Nnedi Okorafor, The Book of Phoenix, Hodder & Stoughton, 2015.
Phoenix is an abomination. This is how she defines herself. She was born three years ago but looks like she's 40. The Big Eye scientists who created her have her under lock inside Tower 7, among other abominations, in New-York. She reads a lot. She falls in love with Saeed. She has a friend, Mmuo. But she also finds out why she's called Phoenix and which strange abilities the scientists have put inside her DNA...
The Book of Phoenix feels very close to a comic with human beings (or almost) with super-powers and caught in a fight. But it is so much more than that. There's an amazing spiritual richness in it. The story of Phoenix is a story of self discovery in a universe where some look like angels, others can see into the future, with many references to a mythology created for the novel or to West Africa legends.
The novel is also built with stories within the story, itself within the story of another who reads it in a far away future. And so it links to Okorafor's previous novel, Who Fears Death, though it's not necessary at all to read it to understand The Book of Phoenix.
The characters are fallible, Phoenix first among them. Since she's only a few years old, this choice is cohesive. But it's a pretty daring move by Okorafor who gives us an imperfect hero. Nonetheless, Phoenix is an intriguing and relatable character.
It's also a politically bold novel considering how it describes the USA, Nigeria and powerful big corporations. Because most characters are persons of colour, it deals with racial issues, slavery and colonialism in a very striking way.
The Book of Phoenix is one of these novels you could read just as a revenge story but it's also a novel which is remarkably well written. It's without a shadow of a doubt a novel very far from mass-market scifi.
The Book of Phoenix is on the 2016 Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlist and if I had to bet who will win this year, I wouldn't know how to choose between this one and Children of Time.
Nnedi Okorafor has won many awards for other stories, including the Nebula and Hugo Awards for her brilliant novella "Binti" and the 2011 World Fantasy Award for Who Fears Death.
The author's website and Twitter account.
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I only review stories I have liked even if my opinion may be nuanced. It doesn't apply for the "Novels published before 1978" series of blog posts.
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