I’m steadily reading my way through my TBR cart. (Though it would appear I am adding more than removing. My cart needs its own cart!) I picked up Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witch (Viking 2011) because I wanted a bit of middle grade fantasy. Akata Witch is the first in The Nsibidi Scripts series. Akata Warrior is sitting on that cart and I’m waiting for Akata Woman to be released in paperback so they’ll match. The series has been dubbed “the Nigerian Harry Potter,” but that really does it a disservice – the writing is sharper and rawer, the characters are diverse and vibrant, the stakes are much higher, and there’s an intensity that Rowling didn’t capture until more than half-way through the series. Sunny’s Oha coven, a quartet that is admittedly very reminiscent of the Gryffindor trio, stands firmly apart from other magical friends.
Sunny was born in America to Nigerian parents. She moved back to Nigeria when she was 9. She’s albino and struggles with bullying and fitting in. Her parents are harsh, particularly her father, and their relationship is a loving, but conflicting struggle throughout the novel. Sunny learns she is a Free Agent, a magical being born to nonmagical parents. She is under a charm that will not allow her to discuss the Leopard People or magic with them, driving even more of a wedge.
Sunny lives a fractured existence. She’s American, but Nigerian. She’s black, but albino. She’s magic, but in a non-magic home. This first novel of the series shows significant growth in Sunny as she learns to see herself as she really is and to find her place in the world.
The plot of this novel is that there is a serial killer on the loose called “Black Hat.” Black Hat murders and maims young children. Sunny and her three friends who form the unexpected coven are tasked with extinguishing the threat, saving two young children, and preventing Black Hat from unleashing a monster on the world. All the while, Sunny must keep up with her magical studies and her human studies.
It’s a well-done middle grade fantasy that pulls from West African settings, legends, lore, and family dynamics. Don’t brush it aside as a Nigerian Harry Potter – Sunny is no Harry and Leopard Knocks is no Hogwarts. Akata Witch is a powerful novel about finding your true face and the power you hold.
Read this book.