Darletha reviews Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor (Daw Books, 2010.)
Onyesonwu is this special name given to a girl born in the African desert with skin and hair the color of sand. Onyesonwu means “Who Fears Death.” She is both Okeke and Nuru–a child of rape. Children born to Okeke women raped by Nuru men during a violent civil war are called Ewu. They are outcasts in an even lower position than the enslaved Okeke are to the Nuru. Young Onye tries to fit in her Okeke village, but it is next to impossible since she is strikingly different in ways beyond her physical appearance.
Onye possesses special abilities. She is not only a shape-shifter, she can also move between the material and spiritual world. Her male Ewu friend, Mwinta, helps her understand what is happening, and over time their close friendship evolves into love. Onye discovers her birth father who is a powerful evil sorcerer and he wants her dead, but she won’t accept this fate without a fight. Onye is strong-willed and determined to shed the cultural limitations placed on Ewu, Okeke, and women in general. She undergoes training in the magical arts, despite initial resistance from the traditionalist elders. As the Nuru continue to exterminate the Okeke, Onyesonwu must travel miles away from home, with Mwinta and a group of friends, to end the genocide and hunt down her birth father.
This multi-award winning novel was an exciting and intense read for me. Set in post-Apocalyptic Africa, the highly detailed novel makes numerous references to African magic while unapologetically depicting the horrors of war crimes and other inhumane practices. Some passages might slow down the pace at times, but in this novel, readers will have a dramatic love story, supernatural battles, and an unforgettable coming of age story that is impossible to forget.