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Ratings & Reviews for

Who Fears Death

5 stars
8,199 (33%)
4 stars
9,277 (37%)
3 stars
5,157 (20%)
2 stars
1,576 (6%)
1 star
434 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,373 reviews
Profile Image for Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship.
1,161 reviews1,254 followers
April 22, 2011
I'd heard good things about this book. But between its poor structure, its infuriating outdated tropes, its overpowered heroine and its all-too-easy magical solutions to real-life problems, I'm left wondering why so many people like it.

Who Fears Death is a post-apocalyptic fantasy novel, set in a future Sudan with many of the problems that plague the region today (genocide, weaponized rape, female genital mutilation, etc.). The narrator, Onyesonwu, is a child of rape, who faces discrimination based on her gender and her mixed-race status while growing up, but goes on in the second half of the novel to undertake a quest to stop the genocide against her mother's people.

So far, so good. I liked the vividly described setting and culture, the heroine's interactions with her friends, the simple, direct prose and the way the book deals with sexism. I didn't like the long passages dealing with the spirit world or explaining how magic works (your mileage may vary; I find that kind of stuff boring). The real problems, however, became more evident the further I got into the book. Some spoilers follow.

1) As this book becomes a save-the-world quest novel, pages are not allocated well between the main plot and subplots. A large chunk of the second half of the book is spent on intra-group tensions (who's sleeping with whom, etc.) and wacky wayside tribes; only a few pages are spent actually saving the world at the end. It's nice that Okorafor doesn't romanticize the questors, but if you're going to write a book about stopping a genocide, your characters need to spend more than a few pages actually doing that.

2) The book is cluttered with some of the most tired of outdated fantasy tropes: the Chosen One prophesied to save the world, the standard coming-of-age story with a mentor and a quest, the prophecy-driven plot in which characters make decisions based on the prophecy they've heard rather than reason or common sense, etc. Without the African setting, I don't believe anyone would have taken this nonsense seriously.

3) Speaking of unfortunate cliches, one of the nastiest tropes ever to plague young-adult fantasy rears its ugly head here: the heroine, claiming she doesn't believe in killing, refuses to finish the villain when she has him at her mercy (despite the fact that he's initiated a genocide and has every intention of carrying through with it, and has raped and killed countless women).... but she feels no remorse when she kills and/or maims large numbers of random, nameless and relatively blameless characters without speaking parts. Check out the TV Tropes page if you haven't encountered this one before. Inexcusable.

4) The heroine is way too powerful. She can do apparently anything: alter time, bring back the dead, etc. (Of course, to avoid leeching the heroic sacrifices of their power, the author comes up with increasingly contrived excuses for her inability to revive important characters.)

5) Last and worst of all: while the author raises plenty of important and timely issues, such as genocide and FGM, she deals with them poorly, having the heroine solve them by magic. The solution to genocide, apparently, is to have the heroine "rewrite" their holy book--which doesn't require any actual writing or thought, but rather the equivalent of waving a wand at it. What's the idea here? That violent and/or racist holy books are the sole cause of genocide? That the only solution to this very real problem is intrepid time-travelers (who don't really even need a plan, just friendship and courage)? It doesn't work. I respect that the author is taking on real-world issues and that she's trying to make a point about how the stories we tell affect the actions we take. But she simplifies it to the point of caricature; the most cursory knowledge of real-world history reveals that the same religions, with the same texts, are in some times and places violent and intolerant, in others accepting and peaceful. An intolerant religious text, while it can certainly contribute, is neither necessary nor sufficient on its own to provoke genocide. In the end, although there's personal sacrifice, the solution here is all too easy and simplistic.

So while I was initially excited to read some non-European, feminist fantasy, I really can't recommend this book. It seems to speak more to the dearth of African fantasy available in the English-speaking world than anything else.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,971 reviews1,983 followers
September 17, 2017
Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: An award-winning literary author presents her first foray into supernatural fantasy with a novel of post- apocalyptic Africa. 

In a far future, post-nuclear-holocaust Africa, genocide plagues one region. The aggressors, the Nuru, have decided to follow the Great Book and exterminate the Okeke. But when the only surviving member of a slain Okeke village is brutally raped, she manages to escape, wandering farther into the desert. She gives birth to a baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand and instinctively knows that her daughter is different. She names her daughter Onyesonwu, which means "Who Fears Death?" in an ancient African tongue.

Reared under the tutelage of a mysterious and traditional shaman, Onyesonwu discovers her magical destiny-to end the genocide of her people. The journey to fulfill her destiny will force her to grapple with nature, tradition, history, true love, the spiritual mysteries of her culture-and eventually death itself.


My Review: Who fears Death? I suppose most living things fear death. Onyesonwu, our title character, is the product of a genesis no one should have to carry with them: She is a child of rape, a product of brutality that should have made her mother hate her. Instead, her mother names her “who fears death” and never from that moment on, despite the both of them being outcast and made into The Other, never fears anything again.

I had a very hard time with this book, wanting to Pearl Rule it on average three times per reading session. I did in fact abandon it when a major major major anti-man hot button issue occurred near the end. But this is what earns the book four stars from me: I could not not read the rest. I had to know why what happened, happened.

Am I happy I read it? Not really. It was harrowing for me. I don't like man-bad-woman-good books. There are two unforgivable things in my moral universe: Abusing animals and rape. I'm no fan of supernatural/magjicqkal stuff (Onye's a shapeshifter). What on the surface of the earth persuaded me to read this thing?! I mean, it's even praised by Luis Alberto Urrea forevermore! I shoulda stood home, as the saying goes.

But Dr. Okorafor is a sorceress. She cast a spell on me. She reached out from inside this book and she made sure my brain needed to know this, and needed it so much I'd overcome my prejudices and make it part of my mental furniture.

I will step on her foot if I ever meet the Doctor in person.

She set the book in a post-nuclear-holocaust Africa! I love postapocalyptic fiction! How am I gonna resist that? And she made explicit a disdain for the rotten, evil-souled uses of religion in oppressing and abusing people of all types. I think I purred. I know I smiled.

It's also a joy and a pleasure to me to see women, and women of color, and women of immigrant parentage, enter the lists of American English-language speculative fiction. It makes me feel that this world has a shot at survival after all. Writers are not ignored because of their bodily plumbing or skin color or weird names. (Sorry, but I'm still an old white man, and this lady's name is really seriously weird to me.) This is the world I grew up wanting to live in, and now I get to...for a while anyway...and that, more than any other factor, made me stick with the book long past my usual stop.

Should you read it? Should you turn page after page of non-European-named characters, landscapes bursting with heat and searing miseries of spirit, heroes whose lives are blighted by origins beyond their control?

Profile Image for Zanna.
676 reviews967 followers
March 19, 2016
I read my first Octavia Butler novel, Dawn, late in 2014, and late in my life! Reading it I was like oh no black women authored speculative fiction, where have you been all my life? (right there on the shelf being read by millions of folk in the know while I wasted my time, obviously) This is my favourite kind of thing to read, hands down, it hits my reading spot mmmm. This isn't a book of sublimely polished prose where the writer has clearly agonised over every adverb, but the ease and directness of the style serves the narrative and themes well.

The novel is set in an apparently post-apocalyptic Africa, where two clearly distinguishable ethnic groups are in conflict. The dark-skinned Okeke (rich brown skin, woolly black hair) are, according to The Great Book, suffering punishment by the goddess Ani for their exuberant creativity in producing technology like computers, by being forced to become the slaves of the light-skinned Nuru (yellow-brown skin, straight dark hair). Uprisings on the part of the Okeke are currently being met with bloody mass slaughter by the Nuru.

