Category Archives: OnceUponATime V

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

“Dear friends, are you afraid of death?”
Patrice Lumumba, first and only elected
Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo

The epigraph from Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

DAW Books, New York, 2010

Borrowed from my public library.

I have been introduced to Nnedi Okorafor’s books on several blogs over the past year.  Her titles for young adults are quite popular, but I haven’t read them.  After reading Who Fears Death I will change that.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book and the impact of it has me reeling.

In post-apocalyptic Africa one tribe has enslaved another.  Now the Nuru tribe has decided to follow their “great Book” and eliminate the enslaved Okeke.  Through rape as a weapon of war a girl child is born.  This child is named Onyesonwu, by her mother.  The word means “Who Fears Death” in an ancient language.  As Onye grows up, strong-willed and determined, she learns she is marked by her unusual hair and skin color, a Ewu, considered an out-cast by some, a pariah by others.   She also discovers she is different in other ways, she can shape-shift and travel outside her body.  She is determined to be trained as a magician .

Because of a prophesy Onye and several companions, including her lover Mwita, travel from their village, heading west through a world of desolation. They are on a journey to find and destroy a magician,  a very dangerous man named Daib, who is Mwita’s teacher and Onye’s biological father.

Okorafor has created a story where the past is unknown and I found myself wanting more of its history.  Who Fears Death is a dark and timely fantasy that uses  violence that occurs in present day Africa, both ethnic violence and violence against women,  as the ground for her novel.  It is a difficult book, at times very hard to read.

As I read, visualizing  the rapes, female circumcision,  stoning and genocide, all I could think of is  that these things are happening in many places right now, not sometime in the far distant future.  This mix of present day current events, fantasy and future technology makes for an intense reading experience, one that has me thinking deeply about what we human beings, through our beliefs and prejudices,  can do to each other.

This is an important book.  Even if you are not a fantasy fan I suggest you read it.

Other reviews:

Books and Movies

The Literary Omnivore

The OF blog


Filed under DarkFantasy, OnceUponATime V, POC Challenge, Review

Fire & Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones

Fire & Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones

Collins, London, 2000

I own this one.  It is my second book for the Once Upon A Time V reading challenge.  Having just learned of Diana Wynne Jones and her wonderful books last year, I was sad to hear she had died in March.  There have been many wonderful posts about her and her work on author sites and book blogs.  She will be greatly missed.  I am glad she left us such a fine collection of books.

Fire & Hemlock is a story about memory.  At nineteen, Polly Whittacker is packing to return to college and wondering about a book she thought she read years ago.  Her memory of the stories and authors seem to be different from what is before her eyes.  There is also a picture hanging over her bed that seems to be different in ways she cannot describe.

As she begins to think back, she realizes that at some point four years in the past her memories changed.  That discovery begins to bring her past to the surface.  She remembers a different life, a life that included heroic adventures and interesting people, particularly a man named Thomas Lynn.

This is really a story within a story, based on the ballads Tam Lin and Thomas the RhymerFire & Hemlock references many other works including The Three Musketeers, The Lord of the Rings and The Golden Bough.  For that alone it is worth the read but it is really Wynne Jones’s ability to write fantasy that melds so seamlessly with everyday life that made it work for me.  And the writing is beautiful.

The sun reached the dry pool.  For just a flickering part of a second, some trick of light filled the pool deep with transparent water.  The sun made bright, curved wrinkles on the bottom, and the leaves, Polly could have sworn, instead of rolling on the bottom were for an instant, floating, green and growing.  Then the sunbeam traveled on, and there was just a dry oblong of concrete again.  Mr Lynn saw it too.  Polly could tell from the way he stopped talking.  From page 30.

Diana Wynne Jones understood stories and magic and the way they intersect.  She also knew that fairy stories contain certain truths.

Later they were standing looking at the Thames somewhere while Polly ate a choc-ice – she spent most of the day eating something  – and Mr Lynn asked her if she had liked the books he had sent for Christmas.

Polly did her best to be tactful.  It was not easy, because the choc-ice had just fallen apart and she was trying to balance a sheet of chocolate on her tongue while she sucked at the dripping ice cream underneath.  “King Arthur’s all right,” she said liquidly.

“You don’t like fairy stories.  Have you read them?” said Mr Lynn.  Polly was forced to shake her head.  “Please read them,” said Mr Lynn.  “Only thin, weak thinkers despise fairy stories.  Each one has a true, strange fact hidden in it, you know, which you can find if you look.”  From page 171.

Diana Wynne Jones once wrote that she wished  “to write a book in which modern life and heroic mythical events approached one another so closely that they were nearly impossible to separate.”  She accomplished this with Fire & Hemlock, a book I’m sure I will reread many times, if only for the scene  where Polly and Tom Lynne spin the huge vases outside Hunsdon House and read HERE and NOW and WHERE and NO.

I think the reason that the heroic ideal had, as it were, retreated to children’s books is that children do, by nature, status and instinct, live more in the heroic mode than the rest of humanity.  They naturally have the right naïve, straightforward approach.  And in every playground there are actual giants to overcome and the moral issues are usually clearer than they are, say, in politics.

Diana Wynne Jones, ‘The heroic ideal – a personal Odyssey’, The Lion and the Unicorn, v.13:no.1 (June 1989) discussed at Two Sides to Nowhere.

Other reviews:

A Striped Armchair

DogEar Diary

Jenny’s Books

things mean a lot

We Be Reading


Filed under Fantasy, OnceUponATime V, Review

Once Upon A Time V

Once upon a time..four words that open up entire worlds. It is Spring in the northern hemisphere and Carl V. is again hosting Once Upon A Time, a reading event based in  Fantasy, Fairy Tales, Folklore and Mythology.  It is not so much a challenge as an adventure and there are so many ways to take part that it is easy to join in.  From Carl’s website:

The Once Upon a Time Challenge has a few rules:

Rule #1: Have fun.

Rule #2: Have fun.

Rule #3: Don’t keep the fun to yourself, share it with us, please!

Rule #4: Do not be put off by the word “challenge”.

I am signing up for The Journey, joining in to read one book, or as many books as I choose.  It couldn’t be any easier.  Please visit Carl’s blog to find out more about out this wonderful event.


Filed under Events, OnceUponATime V