WHO FEARS DEATH by Nnedi Okorafor [Book 33 of 2010]

Wow, I haven’t filed a report on a sci-fi/fantasy novel in a while now, and what a wonderful way to come back to the genre. This week I’m talking about the much ballyhooed African sci-fi/fantasy novel, WHO FEARS DEATH by Nnedi Okorafor.

Why I Decided To Read It: About three weeks before my own novel released, the internet seemed to explode with the WHO FEARS DEATH meme. I had to stop reading several reviews after the first paragraph, b/c people were so rapturous about this novel and being a nerd to my very core I’m deathly afraid of spoilers. So I downloaded it from Audible.com, quick like a bunny … but didn’t get around to reading it until like four months later.

What It’s About: A young sorceress (and product of a rape) named Onyesonwu sets out to stop the genocide of her mother’s people.

What Makes It Different: Wait, a novel set in Africa in which the main character is both a woman and powerful? What!

What I Loved: Guys. I’ve been trying to figure out why I loved this novel so much, and one word keeps on popping up: hero. This book has a hero — I mean a real hero. I mean a “move over Clint Eastwood” em-effin HERO. Onyesonwu is fierce and intelligent. Never backs down. I could go on and on, but you know, spoilers. Anyway, this novel has replaced THE MAGICIANS as my favorite book of the year. Yes, it’s that good. When it was done, I just shook my head and said, “You wrote that, Ms. Okorafor. You WROTE that.”

What I Didn’t Like: The novel starts with a flash forward to a future event, then jumps back in time to the beginning-beginning. The story is strong enough that Okorafor could have led with the beginning-beginning and still kept her audience rapt.

Writing Lessons Learned:

Epic Love: The story between Onyesonwu and her love interest is huge and wildly complicated. Their issues are cultural, hierarchal, and extremely personal. I can’t remember the last time I read a love story, in which both the man and the woman were so thoroughly fleshed out.

Specific Fights: In connecting to the above point. Every time Onyesonwu and her love interest got into a fight. I would think, “Yes, of course these two people would get into this specific fight.” It reminded me that the best arguments come from character as opposed to vice versa. Basically your characters should get in an argument because of who they are, not just because you want them to get in an argument to move the plot ahead.

Not The Same Ole Story: So we all love a good quest story ala Lord of the Rings, The Legend of Queen Arthur, or Harry Potter. But when’s the last time you saw a great quest story set outside of a Eurocentric country — with a female lead? Okorafor takes a quest story, sets it in Africa and makes it her own. How many wonderful stories would we get if more writers did this as opposed to believing that certain ethnicities owned certain stories?

Who Should Read This? Afrrican-American Women, People Who Love Sci-fi/Fantasy, Former Peace Corp Volunteers, King Arthur Fans, Jill Moyer, Amy Robinson, Tamara Larsen, Sebrina S, Amy Brown, and Haj C from Home of the Urban Chameleon.

This Just In! WHO FEARS DEATH has been optioned for a film by the same producer behind PUMZI, the Kenyan sci-fi short I was so obsessed with earlier this year. Oh happy day!!! (On a sidenote, tho: man, am I jealous of whatever screenwriter they tap to write this script. Soooo up my alley.)

Click on the book cover to buy it at Amazon!