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Who Fears Death (Who Fears Death #1)

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  7,091 Ratings  ·  1,211 Reviews
International award-winning Nnedi Okorafor enters the world of magical realist literature with a powerful story of genocide in the far future and the woman who reshapes her world.

In a post-apocalyptic Africa, the world has changed in many ways, yet in one region genocide between tribes still bloodies the land. A woman who has survived the annihilation of her village and a
ebook, 432 pages
Published June 7th 2011 by Daw Books (first published 2010)
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Kristina Gabrys Yes. In the first section of the book, there is a rape scene and also an account of female genital mutilation. Both are significant to the plot, but I…moreYes. In the first section of the book, there is a rape scene and also an account of female genital mutilation. Both are significant to the plot, but I wish there had been some sort of warning before I read it! (less)
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Community Reviews

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Richard Derus
Nov 13, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: An award-winning literary author presents her first foray into supernatural fantasy with a novel of post- apocalyptic Africa. 

In a far future, post-nuclear-holocaust Africa, genocide plagues one region. The aggressors, the Nuru, have decided to follow the Great Book and exterminate the Okeke. But when the only surviving member of a slain Okeke village is brutally raped, she manages to escape, wandering farther into the desert. She gives birth to a baby girl
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I read my first Octavia Butler novel, Dawn, late in 2014, and late in my life! Reading it I was like oh no black women authored speculative fiction, where have you been all my life? (right there on the shelf being read by millions of folk in the know while I wasted my time, obviously) This is my favourite kind of thing to read, hands down, it hits my reading spot mmmm. This isn't a book of sublimely polished prose where the writer has clearly agonised over every adverb, but the ease and directne ...more
I've kept an eye on Nnedi Okorafor's career for a while now. Her books always intrigued me-I have a hard time resisting anything post-apocalyptic,* and hers are set in Africa, a great antidote to the typical lily-white American version-but the fact that they were always targeted at young adults kept me away. I like books to have some subtlety about them, paragraphs that don't have the same words in each sentence, lines of dialogue that don't end with "she said ___ly." (To be fair these are certa ...more
Aug 31, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Wealhtheow by: feminist sf fans
Onyesonwu is the outcast child of a mother who cannot speak above a whisper. Her skin and hair clearly mark her as Ewu, a child of both Nuru and Okeke, a combination despised by Nuru and Okeke alike. Her gender makes the only sorcerer in the village unwilling to teach her. And her shapeshifting and nigh-uncontrollable magic make her neighbors fear and hate her. After her father dies and her magical powers manifest themselves at his funeral, she flees into the desert to avoid mob violence and to ...more
A number of reviewers have talked about how they struggled with how dark the book was; how difficult it was to read accounts of rape and genital mutilation and racial genocide. There would, I think, be something wrong with me if I didn't find reading about that sort of thing viscerally unpleasant, but all were integral parts of the book's world building, and while they may have made reading some sections an uncomfortable experience, they didn't detract from my appreciation of the work as a whole ...more
Liz Janet
Oct 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
In a post-apocalyptic Sudan, Onyesonwu (Igbo for “who fears death”) lives, being the offspring of the rape a Nuru man imposed upon a woman of the oppressed Okeke. After she has grown, she goes on a search to destroy her father, a sorcerer, using her own magic.

I read somewhere that this book was partially inspired by Emily Wax’s 2004 Washington Post article “We Want to Make a Light Baby,” which spoke of weoponized rape the Arab military men used against Black women during the Dafur conflict. And
Viv JM
Oct 19, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In some ways, Who Fears Death is an archetypal hero(ine)'s quest tale. There's a prophecy, an apprenticeship and an arduous journey. What sets this apart is the unusual protagonist (a tall, mixed race sorceress with anger management issues) and setting (a kind of post-apocalyptic fantasy desert landscape). Although this is a fantasy novel - or maybe because it is a fantasy novel? - Okorafor manages to tackle some big themes of endemic racism and misogyny. I thought her treatment of FGM was excep ...more
I somehow missed the fact that this book was meant to be post-apocalyptic (not a spoiler - apparently everyone knew it but me) until near the end, and therefore read it as a tale set in an alternate magical Africa. It had all of the touchstones of a fantasy quest, right down to the villain's all-seeing eye, albeit in a decidedly different setting. I had to recalibrate partway through, but I was so caught up that I didn't mind.

