Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
I don't think I've ever been more relieved to have finished a book.
Who Fears Death is a tough book. It is tough to read. Okorafor pulls absolutely zero punches in this one and delivers scene after scene of intense moments and delivers them with a clarity that often made me feel a sense of discomfort as I read. Okorafor depicts rapes, female circumcision, death, conception, a woman's menstrual period and genocide in this book, and all these moments occur with a visceral "up close and personal" point of view that takes no prisoners. This stylistic approach gives the novel some extremely powerful moments, moments that will live long in my memory. At the same time, for me at least, it was often too much. There were definitely times when the doors to my comfort zone were completely blown open and I was exposed to the raw winds of Okorafor's literary powers. Through some of these scenes, and others throughout the book, Okorafor makes connections from the novel to our world and through this challenged me engage the raw emotions that the novel brought out of me. This was an exciting and unique reading experience for me, and one that I likely will not soon forget.
The overall style of the book is also "tough", the narrative flow has a swagger about it that gives the book and, it's main character, Onyesonwu a distinct personality. Onyesonwu is a strong female lead character, one that is not seen often enough in fantasy literature these days. Okorafor does a good job of fleshing out Onyesonwu and making her believable and realistic. Unfortunately, the same can not be said about any other character in the book. Onyesonwu's quest companions, were never anything more than names to me, as they had very little that allowed the reader to tell them apart. Even the "Evil Lord" was weak, and was apparently just evil for the sake of being evil. This lack of a strong cast of characters greatly reduced my enjoyment of the book. It was difficult and frustrating to read pages and pages of the quest where things were happening to characters I cared absolutely nothing for due to weak characterization.
Another aspect of the book which was a real hang up for me was the dialog. For me this was the weakest part of the book, and a major detractor from my enjoyment. There were a lot of times while reading that I felt like the dialog was straight out of a YA book. The delivery of how the characters spoke to each other felt very juvenile. Okorafor's writing roots are based in YA, so this may be a reason for the dialog sounding like it was aimed at a younger crowd. However, that dialog, juxtaposed against the very heavy adult themes was jarring and out of place in this novel.
So, to go back to that first sentence of this post, my most basic reaction upon finishing this book was, and still is, relief. Yes, some of that relief is just being happy to have the weak characters and lame dialog behind me, but that's not all. This book sports some of the most intense, moments in fantasy history, and upon finishing it, I feel relieved that those intense moments are beyond me. That's why I titled this post a "reaction" not a "review". Who Fears Death, no matter what my personal gripes with nuts and bolts of the book are, is a powerful novel. It is a novel that for me at least, will take some time to completely digest. I knew as soon as I was done reading that I couldn't give this book a proper review, if I did, it would get a shitty grade, like a D minus or something, because I did not like this book. The characters and the dialog were BIG turn-offs...but that grading bullshit, and my opinion don't do justice to this novel, I feel that it transcended my typical reading experience and maybe changed me a little, and for sure changed the way I think.
Just like how this book evoked a strong reaction from me, it has also has given me lots to reflect on.