african author, african stories, Book Related Topics, Fantasy, Fiction, literary fiction, race, romance, Uncategorized, Young Adult

Book Review: The Gilded Ones (Deathless #1) by Namina Forna

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“Like all the rest, giving us impossibilities and calling them choices.”

Deka is finally 16 and is ready to go through the blood oath ceremony that she hopes will declare her pure and make her one of the other girls. She has been othered all her life by her dark skin and tight curls but Deka is convinced that the blood oath ceremony will finally prove her worth and fetch her a husband.

What is the blood oath ceremony, you ask? Well, this deeply patriarchal society believes that on a woman’s 16th birthday, in preparation for her life as a man’s faceless and silent companion, she has to be tested for purity right before she is fitted with the mask she must wear for the rest of her life. You step into the temple, the priest cuts you. If your blood runs red, you’re pure. If it runs gold, you’re impure and the consequence is death. If you’re extremely lucky your first death will be your last. But on the day of Deka’s ceremony, her blood runs gold and changes her life forever.

As Deka struggles with her fate, a mysterious woman pops up and offers her a way out – come to the capital, be trained as a warrior and get absolution after her service or submit to her death. Of course, this is no choice at all. The Emperor is building an army filled with people like Deka (Alaka, as they’re called in the book) to fight against the Deathshrieks – monsters that attack the city and whose screams can blow out a human’s ear drums.

“Every girl knows it by heart. We recite it whenever we enter a temple – a constant reminder that women were created to be helpmeets to men, subservient to their desires and commands.”

This book starts with a bang. Forna apparently does not believe in easing her readers into the world and letting them settle. Within the first 10 pages of this book, the blood oath happened and it never let up after that. Hearing about the tenets of the religion practiced in Deka’s world made me think we were being set up for some priest conspiracy but when Deka’s blood actually ran gold I was like oh wow! I didn’t expect that to be literal at all.

The world building in this YA fantasy is very unique. I enjoyed seeing how the various villages and fractions interpreted the religion. Racism and colorism is also rampant in this world. Forna does a great job of establishing a baseline for what this world is supposed to be and its norms and rules.

“Are we girls or are we demons?”

I love a training fantasy book. Any fantasy book where a school or a training facility is involved has my heart. Once Deka gets to the Capital and the training commences, seeing her struggle to discard all that she had heard about women being second class citizens (a concept that was driven primarily by her religion) was interesting. Women aren’t allowed to run or even walk in a hurry, a woman must be demure and quiet at all times. Hearing that every day of her life, accepting that as a truth and then being forced to train as a warrior must have been quite the challenge.

The life ordinary women in Deka’s village were forced to live was simply insane. Every time the author dropped another detail, it made me get so mad at a world that isn’t even real!

“Never forget: the same gift they praise you for now, they will kill you for later.”

I think it’s common knowledge by now that I hate romance in my fantasy. It completely takes me out of the story. The romance in this book was not different. I think it added nothing to the plot and could have been completely left out. Also, this book is very obviously a debut novel. The writing is really great in some areas and extremely clunky in others. It needed to be tightened up a little. I hope this installment does well so she can get a better editor.

All in all, I quite enjoyed this one. If you liked Children of Blood and Bone, you’ll like this one. Even if you didn’t like it but are looking for a good YA fantasy book, this one is so much better and the author has great potential to be even better. I gave this 3 stars on Goodreads and I’m looking forward to the next two books which promises to be even better. I tried really hard not to drop any obvious spoilers about the ending.

Have you read this one? Let me know in the comments!

Leggy

african author, african stories, Book Related Topics, Fiction, literary fiction

Book Review: How Beautiful We Were by Imbolu Mbue

Change of Publication Date: How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue

“We should have known the end was near.”

“How Beautiful We Were” is a story set in a small fictional village in Africa called Kosawa. We get introduced to how rich the people and village are, filled with their traditions, love and history. Then we find out that they are basically under siege and the children of the village are dying because they have been invaded by an American oil company called Pexton.

Their land and water have been poisoned by the numerous pipeline spills and there is no one to hold accountable despite the many complaints as the government is in cahoots with Pexton. Getting nowhere and tired of burying their children, the villagers decide to take matters in their own hands in a plan that goes awry. Little do they know that it was just the beginning of a long fight that spans decades. This book takes us along on this journey through the stories told by the various people involved – the people who were just children when the fight began and our protagonist, Thula and some of her family members.

“Our grandfathers, however, had no interest in losing ownership of their lives—every one of them had turned down Pexton’s offer and returned to the thrill of killing for food as trees were felled all over the valley to make room for the oil field and pipelines and Gardens.”

It’s widely known that it takes a lot for a book to blow me out the water. I have given very few books 5 stars. One of the very few books to get this honor was Imbolo Mbue’s first novel, Behold the Dreamers. I just absolutely loved it. I was excited to get to this one and was #1 on my waiting list for this at my library. When I cracked open the book and saw that it was set in a village, my heart sank. I usually prefer modern settings but I was ready to see how this goes. It took a minute for the book to get going then just when I was about to accept that this was it’s pace, it picked back up but then dropped again and I felt my excitement wane.

All that is to say that the book did not meet my expectations and that made me sad. Overall, this book was superbly written. Mbue painted a vivid picture that made you visualize Kosawa and made you understand their plight. She made you feel the love and community that was shared in the village. You understood who they were at their core. I also think Mbue did a good job of laying the foundation of introducing us to Thula and the events that happened in her family.

I definitely enjoyed the first half of the book to the second half which is when Thula goes to America and returns. The second half never quite found its groove and was uneven. The narration got a bit wonky and there were chapters that felt pointless. So, I guess I am saying that while the writing was beautiful, the plot and pacing suffered. Thula is supposed to come back being this activist and they look to her as a savior but I don’t think that was developed well and it felt disjointed.

I did enjoy the different view points from Thula’s family members – her brother, her uncle, her mother and her grandmother. They came at different points in the book and they were much welcomed when it felt like the book was in a lull. I appreciated the true depiction of the underrepresented in most African countries and the corrupt government and the choices people make just to survive. I think that was well done.

Overall, while I found the writing to be good, I still did find it a bit of chore to read and a bit boring. And while I know this was a disappointment for me, I can see how people could appreciate it so I won’t file it under a “would not recommend”, so if you are looking for a slow paced read, that is what you would get with this.

Taynement