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She Would Be King

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  5,355 ratings  ·  885 reviews
A novel of exhilarating range, magical realism, and history—a dazzling retelling of Liberia’s formation.

Wayétu Moore’s powerful debut novel, She Would Be King, reimagines the dramatic story of Liberia’s early years through three unforgettable characters who share an uncommon bond. Gbessa, exiled from the West African village of Lai, is starved, bitten by a viper, and left
Hardcover, 312 pages
Published September 11th 2018 by Graywolf Press
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Terena Bell This is not YA, but I would say high school or above. IMO, any group mature enough to read SCARLET LETTER, THE CRUCIBLE, or a similar classic would be…moreThis is not YA, but I would say high school or above. IMO, any group mature enough to read SCARLET LETTER, THE CRUCIBLE, or a similar classic would be fine.(less)

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Average rating 4.02  · 
Rating details
 ·  5,355 ratings  ·  885 reviews

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Sarah Jessica Parker
This beautiful novel dazzles and makes you want to lock yourself away and only read. Ms. Moore illuminates what it means to be of and from places that are both faraway and inescapably familiar. She took me away from the chaos of our world and it was hard to leave her's. A Book Club Central pick! ...more
Imagine Homegoing ON CRACK!

I am not sure why there isn't a bigger hype surrounding Wayetu Moore's debut novel She Would Be King because it is absolutely enthralling. While I don't like comparing books, for some reason this book reminded me of how I felt reading Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. I felt a pounding in my chest and fluttering in my stomach as I asked myself while reading this book- "what magic is this book?!" . I was reminded of how I felt when I was younger and I opened a book I know
Dec 02, 2018 rated it it was ok
"Norman took off his shoes and placed his feet in the water, stiffening from its rigidity."

If this sentence appeals to you - grammatically and atmospherically - then you may enjoy this book.

"...mostly he just sat on a rock near some cultivated land farthest from the cluster of houses on three rows of hills, watching and writing ardently, as two or three sailors looked askance."

If you find this tolerable - structurally and descriptively - then you may enjoy this book.

"When the morning meals were
Apr 02, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars // I loved it! It was so much better than I expected! She Would Be King is nothing short of thrilling, empowering, and magical! I usually don't vibe with historical fiction, and try to stay clear of slave narratives as best as I can (because they are so damn triggering), but somehow Wayétu Moore's tone and intent behind this story just struck a chord with me. I flew through the book, couldn't put it down, and rooted for our main characters. It was such a fun experience overall! It remi ...more

This a tough review to write because my feelings on this book are so mixed. On one hand I learned a terrific amount about the foundation story of Liberia. A story that has been rarely explored in fiction. I thought it was interesting that a recent NYT article aligned

Moore’s potential legacy to that of the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whose novels about Nigeria reignited popular interest in the country’s stories. “She is cracking that space in America for Liberian writers”

Nov 18, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018-read, usa, liberia
When a beautiful special edition of Moore's debut was delivered to me as part of Powell's Indiespensable collection, I was stoked: Finally a novel about the foundation of Liberia, a fascinating country I had learnt about when I was part of an (American) Model UN team representing Liberia at National Model United Nations. And Moore does talk about the complicated history of this state, envisioned as a "free colony" at the African coast, a place were free slaves could settle. The three protagonist ...more
Jan 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If the spirits lifted me from my body tonight and this was the last book I ever read I would dance with laughter and joy. I will never forget this feeling because it is so incredibly rare. I remember the wonder when I finished the last page of the first Octavia Butler book I ever read and it felt a lot like this. I haven't read a book of this magnitude in the last two years and that is not a bit of an exaggeration. I don't want to try to translate what is in my heart and mind right now, and I wo ...more
Sep 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arc
!!! full review -

3.5 stars rounded up. I’d love to know what Liberians and Liberian-Americans think of this novel, as they would probably better understand the nuances of the story. I can confidently say I will read anything by Wayétu Moore, and that this debut is a lovely ode to the country of Liberia and Liberian womanhood, through Gbessa’s complex characterization.
Nov 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Magical realism meets Marvel action movie to create a mythic fable of nationhood.

Wayétu Moore’s debut, She Would Be King, infuses the historical founding of Liberia with tales of spirits, wanderers and strange happenings. In true superhero style, each of the key figures has a tragic backstory, and the first half of She Would Be King relates their origin stories in turn. Mothers are central to Moore, so the three tales all begin with a mother and an auspicious birth. Each of the three infants gr
Suzanne Hard
Mar 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic read (although with a daughter in the Peace Corps in Liberia, I was especially interested). Hard to believe this is a first novel. Great story that ties together history of the slave trade in Africa, the Caribbean, and the US, along with the founding of Liberia. Loved the three main characters, with their action hero like attributes.
Jul 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
The colonial history of Liberia is fascinating, and this book brings it to life with a story and characters that are every bit as absorbing. For me, the first half of the book was superb - Gbessa's, June Dey's, and Norman Aragon's worlds were so rich and detailed, I felt like I was there. The supernatural was so naturally woven into their lives, I couldn't really think of it as magic - it was just an organic extension of themselves. The second half wasn't quite as good for me, even though the pl ...more
Aug 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Wow. Just, wow. What a powerful and magical read. A retelling of the creation of Liberia featuring 3 heartbreaking and mystical characters; Gbessa who has the gift (or curse) of immortality, June Dey who has super strength and is bulletproof (similar to Luke Cage, but during slavery. Plus, I will NEVER stop feeling all of the things when consuming media about bullet proof black men), and Norman who, like his mother, has the ability to become invisible. Meanwhile, we're following the narrator who ...more
I feel so bad for not liking this book. It has so many positive reviews and I just could not get into it at all. It was more of a 2.5 star read than 3 😕
May 12, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-lit, read-2021
I finished this book a couple of days ago, but have been a little reluctant to review it, partly because I don't want to influence the forthcoming discussion in the 21st Century Literature group, and partly because although it has admirable qualities, I didn't like it that much. This was largely because its magic realism overshadows its historical content to the extent that any sense of Liberia's real history is almost lost, and that history would have been more interesting to me than more tall ...more
Aug 23, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: black-authors
She Would Be King has a deeply mystical quality, punctuated by visceral episodes of brutality as it weaves a tale of oppression, magic, and freedom that spans an ocean. Part history, part magical realism, this book brings together an African witch cast out by her village, an American slave born in unusual circumstances, and a bi-racial Jamaican with a white rapist for a father, all with unusual abilities. The narrative tackles difficult subjects head on and has several beautifully written sectio ...more
Jan 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Now this is storytelling! Moore utilises a fascinating literary arsenal: magical realism, African mythology and folklore, historical research and slavery revenge fantasies and unleashes them to full effect. Think Homegoing meets Pachinko with strong Black Panther overtones. Damn this was good! I hope it does for Liberian fiction what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s work has done for Nigerian fiction.
Nov 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I am changed. I am a different woman. I forgot myself. And I am sorry.