Okorafor frees her narrative from significant obstacles by solving the need for water, inventing an apparently inexpensive and highly reliable portable device that draws water from the sky as quick as a conjuring trick, enabling hardy nomads and travellers to roam the desert independent of oases or settlements. Since people are evidently conscious of the need for hygiene and enjoy being clean (personal thanks to Okorafor and other authors who think of these things. As a clean freak I often have to suppress foolish anxious thoughts in my reading: 'why hasn't he washed his hands?' 'surely she needs to shower now?') Almost equally importantly, the nightly chill can be warded off by a 'rock fire'. Simply gather a few stones (fully recyclable for this purpose) and coax them by means of simple juju to become hot, and hey presto! However, most townsfolk are too superstitious to make use of such practical magic.

I always like it when writers envision a time when basic resource needs are not really a problem, but Okorafor not only does so unobtrusively and in a way that delightfully synthesises hi-tech and magical skills rooted (presumably) in ancient folk tradition, she also does so in a non-utopian social organisation to focus on other sources of conflict.

Many of the factors that entrench and replenish white supremacy in contexts like the UK and US, like the myth of meritocracy and hierarchical individualism (aspects of the neoliberal ideology) are not evident in Okeke or Nuru culture. Here the controlling mythology is the scriptural story of racial domination-by-divine-decree. This is certainly not without its analogues in European scientific racism and even more so in white supremacist interpretations of the Bible, but the difference is actually very striking. Most Okeke accept their fate, but they do not believe in the inherent superiority of the Nuru, and mixed-race children are shunned and deemed ugly by them. Moreover, it appears that both groups exihibit communitarian values. The Okeke build their lives around family and community institutions, participating in seemingly highly democratic local governance. However, they can be hostile to the point of extreme violence to strangers, socially conservative and patriarchal.

I really appreciated Okorafor's exploration of female circumcision. I don't want my review to be all about this, but this is definitely the best fictional treatment of the issue I have read and I want to elaborate on this.

It's really significant that Onyesonwu isn't pushed into having the procedure done by her family; her mother is a migrant in the town and comes from an area where girls are not cut, so she sees it as 'backward and barbaric'. Onyesonwu goes to the ceremony in secret and tries to hide the fact from her mother, although she believes she is acting for her family's sake. The compromised 'consent' of an eleven year old intended to justify the custom makes it appear even more dubious. Obviously, the girls are eager to undergo a rite of passage that is necessary to avoid ostracism and to mark their entry into adulthood. After the 'Eleventh Rite' they must abstain from intercourse until marriage. At the ceremony, the three other girls who were cut alongside Onyesonwu confessed that they had all been very sexually active up to that point.

The context of the confession and the cutting itself is the house of the 'Ada', a kind of priestess. Okorafor makes this woman highly sympathetic, by having her house beautifully decorated with a fantasy water-themed mural she has painted herself (in a country far from the sea, where rivers are a rumour). The ceremony is also attended by other female elders, including the town healer (who uses both allopathic and traditional styles of medicine) who performs the surgical cut with a sterilized razor blade. These women are present to hold the girls down, but also to create an atmosphere of safety and reassurance. In the ceremony the girls confess their sexual histories (they are assured that it is safe to do so and bound to mutual secrecy), discard their clothes and are given new robes, a belly chain and a diamond to carry in their mouths. Afterwards, girls circumcised together become solid friendship groups. Really, it's all very pleasant apart from the cut, which causes acute agony and chronic pain, as well as disability when it comes to sexual activity.

Okorafor's careful work here offers, I think, numerous teaching points to feminist campaigners. The ceremony as rite of passage is treated with respect as an important and pleasant event for the girls, resulting in their loving acceptance into the adult community. The social pressures that coerce consent from pre-teen girls require some sensitive redirection, and the extreme sexism involved, here highlighted by an element of male control and deception, has to be addressed to make abolition possible. Finally, the need for spirituality to inform and balance this battle fought on the terrain of the body, is repeated in the event of Onyesonwu's healing: physical and temporal considerations are not enough.

The central love relationship in the book is strong, supportive and passionate, but Onyesonwu has to manage her lover's sexist views and related envy of her abilities (just as he has to cope with and soothe her temper). Other relationships also have realistic problems. The culture seems quite heteronormative, and only once is a very brief and peripheral reference made to a lesbian relationship. Passion is one of the energies Onyesonwu draws on for her sorcery. This is such an intuitive detail for me, I love it. The both-and approach that takes in anything of use and finds value in multiple ways of knowing, rather than putting them in exclusive competition, was part of what made this read so inspiring.

My favourite section of the book is Onyesonwu's sojourn with the Red People, who live in a protective dust storm and embrace the social pleasures available to them without proprietorial, materialistic or hierarchical concerns. I was reminded of one of my favourite quotes from Thomas King: "we tell our children life is hard, when we could just as easily tell them it is sweet". Since the red people believe the latter, it is true for them, aided by their ability to access sufficient basic resources.

Like Onyesonwu, the nomads are kind and respectful to animals until it comes to eating them, and one of Onyesonwu's hosts shows a clear awareness of vegetarianism, though neither she nor Onyesonwu practice it. Still, I found her friendship with the intelligent and empathic wild camels touching. Her ability to take the shape of animals and to commune with the desert, singing its songs, was the most thrillingly and captivatingly written aspect of her gift for me.

My preference for the Red People's appealing culture may be ironic and point to layers of sophistication in the text. The only 'white' person in the novel, another sexist male sorcerer, also prefers the Red People to the Okeke and Nuru, and seems rather to lament that he isn't in control of who owns what about the place. This almost seems to anticipate and critique the judgements of white readers and critics, just as male attempts to block Onyesonwu from developing her abilities sound an echo to me of 'women can't write' in Mrs Dalloway. The theme of 'rewriting' that Okorafor develops in later chapters felt like righteous, delicious defiance. Fist-pumpingly good.
Profile Image for Zach.
285 reviews295 followers
July 19, 2010
I've kept an eye on Nnedi Okorafor's career for a while now. Her books always intrigued me-I have a hard time resisting anything post-apocalyptic,* and hers are set in Africa, a great antidote to the typical lily-white American version-but the fact that they were always targeted at young adults kept me away. I like books to have some subtlety about them, paragraphs that don't have the same words in each sentence, lines of dialogue that don't end with "she said ___ly." (To be fair these are certainly also faults of the pulpy SF of earlier decades, but I have a higher standard for newer work, I guess)

So when hype about Who Fears Death, her first "adult" novel, started bubbling up, I couldn't wait.


Turns out that what separates this novel from her more kid-friendly ones is the content, not the construction. Certainly the themes and events of the story are undeniably, brutally adult, and Okorafor certainly deserves a great deal of respect for her willingness to unflinchingly examine rape, genocide, and female genital mutilation.** This is an author committed to the use of science fiction as a dialectical examination of our own present, and this left some scenes of the book excruciatingly difficult to read. The prose, however, is still rather plodding and simplistic, while the dialogue.... oof. It was hard not to laugh through most of the arguments the couples in the book had (of which there were so, so many).

Other than that, though, I was pretty disappointed. Outside of the on-point politics, this was a pretty standard coming-of-age/quest novel. I have absolutely no patience left for the magical bildungsroman anymore (which also left me deeply disappointed in that Pat Rothfuss book). Other people have held this up as a sterling example of subversion of genre tropes, but I just didn't get that from the text at all. The nuances might be different, but this is still, at heart, a young person gaining a teacher, learning they are the subject of a prophecy, and going to defeat an evil lord. Where I thought this was going to go, however - the heroine realizing that rather than only defeating her opponent, she needed to upend the systemic problems that produced him - ended up being only partially the case, and rendered the ending rather cheap and disappointing. This was such a shock, actually, that it probably means I misread a lot of the book and should go through it again... only I didn't enjoy the book enough to invest that extra time in it, I suppose.

So, basically, a book whose ideas and arguments I fully respect, but at the same time a novel I didn't really enjoy much.

