Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

I finished Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor about a month ago. I was stunned. It’s taken me about a month to sift through my feelings and impressions.

Nnedi has graciously agreed to answer some questions about the book, and I’ll post those here when they come. Here’s my review.

One of the interesting routes that fantasy can travel is to comment on an important issue in the real world. I respect escapism, but find that my literary side appreciates an author who takes the time and the responsibility to use the literature of the fantastic to raise awareness. Who Fears Death is that kind of book.

The book begins with death. We progress to rape, genocide, and female genitalia mutilation. The countries in this book mirror countries in our world, and the same problems exist in regard to racism, violence, sexism, and intercultural relations. This book looks African politics and genocide squarely in the eye and says important, significant things.

It is not an easy or a comfortable book to read. It is an important book to read. I am no where nearly as fluent in these cultural issues as I suspect the author is after writing this book, or growing up in dual cultures, but I have had the privilege of teaching. And these are among the stories I have heard in student papers.

I have heard about Both Olieny’s life as a refuge taking care of his family as the wars in Central Africa moved him from camp to camp. A woman from Sierra Leone writes of rape and seeing a baby cut from a living woman. Students strike out to sea from Somalia in a boat with no idea what will happen next. A man smuggles himself out of Eritrea in a trunk to avoid the death sentence that is the army. A Rwandan woman, half Tutsi, half Hutu, leaves the country, because there is no longer a place for her, and loses half her family in the process.

We haven’t got a clue. We hear about it, but we haven’t got a clue.

Who Fears Death takes readers to these places. By reading about Onyesonwu and Mwita, by seeing their journey, and by understanding the implications of their very existence for the people of both the Okeke and Nuwu tribes, Okorafor slams the reader up against uncomfortable issues. Onyesonwu speaks about the complacency of the tribes as long as the war doesn’t reach their towns. She condemns the justification of violence as laid out in the religious Great Book. As a person on the edges, an Ewu, a half-breed, she is both marginalized and capable of seeing from the margins.

Who Fears Death goes beyond shock and horror to make you see what the nightly news has watered down to a factoid. You can’t see Onyesonwu’s conception by rape in this book and detach, like when you hear about Darfur from by Brian Williams.

It is only such a person looking in that is brave enough to make the changes that are needed in the conflicts between these tribes. We think we know what the ending of the book will be, as Onyesonwu’s fate is revealed to us early, but her end is as unpredictable as the changes she makes in each town she visits, each life she touches.

Don’t miss this book. It’s an important book, regardless of how you classify the genre. You need to journey with Onyesonwu and be awakened, like her friends, by her journey.

I always look forward to more books from Okorafor. Now I’m holding my breath to see what she gives us next.


Fur-Face: When Roald Dahl Meets the Ebook

Flash back to the beginning of June. June 1st was Hulk Hercules‘ book day. It was also the book day of fellow author Jon Gibbs Fur-Face.

Jon is a writer’s writer. He runs a very interesting blog about writing, and works hard to help other writers find critique groups at Find a Writing Group. He’s an active member of writing groups and organizations, and writes the occasional column over at Apex. I’ve linked to Jon several times.

It seemed logical for me to revise Fur-Face for a couple of reasons: we had the same book day, Jon is also writing middle grade, and I admire Jon as a writer.

Just in case your interested, you can purchase Fur-Face at Amazon.

So, Fur-Face. Man, I wish I could write like a Brit! It’s not fair! I have half the genes, and I’ve read enough classic literature to choke a horse. However, because I want to choke horses in my idioms, I guess I’m American.

Fur-Face has the feel of British children’s literature. And your kid is going to like it. If’s a fine book to share with your child as the first ebook story you read together. The only way I could imagine the experience being more fun is if there were illustrations of cats in sunglasses.

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A College of Magics

Caroline Stevermer wrote A College of Magics in 1994, so I’m a little behind the curve on reading it. My only defense is that in 1994, I started working on my doctorate in Second Language Writing, so I missed a chunk of material coming out from then until around 2001. I enjoyed Stevermer and Wrede’s Enchanted Chocolate Pot books immensely.

However, I’ll confess that I was reluctant to read College because of the inevitable marketing tack toward Harry Potter comparisons. It wasn’t that the Potter books were the best in the cosmos. It was that unlike the people who search for similar books, the marketing ploy convinced me I would be reading another variation on a theme.

I know Caroline is a gifted writer, and I should have trusted my instincts, but I’ll admit to be doing duped by corporate public America trying to make a buck. Damn them. As I’ve gotten to know Caroline better, however, I thought I should read more widely in her works. I’m glad I did.

Don’t let anyone compare A College of Magics to the previously mentioned magical school series. Both stories take place, to some extent, in a boarding school. There is magic in both stories, and that’s it. No more similarities.

What you will find is the story of Faris, a young woman that YA-reading girls aren’t encountering as much in the current universe of Bella. Faris is a heroine that I’d like my (imaginary) daughter to appreciate.

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Red Hood’s Revenge

It’s no secret that I’ve sung Jim C. Hines’ praises before on this site. Last year when we were lucky enough to have Jim as our author GOH at Icon, I went so far in a book group discussion to call Jim’s Goblin series an every man novel. No, I’m not going to ‘splain that (unless there’s popular demand), but it’s true. Believe the English professor, okay?

Jim took a great risk as a writer. He changed brands. About the time I learned of Jim’s existence (Fantasy Matters, 2007), Jim was done with the goblin phase of his life, and was moving into his princess series.

I’ll admit, the first book of the princess series did not excite me. It was okay, and it was limited by being a first book, which meant a great deal of time was spent in establishing the characters and the situation, and the plot seemed a bit secondary.

By the time I read the provocative reinterpretation of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid, the very grim Mermaid’s Madness, Jim had a solid grasp on where this series was going. Unlike Ariel and Flounder, Jim’s version echoes the grim undertones of Anderson. Well done. Golfer’s clap, Mr. Hines.

So, are you wondering what I thought about Red Hood’s Revenge? Wonder no longer. I’m going to post some of Jim’s answers to a few questions I had about the book next entry, but I wanted to write a review of the latest book in the princess series.

I might disagree with the critiques who think Red Hood’s Revenge is the best of the series. For sheer mood and similarity to the tone of the original, I would probably give that honor to Mermaid’s Madness.

BUT technically, Red Hood’s Revenge stretches the author, and it is arguably Jim’s best crafted book in the series so far.

Here’s a little cut to save your friend’s pages. The short version in case you’re working on a schedule: Read the book, especially if you like faerie tale and myth-based fantasy.

The longer version?

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