Earlier this year I read and loved Nnedi Okorafor’s Remote Control, which is a truly wonderful novella. Because of this, I was looking forward to Noor as I’m a fan of Okorafor’s take on Africanfuturism and of the way she seamlessly fuses folkloresque fantasy elements with sci-fi ones. While Noor certainly delivers on the Africanfuturism front, pairing this with a commentary on biotechnology, on humanity, and on the realities of being ‘other’, its plot and characters, to my disappointment, struck me as extremely derivative. A bare-bones version of Noor would go like this: we have a dystopian setting where the evil capitalist government is after the heroine who is not like other people and has special powers & her man who is also persona non grata and they eventually join a group of rebels where she comes across ex-lover before final ‘battle’ with the baddies. Anwuli Okwudili, who goes by AO, initials that stand for Artificial Organism, lives in a dystopian Nigeria. She was born with various physical disabilities which were later aggravated by a car accident. To her parents and her society’s disapproval, she goes on to have many body augmentations which enable her to be mobile and pain-free for the first time in her life. The opening sequence is rather clumsily executed as we are given vague descriptions about AO’s world (just how far in the future is it?). After splitting up with her partner who is openly repulsed by her ‘machine’ parts (why were they even together in the first place? she already had augmentations by the time they met, and all of a sudden he’s disgusted by her?) she goes to her local market where she’s attacked. AO is forced to flee and comes across DNA, a Fulani herdsman who is at first quite hostile to her (i’m pretty sure he threatens her…how romantic). The two have to survive the desert together and come across very few other characters, and if they do, it just so happens that those characters are just there to play the role of plot devices to further their story. The narrative allegedly takes place over a week but to be entirely honest the passage of time is rather unclear. It seemed to me that the events that transpire within these pages could have all happened in 1 or 2 days. AO and DNA’s bond felt forced and eye-rolling. They just have to fall in love because she’s a woman and he’s a man and they are both on the run from the evil government. While the first half of the novel is rather vague in terms of worldbuilding we, later on, get a ton of exposition that leaves very little room for interpretation (this is something i would expect from a ya novel, not an adult one). Noor has the trappings of a generic dystopian novel. What ‘saves’ this from being an entirely forgettable and uninspired read are the setting and the overall aesthetic which blends together folklore and technology. Okorafor also adopts the story-within-a-story device which works in her novel’s favour. I just found AO to be hard-to-like and at one point there is a scene about choosing your name which just didn’t go down that well with me (that this novel lacks lgbtq+ characters made it even worse tbh). AO’s ideologies were kind of murky and incongruent so that I found it hard to relate to her. The final section introduces a few more characters who are given very little room to shine as they are sidelined in favour of AO and DNA. All in all, Noor was disappointing, especially considering how much I loved Remote Control. Ao is no Sankofa and in spite of the longer format, well, here the extra pages do more harm than good (they don’t expand the world or flesh out the characters but end up being about a weird romance and a final act that gave me major martyr vibes ).
Remote Control is Afrofuturism at its best. Nnedi Okorafor seamlessly blends folklore elements and aesthetics with sci-fi ones, delivering a unique and intriguing piece of speculative fiction. Set in Ghana, Remote Control opens in medias res: the appearance of Sankofa, a fourteen-year girl, and her companion, a fox, sends the residents of a town into hiding. They shout her name and the following: “Beware of remote control, o! The most powerful of all witchcraft!”. Sankofa chooses a house in which she is treated like a honoured, and feared, guests. The following chapters tell Sankofa’s story and of her strange, and occasionally dangerous, powers. After a terrible tragedy forces her to leave her hometown Sankofa embarks on a journey in pursuit of the peculiar object responsible for her powers. As she is unable to use cars (since her ‘change’ she become a technology ‘repellant’) Sankofa walks, encountering both friendly and hostile people, seeking shelter in nature, finding comfort in the presence of her fury companion. Throughout the years she spends on the road we see the way people view her and her powers. Some see her as a ‘witch’ and seek to harm, while others seek her help. Time and again we see the damage caused by fear and hatred of the other or that which we do not understand. There were many harrowing scenes but thankfully there were also plenty of moments emphasising empathy, connection, and love. As much as I appreciated the setting and the mélange of sci-fi and fable, what I loved the most about Remote Control was Sankofa herself. I don’t think I have ever warmed up so quickly to a character. Perhaps it is because she is a child but to be honest I tend not to like children (real and fictional alike) but Sankofa immediately won me over. There was something so endearing and wholesome about her that my heart ached for her. I found her level-headedness to be both sweet and amusing (“Being led out of town by an angry mob wasn’t the worst thing that could happen, best to stay calm and let it be done”). My anxiety over her wellbeing did give the novella a suspenseful edge, so that I finished it as quickly as possible. The only aspect that didn’t quite ‘work’ for me was the ending (which could have been less ambiguous). Nevertheless, I would love to read more novellas set in this world! I would definitely Remote Control recommend to fans of speculative fiction: the writing is evocative and inventive, the main character is wonderful, and Okorafor raises interesting questions about power and fear.
