Jacqie's Reviews > Who Fears Death

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
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's review
Jul 11, 2012

really liked it

I wavered between four and five stars for this book. The author does a great job of painting a rich, interesting world, and I really liked her main character. Onyesonwu knows herself. She's passionate, short-tempered, impatient, resilient. She sometimes made choices I didn't agree with (circumcision) but the author made me understand why she made those choices. The post-apocalyptic beginnings of her world are never really fully explained, except that everyone believes in a "Great Book" that seemed to be vaguely Koran-ish. But probably most people living in a post-apocalyptic world wouldn't have time to learn history, or care much, as long as they were getting enough to eat. There's sorcery and juju in the book. The author doesn't worry much about laying out a detailed magic system. Onyesonwu's teacher isn't in fact a very good teacher, as far as I can tell, but again- there's a lack of standardization and systematization that's the luxury of a peaceful nation.

The book felt mythic, fairy tale- like. I liked the feel of it and enjoyed the surreal experiences that the main characters had with magic.

Looking back at the book, I see some missed opportunities and failed possible pay-offs, which is why the book is rated a 4. For example, Onyesonwu is scratched twice by cactus thorns as she tries to find a teacher for herself. I was expecting those scratches to have consequences later, as they were so carefully marked out, but nothing happened. Usually with this kind of folktale language, that kind of lead-in has a payoff.

The quest part of the book seemed rather directionless for people who were planning on overthrowing a jingoistic messiah. There never seemed to be a plan to take on Daib, and at the end it turned out that they didn't even want to kill him because they "weren't that kind of people". I'm always lost when heroes refuse to kill thoroughly evil people because all killing is wrong- I just don't get it, it must be a moral failing on my part. What were they going to do with Daib- use harsh language? He was definitely planning on killing Onyesonwu, which was the whole reason they went after him in the first place.

The first ending of the book was well done, although tragic. I'm not sure there needed to be an epilogue to soften (and possibly cheapen) the ending. I think choosing one ending or the other would have been more effective than the "have your cake and eat it too" ending chosen. But maybe that's just me.

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed the journey that this book took me on, and would read other books by this author. The unique, strong voice of the protagonist, vivid world, and sense that I was reading folklore are the reasons I'd recommend the book.
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