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The world has been transformed by magic, science, and war. In a future Niger, West Africa, storms and camels speak with human voices, teenagers type and listen to music on their e-legbas, and some children are born with the ability to fly, call rain, or listen to shadows.

Ejii is a teenage shadow speaker. Her father once ruled her village according to harsh traditions, but he was executed by a woman called Jaa, whose rule is more egalitarian and modern, but who is equally ruthless. Jaa wears a translucent burka and wields an otherworldly living sword; when she speaks, sometimes red flowers fall from the sky. When Jaa hears that the people of another world are planning to invade, she asks Ejii to come with her on her mission to stop them. Ejii's mother forbids it, but after consulting the shadows, Ejii takes off after her anyway, across a magical, dangerous landscape.

The worldbuilding in this is absolutely fantastic. The blend of magic, technology, and magical realism is utterly convincing and really fun to read. Unlike the last 20 or so futuristic YA novels I've read lately, people have cultures and religions and tribes, they speak different languages, the ecology is weird but believable, towns have economies, and the whole world feels real enough to touch.

The first two-thirds of the novel, which sets up the story and then follows Ejii's quest across the desert, is simply plotted but made fresh and new by the strength of the world. The final third has some good moments but is a bit of a mess in plot terms, with too much chaotic action and several crucial moments falling flat. In particular, Ejii's resurrection should have been much more of a moment than it was - she died and was reborn! That probably needed an entire chapter to itself to work. Also, the climactic battle was kind of a mess. I liked Ejii transforming Jaa's sword into a plant, but I didn't quite buy that the combination of that and a giant brawl would actually bring about a peace treaty..

The prose is plain, occasionally poetic but also occasionally clunky, and the characterization is solid. But one of the main reasons I like sf and fantasy is for the chance to explore new worlds, and this is a great new world. Despite my caveats, I liked it a lot, and I would recommend it. It's more obviously flawed than Zahrah the Windseeker, to which it's loosely related, but its strengths are much stronger and it's overall a better book.

I also love the cover. Nnedi Okorafor's books all seem to have great covers.

The Shadow Speaker
vass: A sepia-toned line-drawing of a man in naval uniform dancing a hornpipe, his crotch prominent (Default)

From: [personal profile] vass


I liked it a lot, but the fat fail near the end threw me right out of it.

From: [identity profile] tool-of-satan.livejournal.com


Your reaction is pretty similar to mine. The details of the world are great (with the exception of the explanation of the historicak background, which I thought was weak but easy ignorable). The characters are interesting. The end didn't really work for me. Not only did it not seem to really follow from the preceding action, as you note, but it seemed kind of anticlimactic. The details have faded a lot with time, but my recollection is that it was a fairly temporary sort of treaty with everyone sort of reserving the right to re-think things later. Which is realistic, no doubt about it, so I have no argument with it on those grounds, but it didn't feel right for this book.

Regardless, I enjoyed it, and I am glad you did as well. I would read her next book except that I understand it is much, much darker.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


Yes, it's a three-year peace treaty. I think my biggest issue, like you say, was a sense of anti-climax. The story felt much more about Ejii growing into her powers and coming to terms with her feelings about her family and Jaa than about multi-dimensional politics.

That being said, the strengths were SO strong. (I never care about the explanations for why everything ended up mutated and magical. They are uniformly unconvincing because it is always unconvincing to have a real-life cause for "everything is mutated and magical." My feeling is that the less said about the cause, the better.)

I will read Who Fears Death and report. Um, eventually. It sounds dauntingly dark. Akata Witch, however, is another YA and is rapidly zooming up my to-read stack.

From: [identity profile] tool-of-satan.livejournal.com


Yes, it's a three-year peace treaty. I think my biggest issue, like you say, was a sense of anti-climax. The story felt much more about Ejii growing into her powers and coming to terms with her feelings about her family and Jaa than about multi-dimensional politics.

Exactly. I wanted Ejii to do something with her powers to resolve the situation.

That being said, the strengths were SO strong. (I never care about the explanations for why everything ended up mutated and magical. They are uniformly unconvincing because it is always unconvincing to have a real-life cause for "everything is mutated and magical." My feeling is that the less said about the cause, the better.)

Oh, definitely. I was referring to the nuclear war thing that preceded that, actually. But it wasn't terribly relevant to anything.

I will read Who Fears Death and report. Um, eventually. It sounds dauntingly dark. Akata Witch, however, is another YA and is rapidly zooming up my to-read stack.

Oh, I forgot she wrote another YA. I hear Who Fears Death features a great deal of rape. For sound historical reasons, to be sure, and no doubt less than that Friesner you reviewed a while back, but I am not particularly eager to dive into it.

From: [identity profile] phoenixreads.livejournal.com


There's only one rape in Who Fears Death; I actually *didn't* find it as dark as I was led to believe. The world the characters live in is dark, but the text itself is not, if that makes any sense? I actually agreed totally with Farah Mendlesohn's review at Strange Horizons -- which unfortunately is spoiler-filled -- in believing that though rape and genocide begin the action of the book, they get pushed to the side in the narrative itself in favor of a fairly typical coming-of-age story. Granted, not typical at all in that both the protagonist AND the band of friends are girls. . . but the serious issues that people always mention when talking about Who Fears Death (rape, genocide, female genital mutilation) ended up feeling a bit sidelined.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


Ha! That actually makes it sound more appealing to me. ;)
.

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