Uzodinma Iweala’s prose is both swift and elegant; there is something compelling about the way in which he phrases things, there is a rhythm to his writing. This deceptively short novel is rather heavy going. The summary is somewhat misleading, making it seem that we will follow Niru throughout his life rather than for just reading about his senior year. The story focuses in particular on Niru’s sexuality, which he attempts to repress, mainly due his conservative parents. Niru’s opens up to Meredith, his best friend and fellow classmate at their privileged high school.
While I loved the language of this book – eg. the imagery, the descriptions – I felt that it was all a bit rushed, and ultimately, Niru was too much of a cypher. While Iweala portrays the horrible things that Niru is forced to endure – as in his father’s attempt to ‘make him straight’ – in an incredibly affecting way but, at the same time, Niru was never fully ‘present’ in his own narrative. He escaped his readers, and while I do understand that this might be intentional, it just made me feel slightly less involved. Meredith was another ‘problem’. Her character disappears for a large amount of the novel; her role seems to be that of an ‘instigator’ for tragic events, her friendship with Niru seemed unsubstantial, flimsy, since she regards him as a high school crush rather than a true person. And yes, I was pissed off by the turn of events. Meredith is a negative presence in this novel, and I did not care to read from her pov.
And what exactly does this story leaves us with?
Ultimately, in spite of its heart-wrenching and contemporary themes, this novel is undermined by its evasive characters and its frustrating storyline.
While I’m no longer an avid YA fan, I still do like to check out the new YA titles. Reading the blurb, and the general hype, for Children of Blood and Bone I was so sure that I would too love it that I bough a hardback copy. The design of this book is gorgeous. The cover, the title, the map. Wow. Sadly the actual content of this novel left me feeling rather…cold. While I do understand – and I am thankful for – what Tomi Adeyemi is trying to do, her story is loaded with YA tropes. The West African inspired setting was the only thing that spoke to me. The characters and plot were the same overused YA archetypes: oppressed magic people, special hot-temperated-acts-before-thinking kick-ass heroine, the naive princess, the angsty anti-hero (a wannabe Zuko/Kylo) and his villainous father. That the three first-person povs sounded exactly like one another didn’t help. I tried to feel something for these characters, but I didn’t. I only felt something when Amari was recalling her friendship with Binta, but that was the only affecting and credible relationship in this novel. I grew tired of Zélie’s predictably petty attitude towards Amari, and the romance felt so forced and unbelievable that I ended up skimming large parts from Inan’s pov (who keeps referring to Zélie as ‘the girl’…so romantic). And of course Amari and Zélie’s brother have to be romantically involved too. How convenient! The action-orientated storyline doesn’t allow much character development: a good old ‘hero’s journey’ where our protagonists encounter a number of obstacles that help her restore magic. Racism, classism, culture clash, have been done before both in YA, ex. An Ember in the Ashes and The Winner’s Curse, and in adult fiction, anything by N.K. Jemisin, and I would recommend Children of Blood and Bone only to those who have are new to YA. Otherwise, well, you’ve probably read this before.
“You think we are like you humans?” it asked, angrily. “We don’t kill for sport or even for gain. Only for purpose.”
An interesting novella that sets a promising start to the series. Okorafor plays around with sci-fi elements, giving us an intriguing take on overused tropes of the genre. Binti is a rather refreshing story, one that had to work against its ‘shortness’. Okorafor establishes the tone and themes of her story from the very beginning. Her style has a natural flow that makes the story easy to follow despite the unfamiliar world.
“The Meduse are not what we humans think. They are truth. They are clarity. They are decisive. There are sharp lines and edges. They understand honor and dishonor. ”
I would have liked to have more information, especially concerning Binti’s reality. Sometimes Okorafor addressed certain things and then doesn’t return to them, and this made the setting a rather precarious one. In certain scenes there is a focus on superficial particulars that don’t really add anything of value to the story, and usually I wouldn’t mind, but given that this is novella, and every word counts, I think it would have been better to then use more words to depict Binti’s world more clearly. Binti was a forgettable protagonist, her characterisation solely relies on the circumstances she finds herself in, rather than her already possessing certain distinguishable traits. A quick read that proposes some compelling elements but ultimately fails to stand out.