Wednesday, September 30, 2015

REVIEW: Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
Publication Year: 2011
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Series: Akata Witch #1
Awards: None
Format: Hardback (from Library)
Narrator: NA

Why?:  Ever since reading a review of one of her newer adult novels Lagoon, I’ve wanted to give her books a read.  My library doesn’t have Lagoon (sadly) so I picked up Akata Witch (happily).  Yay me!

This book starts with a young girl seeing the end of the world in a candle flame.  She is so surprised and sucked in that she burns most of her hair off before she notices it. She is Sunny, a 12 year old Nigerian-American girl who was born and spent the first nine years of her life in America before her family moved back to Nigeria. She has two obnoxious brothers and conservative educated parents and she’s also an Albino.  While this hasn’t made life easy for Sunny, it has made her sensible and tough.  Shortly after her vision of the end of the world, she makes a couple of new friends, Orlu and Chichi.  Little does she know that they are about to open up a whole new world to her, because Sunny? Is a witch.  Unlike Orlu and Chichi whose parents are also magical and who have brought them up in the culture, Sunny has no idea and even though magic is hereditary neither of her strait-laced parents even recognizes its existence. Soon after Sunny’s initiation and the beginning of training, a fourth is added to the group of friends – Sasha a slightly older Nigerian-American who was getting in trouble back in the states resulting in his parents sending him away.  The four form a group with magical significance, which means they are destined to do great things together.

I loved this book. If the above description strikes a familiar note and perhaps conjures up a vision of a boy wizard with untidy black hair and a scar, you will have recognized that Akata Witch takes advantage of some well worn tropes. While it is as delightful as Harry Potter, it most certainly goes its own way, based in African culture and myth.  Basically if you enjoyed the Harry Potter books you will undoubtedly enjoy Akata Witch but you will also be continually surprised.

Sunny is a brilliant protagonist whose reactions to all the craziness around her are just as they should be.  All four children feel very real but my major affinity was with Orlu and Sunny.  They are the uptight rule followers – they’re brave and will break rules when necessary but they aren’t reckless or thoughtless.  Being a total goody-goody myself I really appreciated them:).  ChiChi and Sasha are the reckless free spirits and though I should have been annoyed by them I never was as they are also caring, kind and just a teeny bit eccentric.

The book uses the trope of a small magic community completely hidden within a much larger non-magical world and population and as Sunny is introduced into this secret world so is the reader.  The magic and the community around it is effortlessly imaginative without ever being over the top.  For the most part it feels very down to earth, gritty and real. It’s wondrous and familiar all at once.  And not without dangers.  I was curious at first why a book with a twelve year old protagonist was classified YA rather than middle-grade but it doesn’t take much reading into the book to realize why.  The danger they face is dark and the magic they do is sometimes not pretty.

FINAL VERDICT: Very enjoyable YA read with a distinctive atmosphere about young witches and wizards taking on a great evil.  It has characters that are easy to believe in and care about and a magic system and magical community that is imaginative and fun to be immersed in. Fans of Harry Potter should love this one! 4 out of 5 stars.    

Don't just take my word for it - Other Reviews: GeekDad | Jim C. Hines | Odinani

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