Chris Walsh (chris_walsh) wrote,
Chris Walsh

How strong love? (Don't worry, no real-life drama to that title. This is about a book.)

Wow. I just finished, and am very impressed with, the fantasy novel Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor. I borrowed it after I'd learned that it is being adapted by HBO as a possible TV show, a fantasy set in future Africa because apocalyptic distopias can happen anywhere on Earth. (I won't say where the book takes place; I guessed wrong while reading it. If you read it, you can find out.) It's a fantasy not quite like any I've read before, as a young woman who is a shapeshifter tells us of her role in changing an entire land. And going through a lot of pain while doing so.

Who Fears Death is vivid, harrowing, often sad and angry — due to people doing some truly awful acts to others — but also often soaring with emotion and love. In simplest, mythic terms, it's a story of Hate Versus Love: how strong does Love need to be to fight Hate and what Hate causes? What can Love drive you to do? The main character, Onyesonwu, having learned the truth that she exists due to an act of violence (I'm describing this carefully, figuring people can read between the lines), is a fighter: so much of her life is a fight, to earn skills, to get respect, to master her increasingly powerful abilities. She consents to a ritual (again, vague; trust me that it's awful) she didn't have to undergo, because she feels it is the best way to help the standing of her small family in a town hostile to them. But later Onyesonwu learns she can reverse the sad effects of that ritual, and when she does, it's one of the most joyful moments in the novel.

This year, I've made a concerted effort to read more books by women. I already read a fair number of women, but I can do better. In 2016 I read 25 female-authored or -co-authored books; so far in 2017, with four months to go, I've read 22. That's included two books by Leigh Brackett, who wrote (among much else) science fiction novels and crime noir stories; I read Brackett's The Sword of Rhiannon, which felt like an Edgar Rice Burroughs Mars novel without the latent racism. Who Fears Death's Okorafor handled her book's fantasy in ways different from my experience, different than I would have thought of. The setting works, without any glaring "Wait, what about..." sorts of questions that fantasy can spawn, if the author isn't careful. As I often like in stories involving magic, there's a grounded earthiness to how magic is employed; it doesn't feel made up, even as we clearly don't see all of the rules. I am curious as to what disaster befell the world in the centuries leading up to the novel's events, but it's not glaringly missing. The novel deftly avoids overexplaining.

There. Who Fears Death. Recommended, if you feel you can handle it.
Tags: books

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