Wednesday, March 11, 2009

African Sci-Fi Novel Leaves Me Cold

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

It's 2070, and things have changed. The continents have shifted following a nuclear fallout, erasing borders between lands and worlds. Advanced technology exists alongside potent magic. In West Africa, where 14-year-old Ejii Ugabe lives with her mother, chaos reigns. The ground shakes, electricity sizzles off and on, and her land's rulers can't keep the peace. It's a tumultuous time for Earth, but Ejii knows great things are happening. And she wants to be a part of it.

Sure, Ejii's only a kid, but she possesses abilities most other 14-year-olds do not. She's a metahuman, one of a small group of people who have magical abilities. As a Shadow Speaker, she can see up to 15 miles in the dark and "day or night, the shadows were alive and drawn to her, often pressing close and trying to speak to her" (25). Her cat-like eyes proclaim her identity, earning her mixed reactions. Some respect Ejii's powers, but most cross the street to avoid her. Her own half-brother mocks her, calling her a curse from hell. Ejii wants desperately to belong, but she also wants to see how far her abilities can take her. The Red Queen, a warrior woman who rules the turbulent land, recognizes Ejii's potential and requests her presence on an important peace-keeping mission. When her mother refuses to let her go, Ejii slips away, determined to help the Red Queen on her quest.

Days behind the warrior woman, Ejii must find her way with only the help of her talking camel. In a world turned strange and dangerous, she must be very careful. The desert teems with characters - human and non - who threaten to end her journey prematurely. With the help of a new friend and the ever present shadows, Ejii will make her way to the queen. Even at her journey's end, she realizes that everything is not as it seems. Can she channel her own power to help bring peace to her land? Or will the world's great shifts leave her abandoned and alone? Can she channel the shadows or will they devour her with their power? Can she, a self-confessed freak of nature, really make a difference?

So goes The Shadow Speaker by English professor Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu. While there were definitely elements I liked about this novel - namely, its exotic locale and the idea of magic emerging in a post-apocalyptic world - I also found it to be bleak and depressing. With the exception of Ejii's loyal camel, I thought the characters came off as cold. Empathetic, but lacking any real warmth. Plotwise, The Shadow Speaker moves quickly, but comes to an anticlamatic and ambigious end. It's also liberally peppered with profanity, which I found jarring and out-of-place. Without a doubt, Okorafor-Mbachu can write, but something about this story just failed to grab or move me. If it didn't have such a strong sense of place, I probably wouldn't have finished the novel, but the Africa angle kept me interested. It just wasn't enough to save the book for me. I do think Okorafor-Mbachu's other book, Zahrah the Windseeker (which I think is a prequel, of sorts) sounds interesting, so maybe I'll give the author another shot. Just probably not anytime soon.

Grade: C

1 comment:

  1. Interesting premise, at least. I hadn't heard of this one before. Great review.

    Thanks for dropping by--and I'll totally take you up on the offer to be part of the tour!

    Email me, and I'll send you details:

    annette at annettelyon dot com

    ReplyDelete

Comments make me feel special, so go crazy! Just keep it clean and civil. Feel free to speak your mind (I always do), but be aware that I will delete any offensive comments.

P.S.: Don't panic if your comment doesn't show up right away. I have to approve each one before it posts to prevent spam. It's annoying, but it works!

Blog Widget by LinkWithin