This is an excellent story, blending quest, myth, magic, cautionary t
Nov 29, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My feelings about this book are mixed and that makes it a difficult book to review and rate. To start with, it wasn’t anything like what I expected. The book was nominated for a Nebula (one of the premiere sci-fi awards) when it was published and the blurb states that the novel takes place in a far future, post-apocalyptic Africa. Visions of something similar to M. John Harrison’s The Pastel City danced in my head when I read this. I was picturing a future wasteland of rusted cities and abandone ...more
A brutal, difficult read. So much animosity and violence against women, with a volatile and powerful main character who constantly challenges the norm and fights to protect those she cares for while enduring numerous sorcerous challenges.
Tudor Vlad
Jan 29, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
Not sure how I feel about this. The first 300 pages were amazing, but after that it completely lost me. Not that it was bad, but I just couldn't focus on what was happening, I don't know if it was the book or the fact that I wasn't feeling well because of my cold. Even so, it redressed itself in the last chapters, and I'm really happy with the ending.
This Amazon review actually sums up my feelings pretty well. 2.5 stars, rounded up for what this book attempted to do, but it doesn't deliver on its promising setup/start. It's an ambitious novel, tackling the subjects that were stewing in Okorafor's mind -- weaponised rape, genocide, racism & sexism, female genital mutilation, problematic cultures. But it's strung together into a really flimsy plot with a boringly straightforward quest structure, with exposition dumps, few surprises along t ...more
Megan Baxter
Mar 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There seems to be a small sub-genre of books that straddle the science fiction/fantasy line in a very particular way - post-apocalyptic futures with some forms of magic. Some of them explain the magic away as technology that isn't recognized as such anymore, while others genuinely have supernatural powers afoot in the world, in and amongst the wreckage of computers and other things recognizably late 20th/early 21st century.

Note: The rest of this review has been withheld due to the changes in Goo
Laurel Amberdine
(Copy of my Amazon review)

Set in an alternate/post-apocalyptic/futuristic African desert (with magic) "Who Fears Death" opens with a teenage Onyesonwu at her father's funeral. Grieving, she briefly and unintentionally starts to bring him back to life. She is a sorcerer, feared and hated because of her powers and her parentage. Her abilities, though spectacular, mostly endanger her and cause her suffering. But they also lead her on a quest to save her mother's people from impending war, slavery,
Jul 05, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really wanted to enjoy this book--but I couldn't. And perhaps that was the point. Okorafor uses the trappings of fantasy--a young sorceress, her training, a prophetic quest--to discuss dark subject matters, particularly, the matter of sub-Saharan Africa. So it's an oddly compelling mash-up of Chinua Achebe and a J.K. Rowling coming of age novel. Issues, like weaponized rape, genocide, slavery, color-caste racism, genital mutilation, and sexism exist along side casual magic (shape-shifting, tel ...more
Apr 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"To be something abnormal meant that you were to serve the normal. And if you refused, they hated you... and often the normal hated you even when you did serve them."

In Nnedi Okorafor’s post-apocalyptic Sudan, there are two predominant ethnic factions: the light-skinned Nuru and the dark-skinned Okeke. Who Fears Death takes place amid a genocide that the Nuru commit against the Okeke, a campaign that (like genocides in our own time) includes both murder and rape. The mixed-race offspring of a Nu
Sep 30, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I wanted to like this more than I did. I was quite looking forward to reading some African fantasy, especially by a female author. It's a refreshing change to the majority of vaguely medieval European male-dominated quest fantasies that are ubiquitous in the genre. I mean, I love LOTR as much as the next person, but China Miéville's comments on the inherent conservatism of much fantasy is definitely something I'd agree with. I realise that I also nearly fell into the trap that other r
Naz (Read Diverse Books)
3.5 Stars
For the full review, visit my blog: Read Diverse Books

If you’ve read countless Fantasy novels and are aching for new experiences, Who Fears Death will not disappoint on that front. It is imaginative, bold, memorable, and an essential read for anyone looking to explore Afrofuturism. However, the story’s narrative arc is not perfect and the world doesn’t always feel fully-realized. Despite its flaws, though, Okorafor’s talent and unique vision are undeniable and the world she has created
Bryan Alexander
Who Fears Death is a powerful fantasy novel, one well suited to our time's concerns.

It takes place in a future east Africa, after some unspecified disaster. The plot concerns the life of Onyesonwu, a sorceress born of rape in a race war. It's a bildungsroman as well as a tale of revenge, seen through lenses of race and gender.

The gender aspect loomed largest for me, partly because I'm reading at a point in American culture (June 2016) very concerned with sexism and gender identity. The world of
So there's this lady, and she lives in Africa where things aren't so great. In fact, one day she gets RAPED. She gets RAPED so hard that apparently enough semen pours out of her to make a hentai proud. As luck would have it, she gets a pregnant, and so our story begins.

This is the tale of Onyesonwu, a girl who's as obnoxious as she is mad. She doesn't think life is all that fair to the women in ol' Africa, and so she sets out to learn juju so that she can take revenge on her father (the guy who
Aug 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
This is the first novel I have read by Nnedi Okorafor, but it certainly won't be the last.