* There was actually very little in the way of post-apocalyptic imagery or themes in this novel, sadly. Again, though, that was a problem with my own expectations, not Okorafor's work.
** Apparently people have attacked her for glorifying female circumcision, which is... insane. Other people have attacked her for criticizing the practice, which is wrong-headed in the opposite direction (although more in-line with what she actually does in the book, I guess.) Either way, I feel like I need to emphasize again how painful and important her discussion of female oppression is.
Profile Image for ambyr.
907 reviews79 followers
July 26, 2010
A number of reviewers have talked about how they struggled with how dark the book was; how difficult it was to read accounts of rape and genital mutilation and racial genocide. There would, I think, be something wrong with me if I didn't find reading about that sort of thing viscerally unpleasant, but all were integral parts of the book's world building, and while they may have made reading some sections an uncomfortable experience, they didn't detract from my appreciation of the work as a whole.

What did detract was the characters, or more specifically their relationships with each other. The main character's relationship with her parental figures is positive, but they're soon pushed out of the spotlight--not unsurprising, in a coming of age novel. That leaves us with her relationship with her teacher (who hates her) her friends (who continually mistrust and abandon her) and her paramour (who calls her "woman" instead of her name, tells her she's stupid, and orders her to shut up with distressing regularity). All are constantly fighting and rarely seem to like or care for one another.

The protagonist's romantic relationship was pretty much the breaking point for me. I felt like I was constantly being told they were passionately in love, and then shown a couple that was, at best, passionately in lust and violently abusive toward one another. And I simply couldn't reconcile Onye's actions toward Mwita with her presentation as a determined crusader against their society's misogyny.

The plot itself was fairly standard prophecized quest fantasy until the end, when it veered off into metaphysics that seemed unsupported by anything that came before. The world, in contrast, was unusual for the genre, and well-drawn. If the protagonists had been more pleasant to spend time with, I would have appreciated the travelogue experience. As it was, I had to grit my teeth to get through it.

I might try something else by this author, if I was promised characters who actually enjoyed each other's company, but it wouldn't be high on my priority list.
Profile Image for Magrat Ajostiernos.
580 reviews4,066 followers
July 31, 2019
La primera mitad del libro me pareció una auténtica maravilla, original, crítico, cruel... Tan personal con esa mezcla de cultura africana, magia y misticismo. La segunda mitad (una vez comienza el viaje) para mi decae bastante, por los personajes, la trama e incluso el ritmo.
Eso no quita que haya sido un libro que he disfrutado enormemente y recomiendo encarecidamente a todo el que se atreva con una historia diferente.
Me ha sorprendido su fuerza y la rabia de esta autora que cada día admiro más 💓
Profile Image for Julie.
950 reviews247 followers
July 14, 2017
This Amazon review actually sums up my feelings pretty well. 2.5 stars, rounded up for what this book attempted to do, but it doesn't deliver on its promising setup/start. It's an ambitious novel, tackling the subjects that were stewing in Okorafor's mind -- weaponised rape, genocide, racism & sexism, female genital mutilation, problematic cultures. But it's strung together into a really flimsy plot with a boringly straightforward quest structure, with exposition dumps, few surprises along the way, and a flat moustache-twirling villain who reminds me more of Sauron than anything else. :(

(And if you know me, one of my biggest irritations is villains who are painted in black-or-white absolutes -- for a book that tried so hard to show people overcoming the absolutes of racism, that there is no single people that is Evil™, its depiction of the megalomaniacal villain is such a letdown.)

Who Fears Death is 'only' 400 pages (which isn't that much for me!), but it took me an entire week to get through, which isn't normal. It was a bit of a slog towards the end.

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;

Ugh, okay, rounding back down to 2 stars because of how critical & annoyed I got above. When it comes to a story about an intrepid mixed-race protagonist overturning an entire conservative society, I'd much rather read something like The Goblin Emperor.

But! As always with diverse fantasy that isn't as great as I wanted it to be: I'm still grateful for its existence, though, and since this is Okorafor's first adult novel, I'm more than happy to keep reading her and to see where her writing goes. Her prose itself is fine, and this premise had potential, but this book is just so dragged down by the basic plot.
Profile Image for Wealhtheow.
2,446 reviews548 followers
May 27, 2011
Onyesonwu is the outcast child of a mother who cannot speak above a whisper. Her skin and hair clearly mark her as Ewu, a child of both Nuru and Okeke, a combination despised by Nuru and Okeke alike. Her gender makes the only sorcerer in the village unwilling to teach her. And her shapeshifting and nigh-uncontrollable magic make her neighbors fear and hate her. After her father dies and her magical powers manifest themselves at his funeral, she flees into the desert to avoid mob violence and to seek her nemesis: the man who raped her mother, sired her, and has been trying to kill her ever since. She is accompanied on her quest by four friends, her true love, and a herd of free-spirited camels.

This is an ambitious but frustrating work. Ambitious because it tackles head-on issues of rape, child abuse, child soldiers, female genital cutting, adolescent sexuality, genocide...Okorafor never flinches. But frustrating because the main character is pretty unlikable, the plot is your classic bildungsroman, and the pacing is terrible. Onye has a wide, bewildering array of magic powers that she seems to forget about just when the plot requires her to. After three hundred pages of exhaustively described meals and screamed dialog, she solves genocide in the last, like, two pages? And then there are something like three epilogues? It's not great.

Spoilers from here on out:

I'm disappointed, because I expected to really like this book. As it is, it's so flawed (in my eyes) that I'm giving it 3 stars only out of respect for the breadth and depth of issues and world-building Okorafor attempts here, and not for any engaging writing or story.
Profile Image for Bookishrealm.
2,076 reviews5,042 followers
March 10, 2021
I always get nervous when I sit down to write a review for a book written by Dr. Okorafor. A lot of times I don't feel as though I have the capacity to really truly grasp the novel and I'm nervous that my review won't do it justice. Nevertheless, this was excellent. CW: gang rape, racism, female genital mutilation, extreme violence, sexual content, misogyny

Where does one being with Who Fears Death? It is a story set in post-apocalyptic Africa centered on the Nuru attempt to get rid of the Okeke. The narrative follows Onyesonwu after the traumatic circumstances surrounding her birth. One of the strongest parts of this book for me, as a reader, was the character development. Everyone in this book isn't likeable. In fact, there are characters that will test the patience of readers; however, they felt real. Onyesonwu is a hot-tempered and confident young woman who also desires acceptance, empathy, and friendship. And she finds all of those things, but not in a perfect manner that readers may recognize in other books. The friendships that she has with three other women in the novel is often tested and strained. She is marked as different, a person to be feared for the origin of her birth. Her friends, while they may have good intentions, often have to fight the way in which they have been socialized to view her. There is a love interest as well who exhibits the highest regard for Onye, yet he must constantly battle his own internalized misogyny. For me, seeing these contrasting characteristics in each character made them more developed. They felt three dimensional. Every single one of them makes mistakes, but at the end the manner in which they value their friendship and love each other is extremely important to the development of the novel.

There is also this feeling of mysticism that is associated with the magic represented in the book. It was a form of magic that sometimes confused me and had me re-reading sections, yet I was constantly intrigued in the way it could be taught, manipulated by its users, and the way it informed the world building. Dr. Okorafor also used this magic to inform the manner in which women were viewed in this society. It created a way for Onye to break the traditional/societal expectations that were in place. Speaking of traditions, there is a brief, yet deep analysis of the danger of following tradition especially traditions that reinforce gender roles. While further exploration of this would spoil the book, I can say that it is an interesting element of the book and will encourage readers to do further research/exploration of topics on their own outside of the contents of this book.

While I adore Dr. Okorafor’s writing, there were aspects of this book that dragged namely the scenes in which they were making a journey across the desert. It was a great moment for character development, but I must say that it felt like it went on for too long. There was also some confusion for me in terms of the time period. I often forgot that this took place in the future and was only reminded when someone introduced technology in some capacity. Personally, I think that this blending of tradition and futuristic technology is done better in Dr. Okorafor's newer works.

