The Shadow Speaker – Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu

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Five words from the blurb: 2070, mysticism, West Africa, survival, magical 

Earlier this year Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu won the World Fantasy Award for her novel, Who Fears Death. It sounded really interesting, but a few people on twitter suggested that her earlier novel, The Shadow Speaker, was even better and since it was available in my local library I decided to give it a try first.

The Shadow Speaker is a young adult fantasy set in West Africa in 2070. The world has been changed by a nuclear war that released “peace bombs” around the globe. These bombs caused the human population to mutate in a variety of different ways; the idea: to create so much diversity that no single group would be big enough to launch a war against another. Many of the population now possess magical powers – some can fly and the central character, Ejii, has the ability to hear the thoughts of plants, animals and people.

There is a lot going on in this book. African mythology is mixed with science fiction and fantasy to create something truly unique. The blend of magic with interesting predictions for the future created a book that I found very compelling and the fact it is aimed at teenagers means that it is easy to read and is the perfect introduction to African literature.

There is something for everyone in this book – there are talking cats, flesh-eating bushes, links to other worlds and a myriad of new inventions. At times there was a bit too much going on for my liking – so many new ideas on each page that I longed for a bit of calm.

My only other criticism is that the characters weren’t very well developed. There was so much world building crammed into this book that the characters remained a bit flat. They lacked an emotional depth and I failed to connect with any of them, but this wasn’t a major problem as other aspects of the book were so strong.

The best thing about The Shadow Speaker is that it contains a depth behind the words. I found this interesting blog post about the religious messages in the book and I’m sure that it contains equally insightful thoughts about many other aspects of our civilisation.

Recommended to anyone looking for something a bit different, especially if you are interested in African literature.


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  1. I like the idea of creating diversity artificially to ensure peace. Not sure it would work, but I’m intrigued enough to want to give it a try. I’ll work a lot with Africa next year and want to try more African literature. So far my experience is limited to the Portuguese-speaking countries there.

    1. Jackie says:

      Alex, I think that creating diversity is an interesting concept, but I can’t see it working. People would still be divided along lines according to their opinions and I think they’d just find other ways to organise themselves – everyone likes to feel part of a group.

  2. Jenners says:

    It certainly sounds different … and like a more positive book than other books set in the future!

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, I’m not sure it is more positive than other books – there are a LOT of problems in this new world, but it is certainly different. :-)

  3. Ellie says:

    I always seem to miss the religious messages in books, unless they’re some onscure dead religion! Sounds interesting but I’m not a fan of books where the world takes priority over the characters.

    1. Jackie says:

      Ellie, I prefer my characters to take priority over the world, but sometimes it is nice to read an ideas book like this – it gets you thinking in a slightly different way. If only more books managed to combine the two.

  4. stujallen says:

    I m not a fantasy fan but this looks fun I like books of mythology and african books ,I think I d miss the religious content I did in the narnia books as a kid ,all the best stu

    1. Jackie says:

      Stu, I normally miss undertones like that too, but I do like it when these things are pointed out a a later date. There is no way I’d have got any of this sort of thing as a child either!

  5. Amy says:

    So glad to see that you liked this! I’ve yet to read this one but Who Fears Death is definitely a favorite read of mine this year.

    1. Jackie says:

      Amy, I’m keen to try Who Fears Death at some point. She is an author I’m going to follow from now on. :-)

  6. Kailana says:

    I always look forward to things that are ‘different’, so to my wish list this goes. :)

    1. Jackie says:

      Kailana, I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did.

  7. I want to read more books from Africa and reading a fantasy novel seems up my alley. And talking cats, did you say? Sounds good!

    1. Jackie says:

      Christy, Sounds like it ticks all your boxes – I think you’ll love the talking cats!

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