The first thing that struck me about it is Nnedi's really sharp and subtle communication of her characters' emotions. She doesn't shy away from showing when and how they are hurting, and how their feelings express themselves in their bodies, whether it's through a clenched feeling in the chest or a burst of overt violence.

It's important because her novel is dense with emotional violence, and without this hu
If you ever desired an african fantasy/sci-fi inspired creation myth (or in this case, more a re-creation myth), then this is it.

Who Fears Death is the story of the Okeke people and the Nuru people set in a postapocalyptic Africa. The Nurus rule the Okekes, keeps them as slaves, and is in the middle of systematically wiping them out, sustained by the belief that they are worth less than them. They are supported by The Great Book, which tells the creation of the world, how the Okekes rise out of
Arielle Walker
I don't know exactly why, but I can't get into Nnedi Okorafor's writing at all. It certainly isn't bad, by any means. There are moments of incredible beauty, a raw power to the words and the stories and characters are completely unique. I just always feel that the stories she tells are almost too big for her to control, something in the writing is fighting the confines of the pages and so the stories jump around and sense is lost - just enough to make reading a chore instead of a pleasure - or e ...more
Jul 08, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read a lot of speculative fiction, and I can say I've never read anything like this before. Well, first the obvious - this takes place in Africa, but even more the sorcery is more akin to religious/spiritual powers outside Judeo-CHristian belief systems. So that was very cool. I found the writing a bit choppy, and I was somewhat detached. I very much look forward to more from Nnedi Okorafor, she provides food for thought, that's for sure. The ending was a great twist, too.
Shannon (Giraffe Days)
Two of my favourite genres are Fantasy and Post-Apocalyptic Fiction, so when I come across a book that marries them together, I can't wait to get my hands on it. Post-Apocalyptic Fiction usually pairs up with Science Fiction, if it pairs up with anything, so aside from being relatively unusual, it's also got plenty of room for originality.

Who Fears Death is set quite far in the future, but since the people of the story are ignorant of their history it's never clear just where they are in time, r
Nov 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I put reading Who Fears Death in the same category I put visiting the Holocaust Museum or watching American History X. I’m glad I did it. I think everyone should. I never, ever want to do it again.

“Powerful” is the word I’ve continually been using to talk about this book. It hits some powerful, difficult themes. Female circumcision. Slavery. Genocide. Rape as a weapon of war above all, because the protagonist is herself a product of such an act. Using rape as a weapon in such a way is, in a sens
Pablo Rodríguez Pérez

Son unas cinco estrellas un tanto tramposas. Suelo quedarme con las cosas buenas de lo que leo y no tener en cuenta tanto las cosas que no me convencen si el resultado final me gusta. Este libro toca un montón de palos y, como me pasó con "The book of Phoenix", no todas las cosas que trata o como las trata me gustan. Pero aún así, este libro tiene tantas cosas interesantes y está tan bien escrito (repito, TAN BIEN ESCRITO) que me da igual. Sé que dejándolo reposar me va a dejar un poso aún m
Jack Lanigan
Dec 12, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition

Ooh buddy. Oh boy oh boy. Feels like a while since I had one of these, a book that I just completely unabashedly hated. Good stuff. I don't know if I want to write a little narrative or weave my thoughts into sentences so instead I'm just going to bullet point stuff and complain about it. Starting with...

The Narrator
So we've got a story about far future Africa. It stars a young girl growing up in this messed up world, deeply inspired by juju and shamanism and all that sort of thing. Ob
Jan 08, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi-fantasy, 2016
2.5 stars
This is a story of a girl Onyesonwu (translated to 'who fears death') born from violence and into the war. In post apocalyptic Sudan, the tribes are war. The reasons, the means of violence are all similar to current day atrocities that people carryout on each other; weaponized rape, female genital mutilation, genocide, slavery etc. Onyesonwu's mother is Okeke (darker skin, enslaved) while the man who raped her is Nuru (fair skin) thus making Onyesonwu an Ewu (mixed race). The mixed race
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Nnedi Okorafor is an international award-winning novelist of African-based science fiction, fantasy and magical realism for both children and adults.

Born in the United States to two Nigerian immigrant parents, Nnedi is known for weaving African culture into creative evocative settings and memorable characters. In a profile of Nnedi’s work titled, “Weapons of Mass Creation”, The New York Times cal
More about Nnedi Okorafor...

Other Books in the Series

Who Fears Death (2 books)
  • The Book of Phoenix (Who Fears Death, #0.1)

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“Flawed, imperfect creatures! That's what we both are, oga! That's what we ALL are!” 895 likes
“To be something abnormal meant that you were to serve the normal. And if you refused, they hated you... and often the normal hated you even when you did serve them.” 15 likes
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