diverse reads

Book Review: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

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Dread Nation

Cover Description: “Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania—derailing the War Between the States and changing the nation forever.

In this new America, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Education Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead.

But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.

But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose.

But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies.

And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

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Review | The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar

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I was excited to hear Sofia Samatar was writing a new novel set in the same world as A Stranger in Olondria. I had listened to the book on audio a few months before and was interested to see what else she would do for the world.

The Winged Histories expands upon the world in A Stranger in Olondria, providing a background into the political/religious setting of the world. It’s set contemporaneously to A Stranger in Olondria and follows four women caught up in the upheaval.

The thought Samatar puts into the world and the religious development is fantastic. She features a number of well thought-out political and religious overlaps and how those interact.

One of the things I noticed right away was the consistency in Samatar’s writing style. The similarity in the first character’s voice and the narrator’s in Olondria was striking. Samatar’s sentence construction and description styles for the two felt very similar. In a way, I both liked and disliked this. I liked the consistency and the distinctiveness of Samatar’s writing, but worried that the book would be atonal, especially considering that there were three other characters whose points of view were about to be presented.

The stories’ characters were definitely distinct. They ran the gambit from funny and loving to dark and brooding. I would argue that the story is family based. The initial character is a young woman in line for the throne. Her family has worked hard to position themselves to take control. After a semi-scandal involving her sister and cousin, she is the last hope to marry well and secure the family’s position, but she runs away to join the army, to become a shieldmaiden.

From that point forward, she becomes the catalyst for revolution, eventually involving her lover, sister, and political rival’s daughter.

The story is fantastical and brings back some interesting characters like Tailon, the daughter of the Priest of the Stone. The overall connections between the characters shows the depth of the story’s construction. Each character influences the others, eventually contributing to the political upheaval that takes place.

I really enjoyed the addition to the world Samatar built in A Stranger in Olondria. That being said, I wasn’t always sure that the story would have stood well on its own without my previously having read Samatar’s work.

The story feels very much like a series of intertwined novellas. Each new perspective pushes the story forward without always answering the questions left behind by the other stories. Some of the lore of Avalei is pretty important to the story overall, but doesn’t receive the same in-depth treatment that was needed in Olondria. In a way this makes sense, the distinction between the theology of the stone and Avalei is less important, but I imagine that reading The Winged Histories first may leave you a little lost.

At the same time, I can see the potential for the story to be a great introduction and context to its predecessor.

Overall, the story is very enjoyable. It’s beautifully written with some varied character voices, but I’d definitely suggest reading Samatar’s earlier works beforehand.

If you’ve read The Winged Histories, and especially if you read The Winged Histories before reading A Stranger in Olondria, I’d be very interested in your thoughts. Please comment below!

Thanks to Small Beer Press who provided me with a copy of The Winged Histories for review.

Review: Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

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If you didn’t know, I’m basically in love with Nnedi Okorafor. I want her to tuck me in and tell me stories at night and to be my best friend. You should probably know that before continuing on.

Front Cover

Akata Witch, while featuring Okorafor’s fantastic creativity and wit, is not an adult book. It aims well at the 12-14 range.

The story follows Sunny, a twelve year old living in Nigeria after having spent her first nine years in America. Sunny is often left alone or made fun of because she has albinism, a condition in which the skin lacks melanin, thus appearing white. This has set her apart from her classmates who call her akata, a derogatory word for people from the bush or to mark someone as an outsider unworthy or untrustable.

Sunny’s family is very normal. Highly educated, they spend much of their time teaching their children to behave and ensuring that they’re educated. They are more severe with Sunny who is the only daughter.

But, Sunny is different. Aside from her skin, her friends reveal that she is a Leopard Person, someone with magical powers and the ability to go between the regular and the magical world. Sunny then has to learn what this means, how to be a Leopard Person when the rest of her family was normal, and who she really is. All the while, a serial killer is on the loose.

There’s a lot that this book has to offer. From complex, but approachable and genuine characters to an entertaining and detailed plot, I really thought Okorafor knocked this one out of the park.

I know I like it, but the question is, will a younger reader (the intended audience) like it? I think the answer is yes. Okorafor creates a world that young readers will identify with: a kid who is fairly normal, if on the outside, who is thrust into an adventure that will change the world. Okorafor delves into west African and Nigerian folk-lore without assuming a great amount of knowledge or over explaining. She provides just the right amount of context for a reader, in particular a young reader, without leaving them feeling talked down to. I cannot speak of this highly enough. It leaves you with a sense of understanding and discovery.

What’s great about Akata Witch is that it also offers a wide cast of characters and problems. Okorafor’s story features characters whose lives are different. They have distinct problems, dyslexia, albinism, an estranged family, narcissism. They are different genders and races. They succeed, but not without their own insecurities and challenges to test them. But all of the characters feel complete and their interactions and personalities grow with the story.

Basically, this was a good read. It has it’s cheezy moments, but is a fun adventure with a lot to offer.