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What Do I Read First? Who Fears Death and The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor

Sunday, June 28th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Who Fears Death-small2 The Book of Phoenix-small

Nnedi Okorafor’s first novel for adults, Who Fears Death, won the 2011 World Fantasy Award, and was also a Tiptree Honor Book and a Nebula nominee. The prequel, The Book of Phoenix, arrived in hardcover last month, and it made me realize I need to get the lead out and read the first one.

Of course, now I’m tortured by that great dilemma of 21st Century fantasy…. should I read the acclaimed first novel first, or the prequel? Which makes more sense?

Life is hard. Here’s the description for Who Fears Death.

In a post-apocalyptic Africa, the world has changed in many ways, yet in one region genocide between tribes still bloodies the land. A woman who has survived the annihilation of her village and a terrible rape by an enemy general wanders into the desert hoping to die. Instead, she gives birth to an angry baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand. Gripped by the certainty that her daughter is different — special — she names her Onyesonwu, which means “Who fears death?” in an ancient language. It doesn’t take long for Onye to understand that she is physically and socially marked by the circumstances of her violent conception.

She is Ewu — a child of rape who is expected to live a life of violence, a half-breed rejected by both tribes. But Onye is not the average Ewu. Even as a child, she manifests the beginnings of a remarkable and unique magic. As she grows, so do her abilities, and during an inadvertent visit to the spirit realm she learns something terrifying: Someone powerful is trying to kill her.

Desperate to elude her would-be murderer and to understand her own nature, she embarks on a journey in which she grapples with nature, tradition, history, true love, and the spiritual mysteries of her culture, and ultimately teaches her why she was given the name she bears: Who Fears Death.

And here’s the description for The Book of Phoenix.

A fiery spirit dances from the pages of the Great Book. She brings the aroma of scorched sand and ozone. She has a story to tell….

The Book of Phoenix is a unique work of magical futurism. A prequel to the highly acclaimed, World Fantasy Award-winning novel, Who Fears Death, it features the rise of another of Nnedi Okorafor’s powerful, memorable, superhuman women.

Phoenix was grown and raised among other genetic experiments in New York’s Tower 7. She is an “accelerated woman” — only two years old but with the body and mind of an adult, Phoenix’s abilities far exceed those of a normal human. Still innocent and inexperienced in the ways of the world, she is content living in her room speed reading e-books, running on her treadmill, and basking in the love of Saeed, another biologically altered human of Tower 7.

Then one evening, Saeed witnesses something so terrible that he takes his own life. Devastated by his death and Tower 7’s refusal to answer her questions, Phoenix finally begins to realize that her home is really her prison, and she becomes desperate to escape.

But Phoenix’s escape, and her destruction of Tower 7, is just the beginning of her story. Before her story ends, Phoenix will travel from the United States to Africa and back, changing the entire course of humanity’s future.

Nnedi Okorafor’s other recent books include Akata Witch, her first collection Kabu Kabu, and the upcoming Lagoon.

Who Fears Death was published in hardcover by DAW on June 1, 2010, and reprinted in mass market paperback on February 4, 2014. It is 419 pages, priced at $7.99 for both the paperback and digital editions. The Book of Phoenix was published by DAW on May 5, 2015; it is 240 pages, priced at $24.95 in hardcover, and $9.99 for the digital edition.

See all of our recent posts on Series Fantasy here.

5 Comments »

  1. I’d read the first published book first, speaking as one who has read them both.

    As a reader and a critic you will want the full impact yourself that Who Fears Death made on those of us who read it at publication. That will be missing if you read the prequel first.

    My opinion only, of course!

    Comment by C - Foxessa - June 28, 2015 1:55 pm

  2. That’s what I was leaning towards, but it’s good to have confirmation from someone who’s read both. Thanks, Foxessa!

    Comment by John ONeill - June 28, 2015 2:01 pm

  3. Okay, I haven’t read Okorafor yet, but…

    I went through the converse of that agonizing decision when I sequenced the novellas in my collection. Order of composition, or order of events in in-story chronology? I went for the latter, and closed the book with the first novella I wrote, before I’d discovered half the things the characters revealed to me while I was writing the later ones. Wrong decision. And I’ve been justifiably dinged for that mistake more than once in book reviews. Someday, after I’ve written the three remaining novellas in that series, there’ll be an omnibus edition and I’ll be able to set that right.

    You know how some Chronicles of Narnia boxed sets have reordered the books so that The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe comes after The Magician’s Nephew? That’s just cosmically wrong, and now I get why.

    Comment by Sarah Avery - June 30, 2015 12:46 am

  4. Sarah,

    I hadn’t realized there were three more novellas planned after Tales from Rugosa Coven. Tell me more! Have you plotted them out?

    Comment by John ONeill - June 30, 2015 11:03 am

  5. […] Nnedi Okorafor’s first novel for adults, Who Fears Death, won the 2011 World Fantasy Award, and was nominated for a Nebula. Her most recent releases include Lagoon and The Book of Phoenix. […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » New Treasures: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor - September 21, 2015 11:57 pm


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