100-Character Breakdown: Transformative and astonishing, fantastical yet painfully real. Well crafted all around.
Genre: Sci-fi, fantasy, dystopian
Publisher: DAW Books (May 5, 2015)
The Book of Phoenix is a prequel to Who Fears Death.
After reading Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death, I didn’t think her other books would be able to compare to its brilliance. But The Book of Phoenix, prequel to Who Fears Death, is a transformative and astonishing read all on its own. This book follows Phoenix, who is essentially a research project — she calls herself “an accelerated woman” — in New York’s Tower 7 many years in the future. The tower is full of other experiments like her. They’re all somehow different than the typical human. Phoenix has only been alive for two years, but she has the appearance and mind of an adult. She has spent her life speed reading everything she could get her hands on and becoming close with two other genetically altered humans. It is when she loses one of those people that she begins to question the tower that holds her. Then she finds a way to escape.
As Phoenix explores the world outside the tower, from the U.S. to Africa, she realizes just how flawed humanity is. Her voice is spot on; Phoenix gradually learns more about her abilities and the problematic world around her, and her rage and pain develop palpably. Like her, the other characters are precisely created. Their abilities have a powerful impact on their character and their development throughout the novel. But what is even more profound is how connected this futuristic world is to our world today. Okorafor has a way of inserting realism and terribly accurate, brilliant depictions of society’s flaws in magical and unreal scenarios. She is undoubtedly one of my favorite authors today. It’s powerful when someone can use sci-fi and fantasy to both entertain and make such relevant, evocative statements about humanity.