Review: Who Fears Death

81h8qembalTitle: Who Fears Death

Author: Nnedi Okorafor

Genre: Science Fiction

Page Count: 419

Stand Alone or Series: Series

Publisher: Daw Books, Inc.

Release Date: 2010, Reprint (February 4, 2014)


“International award-winning Nnedi Okorafor enters the world of magical realist literature with a powerful story of genocide in the far future and the woman who reshapes her world.

In a post-apocalyptic Africa, the world has changed in many ways, yet in one region genocide between tribes still bloodies the land. A woman who has survived the annihilation of her village and a terrible rape by an enemy general wanders into the desert hoping to die. Instead, she gives birth to an angry baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand. Gripped by the certainty that her daughter is different–special–she names her Onyesonwu, which means “Who fears death?” in an ancient language. It doesn’t take long for Onye to understand that she is physically and socially marked by the circumstances of her violent conception.

She is Ewu–a child of rape who is expected to live a life of violence, a half-breed rejected by both tribes. But Onye is not the average Ewu. Even as a child, she manifests the beginnings of a remarkable and unique magic. As she grows, so do her abilities, and during an inadvertent visit to the spirit realm she learns something terrifying: Someone powerful is trying to kill her.

Desperate to elude her would-be murderer and to understand her own nature, she embarks on a journey in which she grapples with nature, tradition, history, true love, and the spiritual mysteries of her culture, and ultimately teaches her why she was given the name she bears: Who Fears Death.” (Source


I found this little gem during one of my many trips to my local book store. That particular day, I had been on the hunt for a sci-fi novel written by an African-American woman that wasn’t urban fantasy. The only novel I could find that I hadn’t read was this one. I was a bit hesitant about it for a few main reasons, but as soon as I began to read it, I was enthralled. It is a beautifully woven tale that touches on the issues of racism, genocide, and sexism in a creative way.

It is told in a semi-non linear memoir format. The narrator is telling us her story as she sits on the dirt floor of a jail cell. She begins at the moment of her father’s death (I read that this scene was written right after the author’s own father passed) and leads us back and forth through time, weaving a tale that brought tears to my eyes and cringe in horror.

It appears that this world is quite different from our own. They have their own origin story and magic, although uncommon, isn’t really unusual. In their origin story the creator god, Ani, built everything, but then rested for a while. When she awakened she was horrified to find that a race of people formed from her rivers and began building and multiplying. Because she was unhappy with this, she created a group of people made from the light and made them lord over the dark-skinned people and that was how it stayed.

The rare children born from mixing the races were shunned. This is especially true of those of rape. Onyesonwu is one of those children. They say that those children born from those circumstances are prone to violence. Onye ends up being fiery with an intolerance for injustice. This puts her in direct opposition with the very tradition she grew up in.

I loved this character. At times I found her a little hard to deal with but overall I thought she was awesome. She refused to be looked down upon because of her skin color or her sex. She was out to prove to people that she was just as good as others. When her mentor initially wouldn’t teach her, she showed him that she was the one that should be taught. When the man she loved became upset because she was more powerful, she squashed that before it became a major problem. She was the one who would change history.

It’s similar to most other quest/adventure stories in its format, but the devil is in the details. Every single last one of her characters have such deep, complex, real emotions. I found that it was very rare to meet a main or secondary character in this story who was two-dimensional. Some where not what you initially perceive them to be. Others stood up and became more likable. The world was beautifully created. At times I felt like I was in the desert with them. Sometimes the story did get bogged down by extraneous details and the final fight wasn’t major, but that is all forgivable. The journey and the changes she made along the way were the most important.

In the end, this is a story about combating injustice. It’s real although fiction. It is gory, depressing, inspiring, enjoyable to read. I’d be happy if I’m able to ever create something 3/4ths as good as this.

Favorite Quotes

“The killing continues. But there are few Okeke left where there used to be many. In a matter of decades, they’ll have wiped us from their land. It was our land, too. So tell me, is it right that you dwell here content as this happens? You’re safe here. Maybe.” (page 101)

“Do you believe in Ani?”

“No,” I said, matter-of-factly. Ani was supposed to be merciful and loving. Ani wouldn’t have allowed me to exist. I’d never believed in Ani. She was just an expression I was used to using when I was surprised or angry. 

“Some creator then?” he asked.

I nodded. “It is cold and logical.”

“Are you willing to allow others the same right to their beliefs?”

“If their beliefs don’t hurt others and, when I feel the need, I am allowed call them stupid in my mind, then yes.”

“Do you believe it’s your responsibility to leave this world in better shape than when you came into it?”


He paused, looking at me more intensely. “Is it better to give or receive?”

“They’re the same,” I said. “One can’t exist without the other. But if you keep giving without receiving, you’re a fool.” (page 118-119)

Rating: 9/10

Thanks for reading and please check out this book!



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