Overall, I was really engaged with this story. The ending was great and it pulled at my heartstrings in unexpected ways. It definitely made me excited to pick up the next book which serves as a prequel.
Profile Image for ♥ℂĦℝΪՖƬΪℕÅ.
230 reviews3,934 followers
October 28, 2018
0 Flawed, imperfect creatures! ★'s

“To be something abnormal meant that you were to serve the normal. And if you refused, they hated you... and often the normal hated you even when you did serve them.”

*First buddy read with Marie Luftikus

I was so looking forward to reading "Who Fears Death" but sadly, all I'm left with is the disappointment! If it wasn't for this being a buddy read, I would have DNF at 12%! In the long run, we both agreed to call it quits at 50%!!! Thank freaking goodness too, because it physically hurt just thinking about reading it... No, I'm not exaggerating! It was God awful. It was way to fast passed, it skipped over things to quickly, focused on things that didn't matter and not enough on the things that did, and it jumps all over the place. Witch intern made it really confusing and hard to follow. On top of that, it didn't keep my interest at all. Really the only thing this story was about was rape, violence and a whole hell of a lot of hate!! It was so damn boring... I repeat, it was so damn BORING!!! The plot lacked everything, the writing style was terrible, and the character building was mediocre at best. The characters were all really bland and the character building was basically non-existing. They had no depth, what you get is what you see! I can't name one character, that I actually like or even enjoyed. I will say, I couldn't stand the heroine Onyesonwu, she cried almost every other page! I HATE whiny characters, I just can't deal with them and it's a complete turn off!! Another thing that really bugged me was how much the story emphasized her private parts! It's only mentioned over a dozen times between 1% and 50%. And honestly, it was unnecessary. This was just NOT for me and I am truly elated to be done with it :D
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,172 reviews8,378 followers
June 29, 2020
“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.”

What a unique reading experience. I've truly never read a fantasy book like this one. Okorafor has crafted a superbly realized world, that of post-apocalyptic Sudan, where technology is obsolete and sandstorms ravage the land. The Nuru people oppress and ravage the Okeke people, leaving behind children of rape, called 'ewu.' Our main character, Onyesonwu, is one of these children—but she stands out amongst the rest for many reasons.

Across this book, we follow her journey to self-discovery and fight for restitution for wrongs done to her people, her mother specifically. It's a haunting and beautiful story; warning, though, that there is quite intense description about rape and female genital mutilation at times.

I really grew to love the characters. Onye, our MC, is resilient but flawed, strong yet malleable. Her friends, Diti, Binta and Luyu are trusted companions yet portray the complicated dynamics in young female friendships. As much as this is a story about one girl's journey, it showcases wonderfully the need for community and companionship on that path to finding yourself and making a change.

If you are a fantasy fan, this is a must read. It reminded me to continue to seek out new authors and new genres I don't venture to read as much because there are sure to be gems like these to uncover.
Profile Image for Café de Tinta.
560 reviews196 followers
July 3, 2019
Quizás sería un 4'5 porque la parte drama/salseos del desierto me ha sobrado un pelín.
Pero lo he terminado hace un rato y me ha dejado tan rota que creo que merece las cinco estrellas.
Ojo! Nada que ver con Binti.
Reseña completa:
Profile Image for Jack Lanigan.
75 reviews3 followers
December 12, 2016

Ooh buddy. Oh boy oh boy. Feels like a while since I had one of these, a book that I just completely unabashedly hated. Good stuff. I don't know if I want to write a little narrative or weave my thoughts into sentences so instead I'm just going to bullet point stuff and complain about it. Starting with...

The Narrator
So we've got a story about far future Africa. It stars a young girl growing up in this messed up world, deeply inspired by juju and shamanism and all that sort of thing. Obviously, the only choice for narrator was a middle aged English woman who speaks like the only interaction she's had with any kind of African accent is having it be vaguely explained to her her slightly racist uncle.

The Characters
Probably the best part of the book if only by virtue of being completely... nothing. Inoffensive. They're consistent. But none of them make any impact. The main character is really good at magic and gets angry, her boyfriend is there to be an exposition pillow and just about the sole driving force, and the friends are there to... create drama, I guess. Honestly I can barely think of any significant plot or main character development spurred on by these side characters. They argue, they complain, they represent their tropes and then they either die or leave and get remembered for all of about three pages afterwards. Which brings me to...

The Pacing
I like slow books. I like methodical books. I like books with some backstory and some thought.
What I'm less of a fan of is books which attempt to bait you in with a weird intro, then spend half the book building up to it and having nothing much interesting happen, then having the remaining half be an incredibly dull travelogue that only serves to push themes and ideas that had been established several hundred pages (or audio equivalent) ago.

The Magic
Like probably a fair few people, I enjoy magic in my stories when it's a bit weird and a bit confusing. Stuff can make not a lot of sense and come out of nowhere in key points and still seem alright if done sparingly.
Who Fears Death does not do this sparingly.
The concept of this juju magic is all over the book and impacts basically everything. It drives entire character motivations, changes plot points, and is the basis for several important events in the book.
It also makes shit up whenever it wants because it seems cool. Imagine The Broken Empire series but instead of the books being 60% Jorg's intuition/skill/luck and 40% weird magic shit, it's 95% weird magic shit and 5% complaining about weird magic shit.
Some spoilers here about what bothers me so I'll block this up.
And speaking of The Broken Empire, that brings me onto:

The Setting
Or rather, just how little it does with the setting. Far future apocalypse is cool, especially when it's done well. Remember when Jorg found the bomb, or the gun, or the parking lot, or the A.I ghosts, and it's this weird mystical feeling that deceives the characters but makes a lot of sense in the meta-aspect?
Well, take all of that, completely remove it, and just occasionally mention that there's a computer, or an e-reader, or a gun. There. That's all Who Fears Death does with its setting. You're welcome.

But there's got to be some positives, right? Got to be something I enjoyed? How about...

The Prose
Bzzt, just kidding, hated it. It's inconsistent, can't decide if it wants to try and be a transcendent mysterious story or flat prose equivalent to what you see in the most basic of YA novels and does neither of them very well.
Also, a really minor stupid quibble but I'm gonna bring it up. It calls penises penises. It calls semen semen. It mentions faeces, and blood, and clitorises, and nipples and all of this stuff...
But you're gonna let the main character reach over twenty years of age and still call a vagina a ye-ye?

Also The Story bored me too. It's a simple revenge plot sprinkled with some stupid revelations that do nothing to help the plot.

In conclusion:

Profile Image for Liz Janet.
579 reviews383 followers
October 27, 2019
In a post-apocalyptic Sudan, Onyesonwu (Igbo for “who fears death”) lives, being the offspring of the rape a Nuru man imposed upon a woman of the oppressed Okeke. After she has grown, she goes on a search to destroy her father, a sorcerer, using her own magic.

I read somewhere that this book was partially inspired by Emily Wax’s 2004 Washington Post article “We Want to Make a Light Baby,” which spoke of weoponized rape the Arab military men used against Black women during the Dafur conflict. And after reading it, I can see why. The book depicts brutality that I can very well see occurring during such a conflict. The point of these men was to humiliate the families and tribes the women belonged to, and I don’t know how it worked, but I hope it backfired on them and that they got the punishment they deserve.

I appreciate how her mother’, even if she was raped by this man, and must have been reminded constantly on the event, took her other, and alongside her became an outcast, rather than leaving her in the desert to die.

In this world people fear “magic” and saw technology as evil’, hence the most basic things are not done such as collection of water from the sky or heating stones for warmth. This magic and science is the main reason, by “divine decree” and “holy scriptures,” that the Okeke are being oppressed, as the Nuru claim the goddess is punishing them for inventing and developing technology. (Which to me is similar to how racism in the West is shown)

“To be something abnormal meant that you were to serve the normal. And if you refused, they hated you… and often the normal hated you even when you did serve them.”

