Nnedi Okorafor's novel Who Fears Death is almost impossible to categorize. On the one hand, it could easily fall under the genre of speculative fiction, but it also contains elements from a variety of other genres: fantasy, science fiction, alternative history, post-apocalyptic dystopia... It is realistic, but also contains magical and supernatural elements. The characters are all young people on the verge of adulthood, which would also imply that the novel is for young readers, but there is so much violence and sex in the novel that it's probably not for a very young audience...
The novel is set in Africa, some time in the future. Computers and modern technology have been replaced by a simpler way of life in the desert, but conflicts and wars between tribes are part of everyday life. In particular, the Nuru people are trying to exterminate the Okeke. An Okeke woman is raped by a Nuru man and gives birth to a baby girl whom she names Onyesonwu, meaning "Who Fears Death". Onyesonwu is Ewu, a child of mixed race who is rejected by both tribes. However, she grows up with magical powers - the ability to change shape, bring dead things back to life and travel across great distances with speed, among other skills. Onyesonwu and a group of others are forced to leave their home village on a quest to find her biological father and ultimately discover the meaning behind her strange name.
One thing is for sure: Who Fears Death is totally unlike any novel I have ever read before. But is it a good novel? I'm not sure. I enjoyed reading it, although sometimes it felt like there was a bit too much packed into the pages. There's a typical sorcerer-apprentice relationship and a group of friends with magical powers on an adventure full of dangers - like in a fantasy story. There are computers and digital maps - like in science fiction. There are shape-shifters and magicians, flying monsters and supernatural healing powers... And alongside all this magic and fantasy are other big themes: genocide between tribes, violence and rape, power struggles arising from racial prejudice, the inequality of men and women. It feels like Okorafor has tried to squeeze in way too many themes in her novel.
Nnedi Okorafor: Who Fears Death. Daw Books. 2010. 386 pages.
Wikipedia: Nnedi Okorafor
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