. Tr $24.95. ISBN 978-0-7564-0617-2. LC number unavailable.
Adult/High School–Onyesonwu is shunned because she is Ewu, the mixed-blood daughter of rape. In post-apocalyptic Africa, the Nuru are trying to exterminate the Okeke people. Impregnating their women is one strategy. Onyesonwu and her mother travel through the desert until she is old enough to attend school, then settle in the village of Jwahir. By the time she is 11, it is obvious that Onyesonwu has special abilities, and the villagers fear her. Once she passes the initiation rite, which involves experiencing a violent death, she studies with the sorcerer Aro, who helps to refine her abilities to shapeshift, travel between spiritual and earthly realms, heal the wounded, and even bring the dead back to life. In her late teens, Onyesonwu becomes convinced that she must travel west, where genocide is rampant, to help the one who is prophesied to rewrite history. Her three best friends and her soulmate, Mwita, accompany her on the harrowing journey, which culminates in a showdown with a powerful, evil sorcerer. Redolent with desert heat, sand, and mysterious natural phenomena, this is a world in which computer technology has been left behind, but a handheld electronic locator device keeps the travelers headed due west and nomads use everyday magic to start campfires. Genocide, child soldiers, and female genital mutilation echo today’s Africa. The main characters are all teenagers, full of rage, love, frank sexuality, strength, and determination. Who Fears Death gives fans of coming-of-age sorcerer books an opportunity to expand their horizons within the fantasy genre.–Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City