Not every author can create a believably unbelievable world, but when it works, it is a memorable story in the making. Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu accomplishes the feat in The Shadow Speaker, crafting one of the most imaginative, compelling, and intricate fantasy settings I have read about in recent memory.
This book has wizards and magic, characters that call down lightning and ones that see into the future. There are sword fighters and animals that communicate with their owners. There are parallel worlds and gaps in between them, as well as the persistent threat of war between the human race and the beings of other worlds. But this is as much a story of science as fantasy, a fast-forward glimpse into the future of the world post-nuclear fallout, and a brilliant portrayal of what that kind of life could be.
In The Shadow Speaker, Okorafor-Mbachu takes us both into the future and back in time. Much of the tale is set among the shifting sands of a vast African desert, the people of which live, in many ways, a life akin to great antiquity in the vein of ancient Egypt. There is a semblance of royalty in a world where powerful men have many wives, and it would be simple to see, in the main character of Ejii, a young woman maturing in that long lost but sophisticated world.
But it is also an Africa set sixty years in the future, one changed by the energy of a nuclear war. A world that in many ways seems socially old is also infused with futuristic technology that marks the passing of time, and it is in this link between what has been and what is to come that Okorafor-Mbachu’s true storytelling talent takes shape. In an incredibly imaginative coming-of-age tale for a smart and savvy girl with a world-changing destiny and the courage to pursue it, we follow the character through a course of events that mark what the future of the world on its current path might be.
This is a tale of voyage. Fourteen-year-old Ejii, one of a handful of young people born with special abilities brought about by a nuclear change, must leave the safety of her home village, entering a world of great peril to follow the warrior woman who slaughtered Ejii’s own father and whose purpose is to assassinate another leader among warring worlds that have come together as a bizarre and unforeseen result of human beings and their nuclear battles.
Along the way, Ejii makes new friends, endures the death of others, and finds herself in the grip of many dangers and difficult choices. She learns hard lessons of betrayal and self-dependence as her path takes her into a world of another dimension and tests not only her special strengths and abilities, but the very qualities that also make her human. In the end, Ejii accomplishes her task and successfully navigates a new and different world to prevent a war that would destroy not just mankind, but the beings of a parallel universe. When she returns home, her world has remained the same, but Ejii is forever changed by a loss of innocence and the growth of a new sense of responsibility to her own world and future.
This is a sharply intelligent, philosophical novel aimed at young adults finding their own way in a world of tangled politics, morals, and views about humanity. This book is a unique offering on the market, a blend of character and setting that is not soon forgotten. I would highly recommend this story to anyone craving a new twist on the science fiction and fantasy genre. It is both, and it fits equally well in many ways to contemporary, real-world fiction as well. I found it a satisfying, mind-sharpening, and suspenseful read.
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The above review was contributed by: Jennifer MacKay: Jenny has published hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles. She is also a journals copy editor for Sage Publications and does independent consulting as a developmental book editor. Her chief writing and editing interests are in the juvenile market. Click Here to view Jennifer’s reviews.
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