REVIEW: Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor
Dear Ms. Okorafor,
Having read and enjoyed the first book in your If-Harry-Potter-was-a-girl-in-Nigeria series of young adult novels, Akata Witch, I’ve been looking forward to the sequel, Akata Warrior. The books’ protagonist is Sunny Nwazue, an African-American girl born to Nigerian immigrant parents and now living in Nigeria.
Sunny has albinism, a trait for which some of the superstitious fear her and to call her “Akata,” an insult that means “Bush animal,” according to some. In the first book, Sunny overcame this hurdle and made new friends, among them fifteen-year-olds Orlu and Sasha, two boys with very different tempraments, and Chichi, a girl who may or may not be Sunny’s age of thirteen.
Sunny also discovered that, like her new friends, she possesses magical abilities and is therefore what is known as a “Leopard Person,” as opposed to one of the mundane Lambs, like her parents and two brothers. As a Leopard born to Lambs, Sunny is considered a free agent, and she struggles to balance her desire to learn more about her magical abilities while having to fit her parents’ idea of a normal daughter.
After bringing new readers up to speed on the events of Akata Witch, Akata Warrior begins a year and half later, with Sunny collecting tainted peppers to make soup for her Leopard mentor, the shapeshifter Sugar Cream. But while she gathers the peppers, the field of flowers behind her turns into a lake, from which a tentacled beast grabs hold of her. Sunny is saved from the lake beast (cousin to the river beast that once threatened her) by Mami Wata, a female water spirit, who gifts her an iridescent comb.
At home, Sunny’s oldest brother Chukwu is getting ready to go to university, while Ugonna, the brother who is the middle child in her family, has been drawing images that come straight out of Sunny’s nightmares. The dreams of a mega-city of smoke horrify Sunny, but she doesn’t know whether they foretell the future, are about the spirit world Leopards call the wilderness, or are random and meaningless.
Meanwhile, Sunny still hasn’t fully deciphered her late grandmother’s letter to her. Like Sugar Cream’s memoir, it is written in Nsibidi, an alphabet that shifts and changes, and can transport the reader’s senses to another world. Like many things in the Leopard world, reading Nsibidi can be dangerous.
Sunny’s father gives her brother Chukwu a Jeep, and Chukwu and his friend Adebayo drive off to attend the University of Port Harcourt. But one night not long afterward, Chukwu returns home, bruised and bleeding, and reveals to Sunny that he has been recruited against his will into a dangerous confraternity he wants nothing to do with, whose members now threaten his life and that of their family.
With no idea what else to do about it, Sunny goes to Chichi, who is fond of her brother, and convinces her friend to help her use magic against those who hurt Chukwu. In the process of scaring the villains, Sunny reveals herself, something forbidden by Leopard law, and must then pay the consequences.
Sunny survives the punishment, but barely, and she’s left weak enough that she’s vulnerable to a trick from the River Beast. The trick separates her from her spirit face, Anyanwu, and sets Sunny and her friends on a quest to battle Ekwensu once more—a quest on which her fate, and the fates of others depend.
Can Sunny survive without her spirit face, from whom she is not supposed to become separated until death? Who can she be without Anyanwu? Can she and her friends face the monstrous beings that wish to harm them and others, and still come out alive?
Akata Warrior is an entertaining book with a loveable heroine at its center. Sunny has grown through her adventures in Akata Witch, and we see her grow even more here, but she still has some vulnerabilities and fears. Nevertheless, she is stronger than even she realizes, and has more allies than she knows.
Like Akata Witch, Akata Warrior is the story of Sunny’s friendships with the saucy Chichi, the mischievous Sasha, and the serious Orlu, who is clearly smitten with Sunny. Sunny’s romance with Orlu proceeds very, very slowly, which as it should be, since Sunny is just thirteen.
A interesting change in this book is in Sunny’s relationship with her brothers. Whereas in Akata Witch Chukwu and Ugonna mercilessly teased Sunny, in Akata Warrior we see that they are very much on her side, and that despite their past behavior, Sunny, too, would do almost anything for them. Her relationship with Chukwu transforms in an especially touching way.
While in Akata Witch Sunny’s arc was one that took her from lonely outcast to a loved and accepted member of a new community, and was an initiation story as well, here her arc is more subtle, and has to do with Sunny’s self-knowledge. More than once in the book, she is asked, “Who are you, Sunny Nwazue?” and that is the question that she has to answer. In finding herself, Sunny will also lose parts of herself, come out stronger, yet not without challenges.
I don’t have many criticisms here, but one of mine is that the thread about Ugonna’s drawing appears to have been dropped. Maybe it will be picked up in a future book, though? It is clear that there is a new adventure in the offing for Sunny and her friends, and I am eager for book three.
On a more minor and nitpicky note, Sunny and her friends earn a currency called chittim each time they learn something. The chittim fall out of the sky whenever they have an important new insight. But during one of the greatest confrontations in the book, no chittim fell—in fact none fell for quite a while, when it seemed like they should have.
Though it has a bit less romance for Sunny than Akata Witch (we do get a triangle between Sasha, Chichi and Chukwu) and is in some ways darker, Akata Warrior is also richer, with a wider canvas and a greater sense of the magical world beyond Sunny’s little corner of Leopard Knocks. It’s a recommended read and a B+ for me.