Nnedi Okorafor’s books are always such a treat.
Akata Witch is the story of Sunny, born in America but who now lives in Nigeria with her brothers and parents.
“I’m Nigerian by blood, American by birth, and Nigerian again because I live here. I have West African features, like my mother, but while the rest of my family is dark brown, I’ve got light yellow hair, skin the color of “sour milk” (or so stupid people like to tell me), and hazel eyes that look like God ran out of the right color. I’m albino.”
Sunny confuses people. She doesn’t fit in. Not at school, where she is called “akata” which means “bush animal” and is used to refer to black Americans or foreign-born blacks. She doesn’t really fit in at home either – her dad doesn’t seem to know what to do with her.
Then she becomes friends with Orlu, a boy in her school, who introduces her to Chichi, a rather strange girl who lives in a house full of books. And they reveal that they are Leopard People, powerful, magical. And that she too is one, except that she is a “free agent”. That is, despite her parents being ordinary folk, she is in a Leopard spirit line, and that she had magical abilities too, abilities that need to be unlocked and developed.
There is a whole world out there just for Leopard People. A place called Leopard Knocks with shops, restaurants and the Obi Library. For Leopard People, it’s all about learning.
She has to learn, to study juju, spells, magic. And this is on top of all the studying she already has to do for school. Add to that the sneaking around because she can’t tell anyone else about her newfound magical abilities, or the Leopard People.
Young and inexperienced as she is, she – and three other Leopard People friends- are tasked to catch a serial killer.
It’s such a fun read, as we explore this new world with Sunny, learn about her powers and this strange new double life she leads. Also there’s that element of darkness and danger lurking, not just with the serial killer, but all the tasks and skills training she goes through. Even a visit to a mentor’s house could be deadly!
And this magical world that Okorafor has created! One with an artist wasp that creates sculptures out of things it finds in nature like crumbs or mud – and will sting you if you don’t appreciate its work! The way Leopard People earn money, called chittim – when they learn something, the gold coins fall from the sky and land at their feet!
Akata Witch reminded me a lot of Zahrah the Windseeker (another fab read), in its strong young female character and fascinating world, and in this article with SFWA, Okorafor explains:
But they’ll also find that all my novels are connected, they are telling one big story. Akata Witch is a prequel to The Shadow Speaker. Zahrah the Windseeker is directly linked the Who Fears Death. There is technology in Who Fears Death that is more explained in The Shadow Speaker. The Shadow Speaker shares characters with Zahrah the Windseeker. The Nigerian writing script Nsibidi plays a pivotal role in Who Fears Death, Zahrah the Windseeker and Akata Witch. Aro (from Who Fears Death), The Desert Magician (from The Shadow Speaker), Papa Grip (Zahrah the Windseeker), Long Juju Man (from Long Juju Man), Junk Man (from Akata Witch) — he shows up in all of my novels in various forms.
Also, good news! Akata Witch has a sequel coming out soon!
I read this book for Readers Imbibing in Peril XI
(here’s the link to the review site)