Akata Witch is a children’s fantasy novel set in a marvelously vivid modern Nigeria, in which a society of magical Leopard People operates out of sight of the Lamb People, which is to say, us.

Twelve-year-old Sunny is already used to living in two worlds, as she’s both Nigerian and American, and a black person who looks white due to being an albino. So when she discovers that she’s a free agent Leopard Person – born with magical powers, but without magical parents – it’s all part of her cultural between-ness. Both that and her albinism turn out to be key to her powers: Leopard People who are physically disabled or non-neurotypical are often extra-powerful, with magical abilities which relate to, but do not erase, their disabilities. (This trope is hugely controversial, so I’ll just say that I thought it was sensitively handled. Your mileage may vary.)

Sunny is initiated into the world of the Leopard People, learning to summon her spirit face and make an invisibility spell from a sheep’s head (she does this quite openly in her kitchen, and feeds the leftovers to her family as soup), and rewarded for knowledge gained by showers of magical coins and friendly magical insect companions. The story ambles along episodically, as Sunny learns the ways of the Leopard People, makes friends, and tries to balance her new magical life with the need to stay in school and not let her family find out. One of my favorite parts of the book is the excerpts from a magical how-to book Sunny reads, written by a snarky, superior Leopard Person who looks down from a considerable height upon both Lamb People and free agents.

At a somewhat late point, she is told that she and her buddies need to stop a serial child-killer; they don’t do much about it until they are abruptly told that the time is right, and then they hastily confront him in a battle which, while dramatic, was too rushed to feel truly climactic. I could have done without that whole storyline. I was much more interested in seeing Sunny poke around her strange new world, being traumatized by witnessing bizarre Leopard People duels and conscientiously praising her pet magic wasp’s artistic creations lest it get so disappointed in her as to commit melodramatic suicide before her eyes, as magical wasps are apparently wont to do.

I also would have liked to have seen more attention paid to Sunny’s family. I couldn’t tell from her narrative whether the level of corporal punishment tipped over into abuse or not, but the situation with her father seemed so bad, emotionally if nothing else, that I wanted it to be dealt with more than it ever was. That and the serial killer stoyline were tonally different from the magical dangers in the rest of the story in a way that never quite meshed.

This is the third book I’ve read by Okorafor. It has many of the same virtues of The Shadow Speaker (my favorite so far) and Zahrah the Windseeker: a playful sense of humor, a fantastic sense of place, and a packed-to-the-brim sense of invention. It also shares the flaw of a rushed and poorly set up climax. Her worlds and their funny, clever details are fantastic; her prose and plotting don’t reach the same heights. (I read a little bit of her adult novel Who Fears Death, before setting it aside for a time when I’m more steeled for depressing content, and the prose in that much more was much more impressive.) Akata Witch is fun but the worldbuilding, while charming, didn’t feel as deep as it did in her more profoundly transformed settings.

Akata Witch
rachelmanija: (Princess Bride: Let me sum up)
( May. 12th, 2012 08:26 pm)
I am often underwhelmed by things fandom goes berserk over, but that was very, very enjoyable.

I expected to love Black Widow. Especially since several people, including my father, emailed me specifically to say, "Go see The Avengers. You'll love Black Widow." But I had not expected to love the Hulk, whom I had previously found quite boring. (In comics. I haven't seen any of the Hulk movies.)

Also, and this is largely due to his camaraderie with Black Widow, but I thought Hawkeye was the hottest of the men in the movie. I do love a man with a long-range weapon.

Feel free to put spoilers in comments.

PS. Regarding previews, Brave looks surprisingly good. Tim Burton is finally releasing Frankenweenie! And Sasha Baron Cohen continues to be anti-funny.

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