Goodreads | IndieBound | Barnes & Noble
YA, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, 320 pages, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
- Series: companion novel to The Shadow Speaker
- Pub date: September 26th 2005 (new edition 2008)
- Disclosure: Received a final copy as a birthday present from my parents. Awww, shucks.
In the northern Ooni Kingdom, fear of the unknown runs deep, and children born dada are rumored to have special powers.
Full disclosure: Nnedi Okorafor is one of my favorite science fiction authors of all time. So you may forgive me if this review is a little biased. But truly, even if I hadn't already been in love with Okorafor's work, this book would have been just as much of a delight, and I can't recommend it more highly for those new to Okorafor.
The novel's charm resides, as usual for Okorafor, in its plucky heroine: young, vain, clever, anxious, and ultimately courageous Zahrah. Middle grade and YA novels are particularly susceptible to "issue" characters--characters that preach morality tales instead of telling real, meaty stories--and Zahrah is the perfect example of the character I'd like to see instead: imperfect, afraid, and lovable anyway. Zahrah's friendship with Dari, which becomes the catalyst for the entire plot, is also sweet and true-to-life. It's the kind of almost-romance that makes this reviewer's cold heart melt around the edges.
The world of Ooni, which I had already gotten to know in The Shadow Speaker, is just as offbeat and lovely, from the village marketplace to the Forbidden Greeny Jungle. Okorafor weaves quirky and believable lore for her characters to explore, from terrifying jungle creatures to a tribe of sentient gorillas to a giant fortune-telling frog. It has the best anything-could-happen feeling of good fairy tales, while the African mythology it draws on gives it an unfamiliar and heady air in a middle grade market saturated with dragons, unicorns, and other European fantasy creatures.
In the end, what makes this novel a winner is the power of its ending: the culmination of Zahrah's quest, and how she comes to terms with her new almost-grown-up self. It's rare to see an author who has the courage to make her female characters both vain and smart, both silly and strong; flawed and powerful and beautiful. I hate to make any book all about messages, but this is the kind of book girls everywhere should read: one that tells them they can become their very best selves.
...and the Short:
A charming and ultimately powerful tale of self-discovery and friendship; the perfect introduction to Okorafor's body of work.
The Final Word: Loved it!