Another thing I appreciated, was that the love interest was a bit of a sexist, but since Onyesonwu is an “independent woman who don’t need no man’,” he has to learn to tone down his misogyny and learn that his views are erratic and idiotic.

Warning: There is a scene in which female genital mutilation is performed to the main female character, which impairs her from using her magical powers. I loved that it was in the book, even if it was so brutal, because even though some might say it portrays a darker part of the African culture, it’s a thing that still happens, and that we should not ignore it, but rather work to help eradicate it. This act is about suppressing women, and must be stopped, and reading it, will bring it to light to people that might not have heard of it before.

Now go on and educate yourself with this beautiful text that will make you question so many things in life you will have to write an essay on it.
Profile Image for Liviu Szoke.
Author 29 books381 followers
August 12, 2019
De la un capăt până la altul, inclusiv începutul, inclusiv finalul.
Distopie? Check! Realism magic? Check! Crime, violuri, ritualuri, lupte, vrăji, confruntări pe viață și pe moarte, legende străvechi, dispozitive din altă eră, decorporalizări, călătorii pe alte tărâmuri, vrăjitori, vrăjitoare, metamorfi și alte bazaconii? Check! Lapidări, execuții oribile, viol ca mod de supunere, de înrobire, de dezbinare a unui popor, dublat de credințe și obiceiuri învechite și de supunere orbească și neîncredere în forțele proprii? Check!
Dragoste cu năbădăi? Firește că da.
Un World Fantasy Award pe deplin meritat? Check!
Și o traducere pe măsură? Check!
Recomandată cu cinci mâini.
Mai multe, pe FanSF:
Profile Image for Майя Ставитская.
1,446 reviews141 followers
May 16, 2022
Another man is going to die because of me. Well, because of himself.
I got acquainted with the work of Nnedi Okarafor two years ago, when her trilogy about Binti was nominated for Hugo and became the choice of Goodreads readers. At the same time I read all three books: "Binti", "Home", "The Night Masquerade". Not that I was delighted, but I rather liked the combination of folklore motifs and techno, stylistic simplicity, a strong plot, conciseness.

"Who is afraid of death" is a much earlier Okarafor of 2011, not fantastic, but fantasy, rather verbose, in comparison with "Binti", where each book has one hundred and fifty pages, and, unlike "Binti" - with a fairly high entry threshold. Strange names and toponyms, incomprehensible realities. It takes you a while to realize that the place-time of the action is Africa. the distant future. There is no question of any man-made catastrophe that humanity has experienced, but to say that life sucks is to say nothing.

The Okeke people, to which the heroine-narrator belongs, are enslaved by the Nuru - their skin is lighter and the Nuru are famous for their witchcraft skills. One day they attack the village of the free okeke and rape their women, with the approval of their women also taking part in the raid. They do it intentionally to dilute the enemy's blood - such a very cruel forced assimilation. Customs do not allow okeka to get rid of unwanted pregnancies, and children born as a result of violence will no longer be pure-blooded.

One of the young women. who had to become a victim of a true sadist, after suffering humiliation, left by her husband. And she herself no longer wants to live with a man who did not protect her, goes to die in the desert. Stops and makes the understanding that she is pregnant survive. She can kill herself, but she is not ready to take the child with her.

And he survives, gives birth to a daughter, whom he calls Onyesonwu, the name means "who is afraid of death." Onye is an ewu child, with very fair skin and golden hair, with freckles on her nose and cheekbones. It is believed that such children bring misfortune and in the village where Onya and her mother are nailed, she is treated as an outcast. The fair skin of a tall girl is like the stigma of "child rape", and in the post-pop world, guilt and shame fall on the victim.

There is one rite, having decided on which, you can correct the situation - the ritual of the eleventh birthday, female circumcision, in which the clitoris is cut off, Onya decides on it, secretly from her mother, who considers it barbarism - and finds three girlfriends. Bound by sisterhood this night more tightly than by ties of kinship, the girls will be together from now on. At the moment of experiencing unbearable pain, Onya escapes for the first time into the twilight world of the "wilds".

Later she would become a sorcerer's apprentice, meet the best guy in the world, a half-breed. like herself, she will decide to find her biological father in order to kill him. In this, there is a strong influence of Castaneda's "Way of the Warrior of Light", although painted with a completely different, African flavor. The writer's parents are Nigerians from the most privileged part of the Igba population there, although they have lived in America since childhood, where she was born. And by the way, imagine, according to statistical forecasts, Nigeria by 2100 will come in second place in terms of population after India, China will then be in third. It's not directly related to the novel, just in case you thought, "Some kind of Africa."

Okarafor does a very important thing with this book - carefully, gradually refocuses the focus of attention from the guilt of the white man to his own, intra-African tribal strife and squabbles that made centuries-old enslavement possible. At the same time working through the femm agenda and drawing the attention of the reading world to Africa, it is no coincidence that African literature in the twenty-first century is said to repeat the success of the Latin American twentieth.

So, a bright book combining a novel of upbringing, a road movie, a social and a femme novel with a considerable share of African exoticism, much more delicate than James's "Black Leopard, Red Wolf" and with a much higher level of readability than the "Hungry Road" Okri.

Еще один мужчина умрет из-за меня. Ну, из-за себя.
С творчеством Ннеди Окарафор я познакомилась два года назад, когда ее трилогия о Бинти номинировалась на Хьюго и стала выбором читателей Goodreads. Тогда же прочитала все три книги: "Бинти", "Home", "The Night Masquerade". Не то, чтобы пришла в восторг, но соединение фольклорных мотивов и техно, стилистическая простота, крепкий сюжет, лаконичность - скорее понравились.

"Кто боится смерти" куда более ранняя Окарафор 2011 года, не фантастическая, а фэнтезийная, довольно многословная, в сравнении с "Бинти", где каждая книжка страниц на сто пятьдесят, и, в отличие от "Бинти" - с достаточно высоким порогом вхождения. Странные имена и топонимы, непонятные реалии. Не сразу понимаешь, что место-время действия Африка. далекое будущее. Ни о какой техногенной катастрофе, которую довелось пережить человечеству, речи не идет, но сказать, что живут хреново - ничего не сказать.

Народ океке, к которому принадлежит героиня-рассказчица, порабощен нуру - кожа их светлее и нуру славятся колдовскими умениями. Однажды они нападают на селение свободных океке и насилуют их женщин, при одобрении своих женщин, также принимающих участие в набеге. Делают это намеренно, чтобы разбавить кровь противника - такая очень жестокая принудительная ассимиляция. Обычаи не позволяют океке избавляться от нежелательной беременности, а родившиеся в результате насилия дети уже не будут чистокровными.

Одна из молодых женщин. которой пришлось стать жертвой истинного садиста, после перенесенного унижения оставлена мужем. Да она и сама не хоч��т больше жить с человеком, не защитившим ее, уходит умирать в пустыню. Останавливает и заставляет выживать понимание, что беременна. Она может убить себя, но ребенка вместе с со��ой - не готова.

И выживает, рожает дочь, которую называет Оньесонву, имя означает "кто боится смерти". Онье - ребенок эву, с очень светлой кожей и золотистыми волосами, с веснушками на носу и скулах. Считается, что такие дети приносят несчастье и в деревне, куда Онья с мамой прибиваются, к ней относятся как к изгою. Светлокожесть рослой девочки как клеймо "дитя изнасилования", а в постап-мире Окарафор вина и позор ложатся на жертву.

Есть один обряд, решившись на который, можно исправить ситуацию - ритуал одиннадцатого дня рождения, женское обрезан��е, при котором отсекается клитор, Онья решается на него, втайне от матери, которая считает это варварством - и обретает трех подруг. Связанные сестринством этой ночью крепче, чем узами родства, девочки отныне будут вместе. В момент переживания невыносимой боли, Онья впервые ускользает в сумеречный мир "дебрей".

