The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu
|The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu|
|Reviewer: Robert James|
|Summary: A fantastic setting – a future version of Africa after a nuclear fallout – is largely wasted as the ideas in this one come so thick and fast that it makes it nearly impossible to keep up with. Add to that bland characterisation and a disappointing climax and this is unfortunately not one to recommend.|
|Buy? No||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 352||Date: December 2010|
|Publisher: Disney Publishing Worldwide|
Set in Western Africa in 2070, in a world which has been forever changed by Peace Bombs, released years ago by an environmental group to counteract the effects of a US nuclear bomb, teenage heroine Eiji grows up knowing she is different. The Peace Bomb has given many people superpowers, hers being to communicate with shadows. But five years ago, the warrior queen Jaa beheaded Eiji's tyrannical father, and Jaa has returned seeking Eiji's help. While her mother forbids her from leaving her town, the shadows tell Eiji that if she doesn't go with Jaa war is inevitable. What can she do?
And more to the point, why couldn't she do it quicker? I actually really enjoyed the first third or so of this book, which is almost a masterclass in world building - Okorafor-Mbachu gives us the effects of the Peace Bomb, how it came about, talking camels, various people who've developed mutations from the Bomb's effects, desert magicians, giant living storms, and goodness only knows what I've forgotten to mention. She also manages to introduce us to all of this without ever feeling like she's dumping information on us. So far, so good – what's not to like?
Well, when you build a world like this, there surely has to be a point at which you think that enough's enough, and Okorafor-Mbachu steamrolls past that point. By the end, I was getting so confused by what was going on that it was hard to keep track of everything, and more worryingly, I didn't particularly want to. Eiji starts off quite well, as the daughter of a tyrant who is struggling to know how to feel about the queen who killed him, but quickly degenerates into a terribly bland heroine. Her friend Dikeogu, a former slave, has little to recommend him as a sidekick, with talking camel Onion - by far my favourite character - pretty much single-handedly providing the trio's personality. My eyes were glazing over by the final third and it was with a sigh of relief that I finished the book, despite an ending which would have classed as a letdown if I'd not been just glad it was over with.
Unfortunately not recommended – a real shame as the first part seemed to hold huge amounts of promise.
Further reading suggestion: For a more impressive sci-fi novel set in the future, I'd highly recommend Incarceron by Catherine Fisher. For the story of another warrior queen, try The Queen's Vow by C W Gortner.
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You can read more book reviews or buy The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu at Amazon.com.
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