So, as mentioned, next in my adventure of reading fantasy novels was Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor [IndieBound]. Again, recall that I don’t really like fantasy, but this was recommended to me, and I had already read and liked three of Okorafor’s other books, The Shadow Speaker [IB], Akata Witch [IB] and Who Fears Death [IB]. Akata Witch had definitely been my favorite in that group, since it takes place in the real world and could easily be classified as paranormal thriller rather than fantasy.
Zahrah the Windseeker is about a girl who was born with vines growing out of her head, making her “dada” and her hair “dadalocks.” This is the type of thing that is semi-accepted in her society (a parallel globe that tells stories about Earth as a sort of urban legend that may or may not be a real place) but still looked at with a bit of derision, if not total ostracization. Zahrah still goes to school and has friends and all that, and her parents are not dada, so I guess it’s some sort of recessive gene or similar.
Anyway, Zahrah learns that she has an additional weird thing about her: she levitates, and after conferring with a dada woman she meets at the Dark Market (think Knockturn Alley), she learns that this is her body learning how to fly. She and her best friend start going to the edge of the Forbidden Greeny Jungle (how adorable is that name?) so that they can work out her flying lessons in private. Then her friend is bitten and falls into a coma, and of course the only cure is in the egg of an elgort, a dangerous creature living in the heart of the Forbidden Greeny Jungle. Nobody in the world ever goes there, so he’s going to be lost forever.
Zahrah, of course, heads into the jungle herself to track it down, meeting magical mentors, fantastic beasts, and little communities of almost-people.
Classic setup for a fantasy quest story, no? Yes. It has a vaguely Snow Queen-esque setup, with a girl hero setting out to save a boy that is decidedly not a romantic prospect. It has a magical journey and a sassy guide. Actually, that part reminded me of Ella Enchanted. Ella has her magic book, and Zahrah has a computerized compass that is always nagging her about how far from home she is. It takes place in a world that is as overrun with technology as ours is these days, but technological advancements involve using plant energy, so it’s familiar and refreshing at once.
None of those things is weird. None of those things, generally speaking, is unfamiliar to anyone who has read a fantasy novel. Outcast kids finding themselves to be extraordinary is not a hard thing to find attractive in a story. Talking animals are a beloved device. A comedic sidekick, whether electronic or otherwise, is a pleasant thing.
This is a well written book that fits perfectly into the fantasy tropes we consider standard. Continue reading