23 November 2020
Maybe one day I'll be able to read this book without a flood of anger, joy, pain, compassion and laughter filling my soul. But I doubt it.
2 November 2019
One of my best this year!
My soul desperately needs a sequel.
K.J. Charles
An extraordinary alt-history of the founding of Liberia, bringing together an outcast village girl accused of witchcraft, a US slave and son of a ghost, and a mixed-race Jamaican Maroon, all with superpowers. It's many things--folktale, African X-Men, historical fantasy, vengeance dream. Mostly, it's about hope for life and freedom and the way that hope is stifled by colonialism/slavery and racism and cruelty. (And even with the fantasy woven by the story, it's hard to forget Liberia's actual su ...more
Lekeisha The Booknerd
Sep 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
I have no doubts that She Would Be King will be loved by many. And, on that note, if you are a fan of Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing - or any literary masterpiece of the like - then this book should be on your TBR.

Liberia's history told in magical locution. It doesn't get any better than that. I loved Gbessa's voice and strength, as well as June Day's. My only problem was the way the story ended. Not that it was bad, but it seemed to abruptly stop. Or maybe that's me being greedy. Still, this book is ma
Katie Long
Dec 02, 2018 rated it liked it
Sigh. I really thought I would love this one. There are some brilliant elements and the story is a fascinating one, however it just never quite comes together convincingly. The pacing is very strange as well. At times, it feels so rushed that the characters aren’t developed and at others, it feels weighted and plodding. 2.5 rounded up.
Violent, fantastical, thrilling. These were words running through my head as I read this historical novel. Which also has some strong magic realism aspects to it, with the wind as a narrator, a young, former slave impervious to injury, a young biracial man who can disappear at will, and a young woman, Gbessa, seen as a witch by her people, but who believes herself unable to die.
Wayétu Moore follows each of the characters separately, before bringing them together in Africa, near the site of the n
Nov 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Beautifully written blend of West African and Western story telling in this novel of Liberia’s founding. Definitely an author to keep an eye on.
Jerrie (redwritinghood)
I found the story very uneven and some characters added solely for interest and not for the story. The first part was stronger with some good character-development, but the second part failed to use those characters to their potential. While centered around an interesting part of history, the book overall was bland. 2.5⭐️
Stacey A.  Prose and Palate
Sep 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018-reads
No words. Incredible. Review to come.
Janelle Janson
Review to come
Apr 05, 2019 rated it liked it
I really wanted to love this, but it ended up being a bit "meh" for me.

The structure of the book is ostensibly three parts, each part a different character who eventually finds themselves in Liberia. We have Gbessa, a Vai woman declared cursed because of the circumstances of her birth. Then there's Norman Aragon, who is the son of a woman who's a slave in Jamaica and a white British "scientist" who is "studying" the Maroon colonies of Jamaica. And lastly, there's June Dey, borne of a ghost on a
Megan C.
Nov 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: best-of-2018
Absolutely loved this book - check out my IG account @whatmeganreads for my full review. I think this would make an AMAZING book club book - there is so much to discuss and I think you'll be surprised at how much you have learned by the end. ...more
Oct 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Incredible. Beautifully written, compelling and magical tale.
Linda Robinson
Oct 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Compelling storytelling with such power, the scenes leap off the page into your senses. More later when I start breathing normally again...

Analyzing data from the space exploration vehicles we've been lucky to have working in the cosmos, scientists find new planets. Exomoons. Reading this debut novel is like finding a new big thing in the universe. I've never liked the phrase "magical realism" - I think everything's magic and the characters we are fortunate to share time with - Gbessa, June Dey,
Feb 06, 2021 rated it really liked it
4/5 stars

This was an unforgettable read and unlike anything that I've read before. In 2021, I've made it my goal to read more diversely, especially in the authors that I choose to read from. This book retells the history of the formation of Liberia (a subject in which I was completely ignorant to before reading this), with a fair dose of magical realism, captivating characters and beautiful writing. The multigenerational nature of this book as well as the powerful prose meant that the yearning f
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21st Century Lite...: She Would Be King, Entire Book 23 38 Jun 27, 2021 12:25PM  
21st Century Lite...: She Would Be King, Links and General Discussion 8 24 May 17, 2021 02:53PM  
Read Women: She Would Be King, by Wayétu Moore 10 51 Feb 21, 2020 12:33AM  

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Wayétu Moore is the founder of One Moore Book and is a graduate of Howard University, Columbia University, and the University of Southern California. She teaches at the City University of New York’s John Jay College and lives in Brooklyn.

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