Review: Akata Witch, Nnedi Okorafor

A More Diverse Universe is a blog tour hosted by the lovely Aarti to spotlight speculative fiction by authors of color. Hence, I tried Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witch (my word, that cover is gorgeous). It is all about an albino girl, Sunny, who comes to live in Nigeria, where she feels utterly out of place. Her parents are African but she has grew up mostly in America. She can’t go in the sun but she loves playing soccer. One day at school as she is being bullied, a boy called Orlu comes to her defense, and through him, she learns that she is one of the Leopard People, people who have magical abilities. Along with Orlu and her new friends Chichi and Sasha, Sunny learns more about her powers and the magical world. Also there is a magic serial killer they are destined to destroy.

Akata Witch is that tricky, tricky thing to pull off, an origin story. I spent several long sentences on the origin story stuff and one sentence on the serial killer stuff, and the reason for that is that origin stories often have this same problem. It’s this: An origin story means there is a lot to establish about the rules of the magic and the stuff that exists in the magical world, and sometimes the plot part can get shunted off to the side, and VERY SUDDENLY AT THE END, all the plot happens really fast at once. The plot stuff of Akata Witch, when it finally happens, is really cool, but it represents only a small amount of the book.

(Cf., among others, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone & that new Spiderman movie with the unrelentingly adorable Andrew Garfield & Emma Stone. Origin stories are tricky.)

Another origin story issue was that the set-up felt forced and inorganic — the characters seemed to be narrating the premise/rules of the world rather than experiencing them. A character would say, X should happen! or Y is happening!, and then that’s taken as a given in the future. For instance, Chichi and Sasha and Orlu and Sunny say at one point that hey, the four of them are a coven! I’ve never heard of a coven before in the book, but okay, they’re a coven now. Sure. Actually the Most Important Evil-Stopping Destiny Coven Ever. And it just doesn’t feel earned. Or as another example, their magic teacher sends them out to meet people, without explanation, and then, hey! Those people are going to be mentors to Sasha and Orlu and Sunny! We didn’t know mentors was a thing in this world, but okay, they have mentors now. I don’t object to the plot points themselves, but I just wanted them to feel more necessary to the story.

That said, the magic system and the world of magic was really cool. Chichi, we find out, lives in a hut that is absolutely stacked full of books. They are sitting on piles of books when they go there. HOORAY. This isn’t super related to the system of magic and I’m just mentioning it because stacks of books are wonderful. There is also this thing where you have a juju knife, and you use it to cut the air, and then you summon music from the hole in the air that you’ve created. Cool, right? And the different places in the magic world — although the reasons to go to the places are thin, the places are interesting and unexpected. I would definitely be up for reading a second book in this series. I’d love to see what Okorafor would do with this world when she doesn’t have to spend all her time setting everything up.

Also cool is the fact that Leopard People’s powers are often related to physical anomalies. I love when people have all different powers from each other within the same supernatural universe. It is why I watched way more episodes of Alphas than I enjoyed it, and it is also why the X-Men movies (the first two) are my favorites of all the superhero movies. (Also because, Hugh Jackman.)

In sum: Basically good, but I require further convincing.

Other reviews: Good Books and Good Wine, Charlotte’s Library, Reading in Color, The Happy Nappy Bookseller, Waking Brain Cells, So Many Books, So Little Time., APOOO Book Club. Let me know if I missed yours!

23 thoughts on “Review: Akata Witch, Nnedi Okorafor

  1. Thank you! I may now have the first title for my daughter’s Christmas list, and definitely for next week’s library list. I checked out the author’s website and her work sounds most enticing. And as she references the around-here-highly-esteemed Hayao Miyazaki as a major influence, I sense that she may be a “find”.

    Why have I never heard of her before, I wonder? Sometimes I feel like I live in a bit of a cultural cave, with an occasional gleam of light coming from the computer screen!

    • I hadn’t heard of Okorafor before the More Diverse Universe blog tour thing — she was one of the people on Aarti’s lists, and I thought the cover of this book was really beautiful.

    • Same, same. The different powers were cool, and I liked it when they all went to the convention and saw the other people with all THEIR different powers. That was neat and made me wonder why X-Men had never had an enormous X-man Convention in any of the movies.

  2. I had this book checked out from the library for forever, but I never got around to reading it. It sounds lovely, though, even with some of the problems you pointed out. That magic does sound really cool.

    • I hate it when I have had books checked out for ages and never read them! It makes me feel guilty and faily, and then when I go to try again, I feel like the book is reproaching me AND I am reluctant to stop reading it if I’m not enjoying it because I have all this leftover guilt.

  3. I’ve heard so much about this book being kind of “meh” and that makes me so sad 😦 I bought this book based on the cover alone because I think it’s AMAZING!! I’ve yet to read any Okorafor, but I think I have all of her books, lol. She’s just one of those authors that I think I’m going to love so I collect all of her books. I’m hoping that maybe this one surprises me and I like it more than the reviews have made me think I will, lol

    • The cover is so good. The cover is amazing. I don’t know why I didn’t put the cover in my blog post, because it’s one of my favorite book covers that I’ve seen in quite some time. The design person should get a shiny prize.

      If you love any of her other books, tell me! There were things I enjoyed a lot about this, so I’d be in for more of her stuff.

  4. Entertaining review that might mention some not-so-positives yet still has me intrigued. Not convinced by the reference to the cuteness of the newest Spiderman but I really shouldn’t say because I have yet to see movie. and yes, of course. Hugh Jackman. Another yes for the lovely cover.

    • Well — are you not a Spiderman fan to start with? Because I like Spiderman and was forgiving of the new movie’s flaws. Anyway, it’s accurate to say that it is extremely adorable, because Andrew Garfield is the cutest ever.

  5. Oh, no! I totally didn’t have you on my master schedule and I realize that you posted this way back on SUNDAY. Well, I have remedied (somewhat) the situation by adding you to tomorrow’s list so that anyone who is able to read the blogs daily won’t miss you. Very sorry!

    I think I would enjoy parts of this story but perhaps not the entire package. This was her first book, wasn’t it? Or am I making this up? I think I shall try Who Fears Death first…

  6. I’m reading Okorafor’s adult book “Who Fears Death” right now, and am enjoying in quite a bit. I’m curious about her YA fiction. Thanks for the review. I’ll keep your points in mind as I consider which of her YA books to choose. For some reason I’ve always been fascinated by books with African imagery.

  7. Oooh, I like the sound of this – I like when authors have put some thought into how their system of magic works, especially when it’s something a bit more unusual. It’s a shame about the issues with the set-up, but having just read and really enjoyed Zahrah the Windseeker I think I’m definitely going to give the author the benefit of the doubt and try this out.

    • It is great to see an author putting a lot of thought into a magic system, instead of like having the protagonists just concentrate real hard until the magic happens.

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