This is one of those books that simply feel good while you read them—that create an imaginary space that it's really fun to spend time in. There's something vibrantly alive about this story and the way it is told, from its large cast of characters to the setting in Nigeria's megacity of Lagos.
The constant shifts of perspective are a huge part of why this book succeeds so well at what it does. It keeps you on your toes and makes you take on vastly different point of views on the same event. There are three main characters and their family and friends, side characters, a swordfish and a bat, the president of Nigeria, and many more that I don't want to spoil. As a reader, you get a very distinct feel for the whole city, its different factions, its struggles and mythology, and while some characterisations are a bit flat, others feel wholly unique and inventive.
I've been wanting to read more diverse books—specifically books written by and about people with more than one marginalised identity. This means books by women of colour, queer men of colour, disabled women, etc. (Recommendations are very welcome!)
But while there is a wealth of perspectives here, with black voices front and center, there are two aspects which didn't work for me.
Among the many sideplots, Okorafor included one about a group of LGBTQ+ activists coming out of hiding and one about a disabled boy. This seems pretty cool at first until you get further into the story and all of these people are either killed or severely beaten. All of them. The disabled boy, who spends a good part of his narration wishing he could speak, and his death are then used to inspire millions via YouTube. All this is laden with so much pathos it's unbearable:
The child would become The Boy Who Died So the World Could See.
The mute boy never knew his father or mother. He was found in a dumpster and then placed in an orphanage. No one ever bothered to name him and he never knew how to name himself.
He was only eight years old.
Wow. I think Okorafor single-handedly hit the trifecta of most common tropes that are actively harmful to disabled people and then coated them in a heavy dose of pity: Snuff, inspiration porn and desperately wishing we weren't disabled. I'm sorry, but we don't spend all our lives yearning for that ability we don't have. Why would you think that's healthy? We have better things to do, and lives to live. Quality of life is important, of course, but being just like everyone else? Not so much.
I'm not even going to get into the dead queer people because it should be obvious how chilling it is to include marginalised groups just to kill them off for tragicness points.
With these grotesque oversights in mind, still a decent read if you're into first contact stories with a unique slant.