Позже она станет ученицей колдуна, встретит лучшего парня на свете, полукровку. как она сама, и решится разыскать биологического отца, чтобы убить его. В этом прослеживается сильное влияние "Пути воина света" Кастанеды, хотя окрашенного совсем иным, африканским, колоритом. Родители писательницы нигерийцы из наиболее привилегированной части тамошнего населения игба, хотя с детства живут в Америке, где родилась и она. А кстати, представьте себе, согласно статистическим прогнозам, Нигерия к 2100 году выйдет на второе место по количеству населения после Индии, Китай окажется тогда на третьем. Это не имеет прямого отношения к роману, просто на случай, если вы подумали: "Какая-то там Африка."

Окарафор делает этой книгой очень важную вещь - осторожно, исподволь переориентирует фокус внимания с вины белого человека на собственные, внутриафриканские родоплеменные раздоры и дрязги, которые сделали возможным многовековое порабощение. Одновременно прорабатывая фем-повестку и привлекая внимание читающего мира к Африке, неслучайно об африканской литературе в двадцать первого века говорят, что она повторит успех латиноамериканской двадцатого.

Итак, яркая книга, сочетающая роман воспитания, роуд-муви, социальный и фем-роман с немалой долей африканской экзотики, куда более деликатная, чем "Черный леопард, рыжий волк" Джеймса и с куда большим, чем у "Голодной дороги" Окри уровнем читабельности.

Profile Image for Tori (InToriLex).
463 reviews367 followers
March 27, 2018
Find this and other Reviews at In Tori Lex

Onyesonwu is a fierce young women who sets out to face who she is and discover her destiny in the process. The Nuru seek to oppress Okeke people, the violence and pain that they inflict on the Okeke was disturbing to read about. Onyesonwu's mother uses the pain she felt when she was raped to move forward and heroically rebuilds a life for herself when she survives. The well written descriptions of magic and African Spirituality made me want to learn more. The book  describes female circumcision which is a practice that makes sex painful for most who receive it. There are initiatives to stop this practice in many countries but unfortunately it still persists today.

 "We cried and sobbed and wept and bled tears. But when we were finished, all we could do was continue living."

While the book follows the lives of young people they deal with the complex issues of rape, sex, death and violence. The characters were well developed and the many different cultures that Onyesonwu encountered were interesting and engaging. She faces many barriers because despite her magical abilities most women are not allowed to study magic in her village. Onyesonwu persists however and fearlessly pursues justice for Okeke people and her family. 
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I was engaged with the book the whole way through and connected with parts of this book emotionally. This book had everything I expected and more. Besides a complex magic system, there was surprise twists, action and humor. I can't wait to read more books by this author.

Recomended for Readers Who
-enjoy Diverse Fantasy
-want to learn more about African cultures
-want to read about powerful female characters
Profile Image for Trudie.
544 reviews583 followers
May 3, 2021
I tried.
I know there are great reviews of this out there and Nnedi Okorafor has won a Hugo and a Nebula and a slew of other awards. So it's a case of this just isn't my thing rather than it's a bad book.

I made it over half way when I decided I might have just waded too far in this desert landscape.

To start with the positives -
I liked the setting of this book, some sort of post-apocalyptic Sudan complete with genocides and FGM, thus even though this is a fantasy novel, it is dealing with many real-world issues. I also deeply admired the strong female characters in this book. Goodness knows fantasy does suffer from an overabundance of heroic males, so I applaud seeing a kick-ass woman launching into a quest to save the world. In this regard I was reminded of the excellent Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K.Jemisin, a series I found to be much more to my taste.

However, I tend to lose patience in fantasy when the "magic" is just too convenient or hastily explained, which happened for me here. All of a sudden people could spirit travel to exactly where they needed to be, bring goats back from the dead and then magically grow back their clitorises or is it clitorides ? (there are plenty of these by the way, I suppose it's refreshing, but still it seemed slightly excessive).
I enjoy a good fantasy quest tale which is where this book seemed to be heading but I needed a more defined purpose and greater world-building to get me through this writing that I found rather terse and stilted.

Just not my type of fantasy book unfortunately but then very few are ;(

( N.B I now need a new option for Task 19 of the Read Harder Challenge )
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,100 followers
October 14, 2019
This is a hard book to get through for one primary reason: the violence toward women. It's never easy to read. Getting sick to my stomach mars my enjoyment of what is an otherwise fantastic and rich fantasy with all the standard tropes of apprenticeship, tragedy, and sacrifice.

If I could get beyond the rather horrible institutionalized brutality, (and I kinda have to in order to finish the book,) then what is left is a rather great dystopian fantasy, totally post-apocalyptic, that shows hints of our old world with computers and dead civilization and a complete pendulum-reversal where spirits and possible gods and magic from Africa has rebounded.

It was strange, but I only later came to realize that all races were included in this book. The names are changed but the significance only comes later. I just got the impression at first that these were all different tribal groups with vague, if emotionally-charged, underpinnings. The winner always bashes the loser. Needs to constantly bash the loser. Has written a book to confirm the need to bash the loser.

But when the reveals come on us, it's rather satisfying. And disturbing. And atrocious.

Overall, however, this is a pretty fantastic book of fantasy and horror, very African, lots of big magic and violence and a tiny bit of hope. The rules to the magic are not overly-developed and still leave a lot to be discovered, but it's sufficient and strange and full of the wilderness. :)

I'm glad I read this. And that's not just because it was a World Fantasy Award winner. It's just so damn hard to read about all this kind of violence.
Profile Image for Jon.
179 reviews33 followers
December 24, 2015
My feelings about this book are mixed and that makes it a difficult book to review and rate. To start with, it wasn’t anything like what I expected. The book was nominated for a Nebula (one of the premiere sci-fi awards) when it was published and the blurb states that the novel takes place in a far future, post-apocalyptic Africa. Visions of something similar to M. John Harrison’s The Pastel City danced in my head when I read this. I was picturing a future wasteland of rusted cities and abandoned tech, with the African setting giving it a unique perspective. The reality is that the sci-fi elements are marginal at best. Yes, the novel does take place in a future, post-apocalyptic Africa, but, more often than not, it could just as well be taking place in the present day (or a 1,000 years ago). Tech references are few and far between. The characters occasionally use computers and equipment called capture stations are used to make potable drinking water from the surrounding dessert air, but other than these few references, the people in the novel live low tech, rural lives. Scooters or camels are the primary mode of transportation and the descriptions of town life could just as easily be applied to rural villages in the present day. The “apocalypse” is described in passing, using only the vaguest descriptions. I’ve read the book and still have no clue what brought our world spanning civilization to it’s knees and created the world in the novel.

So if it isn’t sci-fi, what is it? The book is primarily a fantasy that uses some very familiar (and more than a little worn out) tropes. There’s a Great Book, a prophesy, and the main character, Onyesonwu, is the chosen one who’s destined to change the world. This is a world of magic and sorcerers and the main character is, in some ways, a female Harry Potter. There’s even an evil sorcerer, Daib, who is the main antagonist of the novel and the events of the story lead up to a final confrontation between Onyesonwu and Daib. I have to admit, there was more than a few times when I thought, “Oh God, she’s going to drag that plotline out of mothballs again” The overall lack of originality in the plot is one of the book’s weaknesses and the magical aspects are a little over the top. As a sorcerer, Onyesonwu can raise the dead and shape shift at will, often turning into a vulture to fly ahead and scout things out. Things were just a little too “magical” for my tastes.

