Published: February 4th 2014 by DAW
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Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor is a fantasy novel like you’ve never read before. First, let’s set the scene. Who Fears Death takes place in a post-apocalyptic Africa where a group of people called the Nuru are in power, and have enslaved the Okeke. But the Nuru have decided that they no longer need the Okeke, and are on the verge of committing genocide. In order to oppress the Okeke, the Nuru have weaponized rape. This has led to a generation of children known as the Ewu, who are looked upon with contempt and fear by Nuru and Okeke alike. They are seen as abominations, and live on the edge of society.
This is the society where Onyesonwu is born. And she is an Ewu.
Onyesonwu struggles to fit in and to find her place in the world. In one scene early in the book, she undergoes FGM even though she doesn’t have to in order to try to fit in with her peers in the village. But no matter what happens, she’s still an outsider, because she’s Ewu. But Onyesonwu also has magic. Even though women aren’t supposed to study magic, Onyesonwu persists, and finds a man willing to teach her to use her powers and become a sorceress. She unlocks a destiny that pits her against Daib, the Nuru man who raped her mother. And Onyesonwu might be the only person capable of putting an end to the oppression of her people.
And so Onyesonwu, her boyfriend Mwita, and several of her friends from the village embark on an epic journey that will take them far from home, throw them into unspeakable danger, and turn them into legends. But Onyesonwu knows that none of it will come without a cost.
This book is dark. There is graphic violence. There is rape. There is genocide. It’s the kind of book that could very easily be triggering. And yet, at its heart it is a hero’s journey, and it is laced with hope and optimism despite the most dire of circumstances. It’s also a story of intersectionality–as an Ewu woman, Onyesonwu is as unlikely a heroine as they come, because she has to fight not just Daib, but also against entrenched gender norms, prejudice, and traditions that are designed to keep her from having agency as a person. And between that and the vivid setting, Who Fears Death feels fresh and exciting even though it follows the same general formula that you would find in most other fantasy novels.
I was blown away by this book, and recommend it without hesitation.