Akata Witch – An Unputdownable Light Fantasy
(Trigger warning: Mentions of serial killers and ritual murder)
There are books that need to be read slowly to be truly savoured. You read every page slowly, carefully absorbing all it tells you.
There are others, that have so much information in them or so much emotion, that you can only read a few pages at a time, and then take the day to reflect.
And then there are those books. You start reading them, and before you realise it, three hours have passed and you’re midway. “Just one more chapter,” you think to yourself. But by the time you look up again, it’s already the next morning and there’s nothing left to read.
All these kinds of books have their own charm, but the last ones are my favourite kind. I love escaping into a book’s world and coming out on the other side in a daze because I forgot the characters weren’t real.
So, well-written fantasy is, of course, my favourite genre. But it’s been a while since I read a captivating fantasy book with a great world, strong protagonist(s) and an awesome plot. I think the last one I read was The Red Winter series – review somewhere far back on my feed (Neil Gaiman’s books don’t count – they’re a whole different genre).
So it was quite refreshing when I stumbled (very deliberately) across Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor. It’s been dubbed the “Nigerian Harry Potter”, but it’s so much more than that!
Twelve-year-old Sunny is stuck between two worlds. Born in the US to Nigerian parents, she now lives in Nigeria. With African features but albino skin, she’s mocked for her American accent and so-called American looks. Even her father doesn’t much like her because he didn’t want a daughter.
But then, somewhat by chance, she discovers that she’s a Free Agent of the Leopard People – special people with strong latent magical powers, who can manipulate the elements around her. Befriended by some magical students just like her (but “purebloods” – they’ve always been Leopard People), she’s finally fitting in somewhere, learning about her abilities and about magic.
But obviously, there’s a catch – her little group of new friends is some kind of fated magical quartet – tasked with saving the world from evil (haha, a “chosen one” reference). They all have strong latent powers, but will that be enough to battle an all-powerful villain?
Well, needless to say, I loved it!
A bullied preteen who makes friends and saves the world…isn’t that, like, every YA fantasy fan’s favourite trope?
Akata Witch is not a beautiful work of art or a literary masterpiece. Instead, it’s a fun, simple read with all the right elements and just the right amount of weird to make it a memorable story. It’s based on Nigerian folklore (magic is literally called “juju”) and it’s refreshingly new.
It’s a light read with a strong female protagonist and her well-balanced team of two girls and two boys – all equally powerful in their own ways. It kept me hooked from the get-go, and some scenes (like one where our protagonist shows up a bunch of boys in a football game) just made it even more awesome.
My only complaint with this book is, it ended! It wasn’t very long.
It has a sequel, of course…this is definitely a series trope. Only problem is, the sequel, Akata Warrior, is only available in hardcover and it’s sooo expensive!
Oh. And the author published the second book SIX YEARS after the first (in 2017) and the third book isn’t out yet! I just hope that the entire series (god knows how many books that will be) is released in my lifetime. I’m crying.
If anyone wants to cheer me up, I’ll love you forever if you buy me the second book!
About the Author
A little long because this lady is AMAZING)
Nnedi Okorafor’s Nigerian Igbo parents travelled to the US for school, but the Nigerian Civil War prevented them from returning. So the author of Akata Witch was born in the US. But she spent nearly every holiday with her extended family in Nigeria. Just like Sunny, she grew up between the two worlds, never quite fitting into either.
During her school years, she was a nationally known tennis and track star, also excellent in math and the sciences. A sportsperson all her young life, she was diagnosed with scoliosis at age 13 and underwent spinal fusion surgery at 19. There was only a one-percent chance of paralysis, the doctors had assured her. She turned out to be the one-in-a-hundredth patient who got paralysed – such a rarity that doctors even studied her for their medical books.
Her debilitating paralysis led her to writing. She had wanted to pursue an athletic career, but her paralysis prevented her, so she took a creative writing class and had already started writing her first novel by the semester’s end. Over the last decade or so, she has published a dozen fantasy and sci-fi novels. Her works are usually set in West Africa and explore social issues like racial and gender equality, genocide, and corruption using fantasy as a framework.
She’s won countless science fiction and fantasy awards, and she has even written (true to form, I think) a bunch of Black Panther comics and one comic centred around the awesome Shuri (you’d know if you’ve watched Black Panther). Oh. And Neil Gaiman and Rick Riordan are fans of hers. How many people can say that?!