There are, however, quite a few redeeming things about the book. The novel was influenced in part by Emily Wax's 2004 Washington Post article "We Want to Make a Light Baby”, which described the use of weaponized rape in the Darfur conflict. In her novel, the Nulu are determined to eliminate the Okeke people, and rape is one of the weapons that they use to accomplish this. In many aspects, the conflict in the novel is similar to what was happening in the Darfur region and like some of the best speculative fiction, Okorafor uses her book’s fantasy setting as a way to comment on the present day. In additional to genocide and weaponized rape, the author also tackles the subject of female circumcision and interestingly enough, this was one of the controversial aspects of the novel:

“The novel includes a graphic scene in which Onyesonwu is subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM), which significantly impairs her ability to use her magical powers. FGM is frequently practiced by Igbo people although its prevalence is decreasing.[6] Some readers criticized Okorafor because they felt that the FGM scene depicted traditional African culture in a negative light.[7][8] In a blog post, Okorafor commented that she is proud of her Igbo identity, but that "culture is alive and it is fluid. It is not made of stone nor is it absolute. Some traditions/practices will be discarded and some will be added, but the culture still remains what it is. It is like a shape-shifting octopus that can lose a tentacle but still remain a shape-shifting octopus (yes, that image is meant to be complicated). Just because I believe that aspects of my culture are problematic does not mean I am “betraying” my people by pointing out those problems." She added: "What it [i.e., female genital cutting] all boils down to (and I believe the creators of this practice KNEW this even a thousand years ago) is the removal of a woman’s ability to properly enjoy the act of sex. Again, this is about the control and suppression of women."

She has also written a great character in Onyesowu and it’s nice to see a strong female protagonist in a work of heroic fiction. Throughout the novel, Onyesonwu clashes with a strongly patriarchal society that often demeans and dismisses women. It’s an effective piece of feminist literature.

Lastly, one of the book’s strengths is the African setting and the use of creatures from the myths and legends of the region does make up somewhat for the tired plotline. Take this description of a creature called a “masquerade”:

"It stood directly before our tent, tall as a middle-aged tree. Wide as three tents. A masquerade, a spirit from the wilderness. …This one stood still as a stone. It was made of tightly packed dead wet leaves and thousands of protruding metal spikes. It had a wooden head with a frowning face carved into it. Thick white smoke dribbled from the top.”

I’ve wavered somewhat between a 3 or a 4 star rating. The plot of a child being born that will grow up to fulfill a prophecy has been used so many times in so many fantasy novels or movies, that it’s a tired and worn out cliché. However, I liked the setting and I liked the strong female character and I especially liked Okorafor’s attempt to tackle some thorny issues like genocide and female circumcision, so I’ll go ahead and give it that additional star.
Profile Image for Sarah.
Author 110 books754 followers
May 25, 2011
I somehow missed the fact that this book was meant to be post-apocalyptic (not a spoiler - apparently everyone knew it but me) until near the end, and therefore read it as a tale set in an alternate magical Africa. It had all of the touchstones of a fantasy quest, right down to the villain's all-seeing eye, albeit in a decidedly different setting. I had to recalibrate partway through, but I was so caught up that I didn't mind.

This is an excellent story, blending quest, myth, magic, cautionary tale, and harsh, harsh reality. There are appalling rapes and other acts of violence all of which sound too familiar to anyone who keeps up with the news that comes from war-torn areas of Africa. These are balanced -somewhat- by great acts of courage, friendship, and devotion. The settings and the elements of magic and myth are fresh and fascinating, deft and confident in their magic-logic. The tale has a fantastic lead character in Onyesonwu, a brave and powerful young woman who sets out to change things for her people.

The author, Nnedi Okorafor, wrote a review on Goodreads of Say You're One of Them, in which she said "I can stand the dark but I need light so that I can see where I need to go."
That sentence perfectly sums up this book for me. Say You're One of Them, particularly in the title story, touches on similar issues of tribes turning on each other, of rape as a weapon, of genocide. Okorafor provides the light that Akpam did not: she presents bleak reality but also hope for change.

ETA: I'm bumping this up to five stars because I keep thinking about it.
Profile Image for Gabrielle.
1,016 reviews1,181 followers
April 22, 2020
While I had been underwhelmed by the “Binti” series (, I had enjoyed Okorafor’s writing enough to pick up her other (non-YA) books, and reading “Who Fears Death” seems to simply confirm that my intuition was right: she is a fantastic writer with a rich imagination, but most YA stuff just doesn’t cut it for me. While this is a coming of age story, it is definitely not for younger audiences, and it was a much more satisfying read (to me, at least) than her “Binti” novellas.

Onyesonwu is a child of rape, and as such, she is marked as an outcast in the village her mother settles in after years of wandering the desert. As she grows up, she begins to understand that the violence of her conception is not the only thing that makes her different: strange, magical gifts begin to manifest themselves, triggered by an archaic coming of age ceremony. But Onye’s powers also put her in the cross-hairs of a powerful sorcerer who wants her dead.

Okorafor didn’t re-invent the wheel here, but what makes this book interesting is the setting: a post-apocalyptic Africa where tribal wars tear countries apart, where people have reconnected with ancient magic that pre-dated the technology that meant the downfall of preceding civilizations. I also loved her characters, who are strong, smart, stubborn and refuse to let traditions stop them.

Sometimes, the pacing is a bit uneven, and the antagonist’s motives were a bit too simplistic, but otherwise, the story was gritty and layered. The themes of racism and sexism were obvious, but not didactic: I think any reasonable person knows those things are bad, but the way Okorafor shows the less pleasant sides of her characters’ culture and how it influences their thoughts and actions were done with enough skill that it doesn’t feel like a lecture, but simply the story of one young woman’s experience with discrimination and violence.

3 and a half stars, rounded up to 4.
37 reviews17 followers
July 19, 2012
So there's this lady, and she lives in Africa where things aren't so great. In fact, one day she gets RAPED. She gets RAPED so hard that apparently enough semen pours out of her to make a hentai proud. As luck would have it, she gets a pregnant, and so our story begins.

This is the tale of Onyesonwu, a girl who's as obnoxious as she is mad. She doesn't think life is all that fair to the women in ol' Africa, and so she sets out to learn juju so that she can take revenge on her father (the guy who did all the RAPE). Along the way, she gets circumcised. But it's okay, 'cause some other girls get circumcised with her, and they all become fast friends as a result. Did you know that girls get periods? You did? Well, in case you forget, this book will remind you every few pages that girls get periods. What a clever way to indicate to the reader every time a month has gone by.

So once Onyesonwu learns enough juju, she and her circumcised friends, along with a couple men (two of only a handful of male characters in the book not constantly trying to RAPE), set off on a journey to kill Onyesonwu's father (the RAPE king of the west). Along the way, Onyesonwu regrows everyone's clitorises, so then everyone can enjoy lots and lots of sex. The entire second half of the book is young women wandering the desert having sex with their newly grown clits. Then the book ends. Also, random men try to RAPE the women along the way.

If this all sounds awesome, let me assure you that it's not nearly as exciting as it sounds. In fact, you could say it's retarded... or rapetarded if you will.
Profile Image for Craig Laurance.
Author 29 books153 followers
July 11, 2010
I really wanted to enjoy this book--but I couldn't. And perhaps that was the point. Okorafor uses the trappings of fantasy--a young sorceress, her training, a prophetic quest--to discuss dark subject matters, particularly, the matter of sub-Saharan Africa. So it's an oddly compelling mash-up of Chinua Achebe and a J.K. Rowling coming of age novel. Issues, like weaponized rape, genocide, slavery, color-caste racism, genital mutilation, and sexism exist along side casual magic (shape-shifting, teleportation, and other dimensions). The characters do go through hell, but the author does manage to inject warmth and humor into the tale. While the first person narrative is engaging, the reader (or this reader) noticed that the text was in conversation with other texts, both literary and political. It made for a richer read, but I fear that other readers might miss the significance and be left in the dark. In short, this is not escapist fantasy literature, though the magic here will transport you to another world. Allegory enrobes this story.

