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386 pages, Hardcover
First published June 1, 2010
What I liked:
• The worldbuilding! A post-apocalyptic cyberpunk Africa is such a great idea, and I enjoyed the folklore & mythology & magic, so I wonder if e.g. the prequel The Book of Phoenix might be better.
• The characters! Onye is flawed and no perfect infallible princess; she has depth and flaws, her temper gets the better of her, and she makes some truly freaking bone-headed mistakes. Mwita is great, and his and Onye's roles are a nice inversion of the usual 'the hero is male and his female love interest is his eternal moral support'. (And I really liked Aro; he was a conservative sexist ass-hat but you grew to like him a little, and I thought that was a much better portrayal of shades-of-grey than Daib, and how you can slowly change someone.)
• The feminism, though it could be on the nose/heavy-handed.
• The mixed-race issues.
What I did not like:
• The scenery-chomping Eye of Sauron villain. There's even a character I jotted down as "African Gandalf". Others have mentioned Lord of the Rings as a comparison for this book, and it's apropos.
• Exposition city. It happened every so often towards the start, but I found myself especially irritated when we got new infodumps at the 80-90% markers, filling us in on information that wasn't really foreshadowed and which the characters had purposefully withheld for most of the book.
• No plot??? It's structured as a bildungsroman at first, then an episodic quest narrative that had a really vague end-goal. All of which meant the plot felt really meandering and aimless.
• Too-tidy climax. After almost 400 pages, the whole thing is neatly resolved within a couple pages, with a magical handwave. I don't consider it a real win, because it's too easy. Sure, they'd had losses along the way, but the final showdown was so anticlimactic; and again, after 400 pages of chasing the metaphorical man in black, the fact that you never get to spend much time with Daib makes him an uninteresting villain.
• Predictable Chosen One narrative, with an overpowered main character & people who just roll along with a prophecy. I actually really don't like Chosen One narratives, y'all. My kingdom for a novel where the Chosen One dies, stays dead, and their ordinary friends have to carry on the mantle.
• There's other cliches to be annoyed by, too, like Onye
• I found myself wondering, since there weren't really any twists or turns or revelations along the way, what was the point of this story really?? It doesn't seem like a super well-thought-out idea. Is it that organised religion and holy books → violence? Because that really did seem like the message by the end. I dunno. The "gotcha" moment in the penultimate chapter was also jarring;
“What makes you think that you should understand it all?” he asked. “That’s a lesson you have to learn, instead of being angry all the time. We’ll never know exactly why we are, what we are, and so on. All you can do is follow your path all the way to the wilderness, and then you continue along because that’s what must be.”
"We cried and sobbed and wept and bled tears. But when we were finished, all we could do was continue living."