Tom Warin

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In her debut novel for adults, Nnedi Okorafor, the author of two well-received books for young adults, has drawn from both the rich spirituality of Africa and the recent, tragic history of places like Darfur, Rwanda and Congo to craft a modern fantasy that sometimes feels like the time-slipped record of a future myth. This harsh and often wonderful book tells the story of Onyesonwu, a child of rape in a corner of a future Africa where the remnants of advanced technology mingle with magic.

Onyesonwu is raised among her mother's people, the Okeke, who are suffering under an explosion of genocidal violence at the hands of the Nuru people who have kept the Okeke enslaved for centuries. Discovering that she is connected to the world of magic, she grows from child to woman, becoming an unlikely beacon of hope for her genocide-ravaged people, without ever quite managing to shake the outcast stain that comes from her violent origins. As Onyesonwu's abilities grow, along with the threat to her people, she gathers an unlikely group of companions on a quest to confront the darkness that threatens to wipe the Okeke from the pages of history. Filled with rage, there are times when Onyesonwu is more like a force of nature than a human being as she races towards her ultimate destiny.

Although beautifully written throughout, there are portions of this book that are incredibly hard to read, as Okorafor's unflinching prose scours the reader with the intimate details of the worst that humanity has to offer. Yet she also shows us moments of beauty and joy. The desolate grandeur of the desert is convincingly drawn, as are some fantastic magical set pieces.

Who Fears Death is an example of the increasingly global influences that inform modern science fiction and fantasy; these influences are refreshing the genres and giving them new strength and relevance. This is not half-hearted magical realism, but epic fantasy. By combining African myth with African reality, Nnedi Okorafor has created a unique and powerful tale.

In her debut novel for adults, Nnedi Okorafor, the author of two well-received books for young adults, has drawn from both the rich spirituality of Africa and the recent, tragic history of places like Darfur, Rwanda and Congo to craft a modern fantasy that sometimes feels like the time-slipped record of a future myth. This […]
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How valuable would you be if you had the talent to reshape planetary ecosystems to make them suitable for human colonization? Edie Sha’nim, the heroine of Sara Creasy’s assured debut novel Song of Scarabaeus, quickly discovers how far people will go to control her talent when she is kidnapped by a group of criminals and forced to aid their illegal schemes. 

Edie is skilled at manipulating “biocyph,” a combination of bio- and information technology that can rewrite biology on any scale ranging from a few cells to a whole planet. This makes her a valuable commodity to both the “Crib”—the governing bureaucracy which has controlled her life since childhood—and the rebel “Fringe” worlds. A recent civil war has given the Fringe worlds nominal independence from the Crib, but their dependence on expensive Crib technology to keep their planets habitable keeps them economically subservient. With Edie on their team, the criminals can scavenge abandoned Crib technology and sell it to the Fringe at a greatly reduced cost. 

Edie makes an appealing heroine: flawed, willful and determined to make her own destiny apart from the groups that want to control her. Parts of her tragic backstory come back to haunt her when she is paired with a bodyguard. The two are forced into symbiotic cooperation, chained together by a trick of technology and a shared need to escape; a complicated relationship quickly emerges. Fans of the romance genre will appreciate the smoldering looks and barely suppressed yearnings between these two attractive, strong-willed characters. 

The forces competing for Edie come to a head on and around the titular planet Scarabaeus, a convincingly drawn biological nightmare for which Edie holds herself responsible. The finale is tense and exciting; enough plot strands are tied up to be satisfying, while leaving plenty open for another entry in this universe. 

Song of Scarabaeus is an enjoyable, fast-paced slice of adventure science fiction, infused with a measured dose of romance. The technological and political background is revealed with a deft hand, never getting in the way of the action. 

Tom Warin lives in New England with his wife and two cats.

How valuable would you be if you had the talent to reshape planetary ecosystems to make them suitable for human colonization? Edie Sha’nim, the heroine of Sara Creasy’s assured debut novel Song of Scarabaeus, quickly discovers how far people will go to control her talent when she is kidnapped by a group of criminals and […]
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Savannah Levine, the protagonist of the 11th installment in Kelley Armstrong’s Otherworld series, is a powerful young woman with a lot to prove to the strong personalities that fill her life. Introduced earlier in the series as a child, Savannah is the orphaned daughter of a dark witch and a notorious sorcerer. Under the tutelage of her adoptive parents, who run a supernatural detective agency, Savannah has blossomed into an adept magic user, but she has yet to prove that she has the wisdom to wield her powers in a responsible manner and to take on a greater role in the agency.

While her parents are on a long-awaited vacation in Hawaii, a half-demon PI from Seattle offers her the chance to lead an investigation of her own, into the murders of three young women in the small town of Columbus, Washington. There are hints that the murders have a supernatural connection, and the temptation to take a starring role is too great for the impetuous Savannah to refuse.

The town of Columbus, suffering under the weight of economic recession and barely clinging to hopes of a recovery, doesn’t quite know what to make of a gorgeous, iPhone-wielding, motorcycle-driving PI, even if she is forced keep her magical abilities in the shadows; somewhat lacking in empathy for non-supernatural humans, Savannah does little to put them at ease. She quickly begins to peel back the skin of the decaying town to reveal a rich occult undercurrent and a host of colorful suspects for the murders, from the louche and charismatic leader of a cult of cookie-baking young women to the local rich-boy-turned-bad-seed and his frightening wife. Savannah finds new friends, allies and enemies amongst the townspeople.

Waking The Witch is an imaginative blend of the fantasy and detective genres. The plot moves along at a brisk pace, throwing a good number of twists and tragedies at Savannah, who becomes a more likable character as the book goes on and she seems to warm up to everyday humans. As part of a long-running series, there are significant points in the book that will mean much more to fans than to casual readers, but for the most part the story is self-contained. A few plot threads are left dangling at the end to inform the next chapter in Savannah’s story—and intrigue Armstrong’s loyal readers.

Savannah Levine, the protagonist of the 11th installment in Kelley Armstrong’s Otherworld series, is a powerful young woman with a lot to prove to the strong personalities that fill her life. Introduced earlier in the series as a child, Savannah is the orphaned daughter of a dark witch and a notorious sorcerer. Under the tutelage […]

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