Who Fears Death reminds of The Unconquered Country, by Geoff Ryman and Ben Okri's tales of Azarro the Spirit Child. This is a brave book, full of some horrific images.
Profile Image for Viv JM.
694 reviews153 followers
July 28, 2016
In some ways, Who Fears Death is an archetypal hero(ine)'s quest tale. There's a prophecy, an apprenticeship and an arduous journey. What sets this apart is the unusual protagonist (a tall, mixed race sorceress with anger management issues) and setting (a kind of post-apocalyptic fantasy desert landscape). Although this is a fantasy novel - or maybe because it is a fantasy novel? - Okorafor manages to tackle some big themes of endemic racism and misogyny. I thought her treatment of FGM was exceptionally sensitively handled, and I loved her portrayal of both the main romantic relationship and especially the female friendships in this book.

The writing, at times, did feel a little unpolished and I felt the whole desert quest/journey dragged on a little too long but overall I would recommend this book for anyone looking for something a little bit different in the fantasy genre.
919 reviews255 followers
January 7, 2016
I don't know exactly why, but I can't get into Nnedi Okorafor's writing at all. It certainly isn't bad, by any means. There are moments of incredible beauty, a raw power to the words and the stories and characters are completely unique. I just always feel that the stories she tells are almost too big for her to control, something in the writing is fighting the confines of the pages and so the stories jump around and sense is lost - just enough to make reading a chore instead of a pleasure - or even a good challenge; just enough to lose the impact the writing deserves. Of course it could be argued that this is entirely the intent - surrealism is the intended outcome - but I feel there is a difference between books that are not meant to make sense and are perfect in this, and books where sense is lost where it should not be. I found this with Lagoon, I found this with Who Fears Death, I think for now I will read other books by other authors.
Profile Image for Allison Hurd.
Author 3 books749 followers
December 17, 2017
Okay. You were right. I was wrong. I should not have read this book. I hope you're happy now. I can see why people loved it--there were so many meaningful moments. But it was sort of like psychic warfare for me, so I had to focus on construction and the combination of the warfare and the issues I had with construction made it one of my least favorite finished books this year. The third or fourth ending was really cool though.


Things to love:

-The mythos. A very cool world that has been set up, with a cool set of gods and beliefs. If you've read The Book of Phoenix you'll see a lot of tie ins!

-Mwita and Onyesonwu. They were very loving and flawed but earnest.

-The storytelling. The words, the descriptions of beauty so often overlooked in fantasy, the love you can feel for her home, the emotions of being raised surrounded by prejudice and spite...that was all really well done.

-The sex. It was nice that for the most part it was just a part of the book. No florid language or shame, just teenagers who are in love and unsupervised.

-The ending. The final ending managed to wring another star out of me. That was pretty neat.

Things that sent my consciousness screaming into the void:

-Seriously, so many triggers. Really common ones, too, are just graphically and brutally stated. I'd been warned about the one, but there was no way I would have guessed how prevalent it was. The rest were just surprises sprinkled through to make sure I was as sad as possible. I don't know what I did to it, but I assure you, I'm quite sorry about it.

-The pacing. It was very clunky. It either was way too long or much too condensed, I'm not quite sure which.

-The characters. I actually didn't connect with anyone other than Onye's parents and Luyu. The rest felt capricious and stilted. I didn't understand their motivations or their responses fully. I saw what was intended, but not why that was the outcome. Even the way Mwita and Onye would fight and not speak to each other, or that he called her woman all the time just rubbed me the wrong way. Her brutality also undermined my ability to sympathize with her.

-The journey. The basic plot was cool, but I felt that it was too sparsely knit together. Tying into the character motivation, I didn't believe how they got started or why it had to go this way. I was totally with the book up until they left Jawhir, but after that things felt a little cobbled together for me.

-The magic. It was really cool but a lot of it "just happened" so when the cool stuff was happening, I didn't get the feeling it was any cooler than any of the other stuff that had happened.

-The build up. Actually the lack of context for the cool stuff is a consistent issue I had. So many things would be explained to us after or just outright stated that I never felt we were building to anything. I knew how it would end, more or less, and it did just that, with the exception of the final end. This made the journey fairly tedious for me.

This book was not made for me and that's fine. I can see why it would be amazing, but for me it was like going through a haunted house your friends made you go to. I just kept waiting for the next thing that would terrorize me, but unable to do more than slowly shuffle through the hall.
Profile Image for Kelly.
616 reviews150 followers
July 2, 2010
"To be something abnormal meant that you were to serve the normal. And if you refused, they hated you... and often the normal hated you even when you did serve them."

In Nnedi Okorafor’s post-apocalyptic Sudan, there are two predominant ethnic factions: the light-skinned Nuru and the dark-skinned Okeke. Who Fears Death takes place amid a genocide that the Nuru commit against the Okeke, a campaign that (like genocides in our own time) includes both murder and rape. The mixed-race offspring of a Nuru and an Okeke is called an Ewu and treated as an outcast.

Onyesonwu, whose name means “Who fears death?”, is Ewu, the result of her mother’s rape. As a child she develops magical powers, which further set her apart from others. In her girlhood she clashes with the local sorcerer, who doesn’t want to teach her because she is Ewu and a girl. Later, as a young woman, she gathers a small group of friends and travels eastward to confront her biological father, who is himself a powerful sorcerer and the mastermind behind the genocide.

Who Fears Death can be incredibly hard to read, due to the subject matter. Okorafor depicts racial and sexual violence without flinching, and because the scenario echoes real events taking place in our own time, it hits hard. It hurts more than reading about imaginary violence in a made-up land.

Okorafor doesn’t pretty up the violence, nor does she glorify it. Scenes of violence are written in a matter-of-fact way. The writing style becomes more lyrical when describing the beautiful. One is left with the impression that Okorafor is glorifying exactly the right parts of the story. Love, kindness, magic: these things are worth celebrating. Violence just is, in Onyesonwu’s world and our own.

The setting may sound like one of today’s (or tomorrow’s) news headlines. Onyesonwu’s plot arc, though, will be familiar in other ways. Okorafor shows that a hero(ine)’s journey can fit into this bleak setting just as well as it can fit into a fairy-tale kingdom, weaving several classic fantasy tropes (such as magical training and the complex bond between mentor and student, and the ragtag band of friends who venture forth to battle evil) into the story. Onyesonwu calls to mind a really big archetype, too, one of the most famous ones: the savior-figure who brings hope to an oppressed people.

Yet she is no plaster saint. Onyesonwu is stubborn and has a temper. She feels lust and love and jealousy. She even has neuroses; she doesn’t like different foods touching on her plate. Her lover Mwita is equally fleshed-out. Her friends are drawn in broader strokes, but you’ll come to love them too, and it hurts that not all of them make it. The rest of the cast members are just as memorable. I think my favorites are Najeeba (Onyesonwu’s mother) and Luyu (one of the band of friends).

Who Fears Death is a book I will never forget, but I'm not sure I'll reread it; it contains some scenes I'm reluctant to revisit. Several early scenes — a gang rape and a female circumcision — nearly made me abandon the book because they were painful to read. I’m glad I persisted, though; before long I was swept up in Onyesonwu’s story and couldn’t put the book down. The night I finished, I stayed up far too late turning pages, and after closing the book, I couldn’t sleep. Okorafor includes some tantalizing ambiguities, and I lay awake turning these ambiguities over and over in my mind. I love a book that makes me tear up and makes me think at the same time.
Profile Image for Tudor Vlad.
327 reviews73 followers
February 2, 2017
Not sure how I feel about this. The first 300 pages were amazing, but after that it completely lost me. Not that it was bad, but I just couldn't focus on what was happening, I don't know if it was the book or the fact that I wasn't feeling well because of my cold. Even so, it redressed itself in the last chapters, and I'm really happy with the ending.
Profile Image for Andrei(Drusca).
229 reviews38 followers
June 7, 2023
Desi are portiuni care ar putea sa derajeze pe unii, cartea e superba. Full of action, mythology, everything you could want in a book.
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