Check It Out: Nnedi Okorafor’s Re-Released ‘Shadow Speaker’

By Wendy Thomas

The year is 2074. The place is Niger, West Africa. In a transformed Sahara desert, chaos and magic have reigned since the Great Change, when nuclear attacks were followed by Peace Bombs, making unpredictability the only constant. “Shadow Speaker” by Nnedi Okorafor delves into this post-apocalyptic world by following 15-year-old Ejimafor Ugabe, aka Ejii, as she sets out to stop the further destruction of her world.

Ejii is the first child of a cruel and unjust Kwàmfà chief and his first wife. At 9 years old, she witnessed her father’s execution, and the stain of his infamy has followed her since and is amplified by her burgeoning ability to hear shadows. When her father’s executioner, Sarauniya Jaa, asks Ejii to travel with her to prevent a war from happening, Ejii is torn between the whispers of the shadows who tell her she must go and the voice of her mother who tells her that if she goes, she can never come home.

Hesitating a fraction too long, Ejii is left behind as Sarauniya Jaa and her two husbands travel to a great meeting where the fates of five worlds will be decided. Taking her mother’s camel, Onion, she pursues the party and finds herself on a journey filled with peril. During a violent sandstorm, she rescues former slave Dikéogu Obinimkpa and his owl Kola and they join her quest. Danger awaits at every turn, not the least of which is the Desert Magician who delights in impeding their progress whenever possible.

Straddling the line between science fiction and fantasy, this novel combines technology and magic with dystopic world-building and social commentary. With elements that appeal to teens and adults alike, this coming-of-age and owning-your-power story offers an alternative to graduates of the Harry Potter series. This is also a great read for fans of Octavia Butler and N.K. Jemisin.

February is Black History Month, and what better way to celebrate than to dive into this re-release from best-selling Africanfuturism author Nnedi Okorafor. Originally published in 2007 and nominated for multiple awards, “Shadow Speaker” was previously a standalone novel, but now has a sequel, “Like Thunder,” and together they make up The Desert Magician’s Duology. Both are available now at a Denver Public Library near you.

Haven’t claimed your prize for Winter of Reading yet? There’s still time! Visit a Denver Public Library branch near you with your completed brochure to get your library swag by Feb. 29.

Wendy Thomas is a librarian at the Smiley Branch Library. When not reading or recommending books, you can find her hiking with her dogs.

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