The facts that war is brutal, savage, and harms the innocent together with the guilty are no new revelations. Nor is it news that children in the 20th and 21st centuries have been suborned into brutal combat across the globe. Finally, no one is ignorant that technology continues, as it always has, to make war exponentially deadlier in its efficiency. What Tochi Oneybuchi has done with his powerful new novel War Girls is to combine these knowns into a story of love and sisterhood that together cross political and social divides and battlefields alike, and where traumatized soldiers dream of a true peace in a thriving, reborn nation. War Girls is a novel of intense, determined hope in the face of overwhelming obstacles; in this current historical moment it’s exactly the book we need.
In 2172, the world is a damaged place. Climate change and war have destroyed much of the Earth, and millions have fled the planet to live in orbiting Colonies. Nigeria is a country rent by turmoil, where the breakaway southeastern province of Biafra has formed its own nation (as it did in real life between 1967-1970) and battles Nigeria to secure its independence. The war has left much of the area saturated in radioactivity that kills or mutates the local wildlife, and battles are fought using unmanned drones, human-piloted mechs, and augmented soldiers refitted with bionic limbs.
Onyii is such a soldier, a young woman and war hero who lives to protect both her new nation and her adopted orphaned sister Ify. When the two become separated through the usual vagaries of war, they find themselves on opposite sides of the conflict. Much of the novel shows the ways in which the two sisters see the war from different angles – Onyii as an embattled Biafran war hero who must realize the consequences of her past actions, and Ify having to face her own traumatic past while embedded deep within the Nigerian military establishment.