Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Shadow Speaker

By Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu.

I"m going to try a slightly different style this time.

Ejii is a young girl in what was Nigeria with an unusual power: her cat-like eyes give her the ability to see in the dark and speak to shadows. When the shadows tell her she must go on a quest to stop a war, she must decide whether it is worth her own life to do so, for the journeys of shadow speakers are perilous to the speaker.

Upsides: Strong characters deal with a morally complex situation: Jaa favors violence, while Ejii favors peace, but they are both treated as "good guys." The bad guy is also rounded. Ejii's power is cool but even more dangerous than a double-edged sword, as it hurts her even when she doesn't use it. The narrative is lively and enjoyable to read and has much of the same whimsy that was in Zahrah the Windseeker, but with a plot that concerns more than a handful of people this time.

Downsides: Polygamy, if that's a downside for you. Reincarnation. The shadows are called the spirits of the Earth, if I recall correctly, and said to never lie or mislead. At one point, Ejii perceives a mystic "Whole" of all creatures which she calls "Allah." Also, the first chapter with the Desert Magician is strange and seems out of place.

I would recommend this for the strong writing and creativity involved, but the spiritual aspects, reincarnation, and polygamy involved are somewhat troubling to me and good to be aware of.

Note: Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu has also written Zahrah the Windseeker, an earlier book set in the same universe, but more whimsical and less serious than The Shadow Speaker. In Zahrah, all Zahrah has to do is keep following the path she chooses; Ejii is repeatedly confronted with choices where the correct path isn't always obvious or even unambiguous.

No comments: