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!