Title: Akata Witch
Author: Nnedi Okorafor
Narrator: Yetide Badaki
Publication date: April 14, 2011
Print length: 349 pages
Audio length: 8 hours, 49 minutes
Genre: Young adult fantasy
Sunny Nwazue lives in Nigeria, but she was born in New York City. Her features are West African, but she’s albino. She’s a terrific athlete, but can’t go out into the sun to play soccer. There seems to be no place where she fits in. And then she discovers something amazing—she is a “free agent” with latent magical power. And she has a lot of catching up to do.
Soon she’s part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. But just as she’s finding her footing, Sunny and her friends are asked by the magical authorities to help track down a career criminal who knows magic, too. Will their training be enough to help them against a threat whose powers greatly outnumber theirs?
Stories about Chosen Ones seem to be very much on my mind these days, and so I’m glad I finally decided to give Akata Witch a try. Akata Witch is by Nnedi Okorafor, author of the fantastic Binti trilogy. This novel is aimed at younger readers, either advanced middle grade or young adult.
The main character, Sunny, is 12 years old, and her three classmates and best friends are around 13 – 14 years old. (I say around, because no one is actually sure how old Chichi is, and she’s not telling!)
At the start of the story, Sunny considers herself mostly ordinary, except for how much she stands out because of her albino coloring and her American birth and upbringing. She does know that something’s a bit off — one night, she has a vision while staring at a candle, and it scares her deeply and indelibly.
Soon, Sunny becomes closer to her neighbors Chichi and Orlu, along with the new boy Sasha who’s just arrived from Chicago after getting in trouble back home. Sunny is amazed to learn that the other three have magical abilities, and even more amazed to find out that she does as well.
In their parlance, they’re all leopard people — people with magical powers from all over the world, not just Africa. The world of the leopard people is very secretive, and non-magical folks (“lambs”) have no idea that it exists. Sunny is what’s known as a “free agent” — a girl whose parents aren’t leopard people, but who still has a connection to the world of spirits and magic.
Sunny begins learning alongside her friends, from the basic of juju to more advance spells and the nature of the leopard power structure. Meanwhile, a ritual murderer has been preying on Nigerian children, and the leopard community suspects that he may be one of their own.
Akata Witch is a wonderful story, and the audiobook narration is absolutely lovely to listen to. I love how the narrator conveys the spirit of the different characters, and uses Sunny’s American accent as a way to really show how “other” she feels in her daily life in Nigeria.
I was fascinated by the magical systems of Akata Witch, with the different meanings of symbols and secret transportation and hidden villages and libraries, as well as the elders and the large gathering and the special leopard events.
My main quibble with this book comes back to the Chosen Ones trope. Why is it always the untrained, inexperienced children who have to go fight the big bad? This isn’t confined just to this book, of course — I mean, really, wouldn’t Dumbledore have been a better choice to confront Voldemort than a bunch of schoolkids?
Okay, prophecy seems to always end up dictating who is Chosen, but at some point, it seems silly. Sunny has only the bare minimum of training, yet the most advanced magical elders of the community send her and her three friends up against the evil bad guy?
It’s not really a spoiler to say that they survive — there’s no chance that that wouldn’t be the outcome. But is it logical? Not really.
Still, looking beyond my issue with teen Chosen Ones as a whole, I did really love Akata Witch. The characters are wonderful, the setting is so vividly portrayed, and the plot just zips along.
I’m so glad that there’s a sequel, Akata Warrior. I will definitely be listening to this one too!