Akata Woman by Nnedi Okorafor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is the third book in the series about Sunny Nwazue, the Nigerian teenager who not only discovers the existence of magical abilities, she realizes there is an entire world of magic and juju coexisting with our own. The author calls this style "Africanfuturism"; the setting seems to be basically our world (there are several current hip-hop and pop culture references, and the book's ending references the start of Covid) overlaid with the juju elements, and Sunny as a Leopard Person can manipulate them. This book's plot follows on the heels of the last, as Udide, the Spider God, calls in Sunny's debt from a previous volume, demanding Sunny and her friends return an item stolen from her.
This book is steeped in the myths and folklore of the Igbo people of Nigeria, which is a refreshing contrast to the bland white European-style fantasies of Tolkien, Robert Jordan, and others. The book meanders a bit at the beginning, but once Sunny and her friends get properly started on their quest, they pass through a fascinating array of alternate worlds (particularly Ginen, an anti-capitalistic, anti-fossil-fuel Earth I would love to visit) and meet a dizzying series of alien spirit beings. Along the way, Sunny has a showdown with her "spirit face," Anyanwu, and by the story's end the two of them have worked out a mutual understanding. The relationship between Sunny and Anyanwu is the most interesting one of the book.
There's one thing that bugs me, and it seems to be an authorial tic. Everybody "kisses their teeth." Is this a Nigerian cultural thing I don't understand? Whatever it is, it's extremely annoying, because a) I have no idea what it even means; b) I don't know how you would do that in the first place (is it the equivalent of smacking the lips or what?); and c) its overuse in this book reminds me of the silly phrase "X snorted," which I dislike for the same reasons--i.e. in real life people don't blow their noses into open air, even to express derision. At any rate, it's used way too much here, to the point where it nearly threw me out of the story a few times.
Overall, that's a minor nitpick though. Sunny comes to a greater understanding, and acceptance of, herself and her abilities in this book, and the friendship and camaraderie between Sunny and the three other main characters--Chichi, Orlu and Sasha--is the heart of the story. I also appreciated the use of a non-European setting and magic system. Sunny is a fine protagonist, and while this seemed to bring her coming-of-age to its natural conclusion, there is plenty more to explore in this world if the author wishes.
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