The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book is weird, messy and complicated. It's billed as a science fiction story, and it certainly is that; the titular main character, Phoenix Okore, is a genetically engineered being, after all. In this future, climate change has advanced to the point that Manhattan Island is partially under water. There's a two-mile-high tree growing out of what's left of Manhattan that was generated by an alien seed. Phoenix is essentially a superhero, a living bomb (with wings!) who can blow herself up, burn herself and everything around her to ash, and regenerate from those same ashes. She does this several times through the course of the story, and the final occasion supposedly brings about the downfall of civilization.
It should be just the kind of book I like, and I did finish it...but I just didn't warm to it. As a protagonist, Phoenix is nicely drawn, as are the supporting characters, and Nnedi Okorafor's prose style is smooth and unobtrusive. I think the basic setup is what spoils the story for me; the suspension of disbelief is stretched just a little too far to accept everything thrown at me, especially when there's another character who sounds like some kind of mystical Obi-Wan sage who can literally walk through solid matter.
Having said that, the framing story, set two hundred years later after Phoenix's apocalypse when an old storyteller in Africa discovers a cache of computers and a chip with Phoenix's story recorded as an oral history, is pretty impressive. In many ways it's the best part of the novel. The exploration of African customs and the power of myth almost carry the day, and certainly elevate the story higher than I might have rated it otherwise.
I'm glad I read it, but unfortunately, I can't mark it down as one of the best books of the year.
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