For a tale of morality and control in the face of darkness and hatred, for a superhero/antihero combo that’s exciting and thought provoking
Nnamdi’s father was a good chief of police, perhaps the best Kalaria had ever had. He was determined to root out the criminals that had invaded the town. But then he was murdered, and most people believed the Chief of Chiefs, most powerful of the criminals, was responsible. Nnamdi has vowed to avenge his father, but he wonders what a twelve-year-old boy can do. Until a mysterious nighttime meeting, the gift of a magical object that enables super powers, and a charge to use those powers for good changes his life forever. How can he fulfill his mission? How will he learn to control his newfound powers? Award-winning Nnedi Okorafor, acclaimed for her Akata novels, introduces a new and engaging hero in her first novel for middle grade readers set against a richly textured background of contemporary Nigeria.
A perfect example of having greatness thrust upon him, Nnamdi fights between what is vengeance and what is justice with his newfound powers. I love having a main character who is flawed and conflicted, but whom you like nonetheless because you can see him doing his best to make sense of the world he lives in. Coming-of-age is a lot more complicated when you’re granted otherworldly powers and a conscience for justice.
The darkness is this story comes from a point of human and political issues — crimes we committ upon each other. Murder, theft, abuse, and all kinds of other atrocities based in selfishness are endemic in Kaleria for Nnamdi. So while there is violence of people being killed or beaten up or kidnapped, it’s never turned into a gory style. The horror is more mental for imagining the reality of the situations happening.
I loved the folklore aspects of ghosts and the totem that conveys the powers: the Ikenga. The cultural connections to the Igbo were made clear in a subtle way that added to rather than distracted from the story. It was the same with their daily life. The descriptions of food were mouthwatering and made me start googling if I could get any around here. And once I got the explanation of what a go-slow was, I felt silly for not having guessed it immediately. After all, Boston is the worst place in the US for them!
Thanks to Bookishfirst and Penguin for a free copy in exchange for an honest review!