Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor For some reason, it’s hard to find non-whites and worlds modeled on places other than Europe in fantasy. And while I love medieval settings probably a lot more than the next person, diversity is the spice of literature. This is the first fantasy (and maybe book) that I’ve read set in Nigeria. Sunny is a teen who fits in even less than the usual. She’s albino with Nigerian features, born in Nigeria, grew up in America until 9, but has lived in Nigeria since then. Just as the story begins, she sees a vision in a candle flame of the world ending. Soon afterwards, she learns that she is a Leopard, a person with magical abilities. She meets three other kids her own age who are already training to use their Leopard abilities. Unlike them, her parents don’t have juju and so couldn’t recognize and tell Sunny about her own. Even before she starts attending twice-weekly magic class on top of regular school, she’s having to be more careful. Someone called Black Hat has been kidnapping and ritually murdering children. Now she learns that Black Hat is not just a mentally ill Lamb or non-magical person, but a rogue Leopard bent on the bringing on the end of the world. Naturally, Sunny and her three classmates are formed into an Oha coven, a balanced team whom the Leopard elders will send out against Black Hat. I loved that Sunny frequently gets into trouble for asking her teachers and elders why on earth they are sending kids out against Black Hat when the seasoned magicians have failed to stop him. There is even mention, darkly, that theirs is not the first Oha coven to have been sent, and that the elders do not necessarily expect them to come back. It’s fairly common for lots of youth and teen fantasy reviews and especially cover blurbs to mention Harry Potter these days, but this really does have a lot of elements in common, from the discovery of magical ability and being the kid expected to defeat the bad guy to secret Leopard schools, towns and money. Fortunately for my tender parent sensibilities, the murdered children stayed far enough in the background for me to enjoy the story. I found the African magic or juju, with its knives and powders and some innate abilities, very interesting. The only flaw I found – was this in the storytelling, or was it meant to be this way – was that it felt like the kids were thrown into the final conflict before they had any chance of having learned enough juju to succeed. Still, I enjoyed it a lot and would definitely recommend it to those looking for an exciting teen fantasy.
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