Who Fears Death

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Who Fears Death
One day she would be able to shout her name.
Written by: Nnedi Okorafor
Central Theme:
First published: 2010
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Who Fears Death is a 2010 fantasy novel by Nnedi Okorafor which takes place in an alternate or After the End Sudan. Its heroine is Onyesonwu Ubaid-Ogundimu, a young woman who is an Ewu, the product of a rape of a woman of the Okeke tribe by a man of the Nuru tribe. Because of this she is shunned by the villagers in the town she grows up in, and haunted by the spirit of her biological father, a powerful sorcerer who wants her dead. However, Onyesonwu discovers that she has a talent for magic, especially shapeshifting, and under the tutelage of Mwita, a slightly older Ewu boy, and his master, the somewhat Jerkass Trickster Mentor Aro, she begins to cultivate her magical ability. However, Onyesonwu's father is still out there, and she has a special destiny ahead of her...

Tropes used in Who Fears Death include:
  • After the End: The setting is implied to be this. There is technology, but it's mostly decayed and in disrepair. According to the Great Book, the Okeke created a great technological society, but were crushed when Ani woke up to discover what her creations had done and created the Nuru to punish them.
  • Exclusively Evil: Ewu are treated this way, as because they are the product of violence, they are expected to become violent in their future.
  • The Apprentice: Mwita to Aro. Onyesonwu becomes an apprentice later as well, after considerable struggle.
  • Archnemesis Dad: As it turns out, the man who is trying to destroy Onyesonwu is her father, Daib.
  • Bigger on the Inside: The House of the Osugbo
  • Bittersweet Ending
  • Brother-Sister Incest: Implied. Onyesonwu and Mwita have ties because her father was Mwita's master for a time, but they are not actually brother and sister.
  • Child Soldiers: part of Mwita's background is that he was forced to be one
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Mwita and Onyesonwu bond through their shared experience as Ewu, and later also genuinely fall in love.
  • The Chosen One: Onyesonwu believes herself to be the Ewu sorceress who will end the war between Nuru and Okeke.
  • Cursed with Awesome: Ewu are spit on by Okeke and Nuru, but they get awesome magic.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The Eleventh Year Rite (aka female circumcision) is this both in and out of canon: Onyesonwu's mother is horrified when she discovers what her daughter has done (the practice having been banned in her home village), for instance, whereas it's common practice in Jwahir. Indeed, Onyesonwu subjected herself to it in order to fit in, and by doing so she gains a set of True Companions in Binta, Diti and Luyu.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: a lighter-skinned tribe repressing a darker-skinned one through rape, murder, and enslavement? Even before it's revealed this takes place in Sudan, the parallels are fairly easy to see.
  • Fantastic Racism: Both the Okeke and the Nuru have this toward each other. We mostly see Nuru oppression of the Okeke (according to their mutual holy book, Okeke are supposed to be slaves to the Nuru, and Okeke rebellions have a tendency to result in decades-long slaughters by the Nuru), but at least part of the oppression Onyesonwu feels from the citizens of Jwahir is that she is technically a Nuru because her father was one. Mwita's backstory involves him barely escaping an Okeke massacre of his Nuru relatives
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Our True Companions.
    • Luyu is sanguine. The party girl of the group. A lot of fun, but impulsive and self-indulgent.
    • Onyesonwu is choleric. The leader of the group, but tends to be blinded by her passions. Hair. Trigger. Temper.
    • Binta is melancholic. Kind and reliable, she is also prone to withdrawing from people because of her family life.
    • Diti is phlegmatic. She is lazy, reactionary, and expects others to do things for her.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Onyesonwu
  • The Gods Must Be Lazy: According to the Great Book, the goddess Ani is this, having half-created the world (but not the sun), and then gone to sleep for centuries before finishing the job.
  • Good Parents: Onyesonwu's mother was actually an excellent mother, in spite of the pressures from the world to treat her Ewu child badly. Her stepfather also applies, especially for not only loving an Ewu child, but one that wasn't even his.
  • Halfbreed: The Ewu, being born from the union of Okeke and Nuru people. Looking surprisingly like neither tribe, the Ewu are sand-colored, skin and hair, with light eyes, like albino Africans.
  • In Love with Love: Diti and Fanasi's marriage was rocky from the start as neither of them really had an understanding of what being married actually meant.
  • Jerkass: Most of the residents of Jwahir qualify for this, with their hatred of Ewu children and their passivity toward their fellow Okeke getting slaughtered by the Nuru. Aro starts out as possibly the most Jerk Ass resident of Jwahir, but after he accepts Onyesonwu as a student he shifts to being closer to being a Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
  • Kill'Em All: The Nuru's belief about the Okeke.
  • Living Legend: Onyesonwu gains quite the reputation as a sorceress before she travels very far from home.
  • Meaningful Name: Onyesonwu means "who fears death?" Her mother named her thus in the hope that her daughter would not.
  • Mind Rape: Onyesonwu finally gets fed up with the passivity of the citizens of Jwahir and literally does this to a crowd of them in the market square by forcing them to relive her mother's rape.
  • Mysterious Past: We don't know what happened to Daib to make him so evil. We never will.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Onyesonwu delivers one to Aro when he refuses to train her for the third time.
  • Our Dragons Are Different; they're called Kponyungo, and are desert-dwelling creatures who occasionally befriend travelers in the desert.
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: They're called Eshu and can shift into the shape of any animal they have touched. Onyesonwu, for instance, likes to transform into a vulture from which she took a feather. The bird turned out to have been Aro in vulture form. They can also regrow any body part; e.g., when Onyesonwu regrows her clitoris.
  • Parental Incest: Binta was raped by her father, who claimed she was too beautiful not to.
  • Patricide: Onyesonwu's purpose in life is to kill her father.
    • Before leaving the village with her friends, Binta poisons her father. She was happy to do it.
  • Pregnant Badass: Onyesonwu.
  • Prophecy Twist: it is revealed that a Nuru Seer has prophesied that a tall Nuru male sorcerer will come and change the Great Book to make life better for both Nuru and Okeke. It is revealed, however, that he changed the prophecy because he refused to believe what it actually said: that the prophesied messiah would be an Ewu sorceress.
    • Also Onyesonwu's fate: part of her initiation as a sorcerer is to confront her own death. but that doesn't mean she has to stay dead
  • The Quest: Onyesonwu and Mwita set out to find and defeat Daib. Her friends all come along. Subverted in that it quickly becomes clear they have no idea what they're doing.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The party questing west to defeat Daib. Subverted in that traveling together drives them apart rather than pull them together.
  • Rape as Backstory: Onyesonwu's mother. Binta also reveals that her father raped her.
  • Rape, Pillage and Burn: What happened to Onyesonwu's mother village.
  • Really Gets Around: Luyu had already had sex with several boys by her Eleventh Year Rite. This continues after the curse of the knife is lifted. One of the men she beds is Diti's husband Fanasi.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Binta dies on the journey west after having been a loyal friend to Onyesonwu the whole way.
  • Scary Black Man: Daib
  • True Companions: Onyesonwu, Luyu, Diti, and Binta become this thanks to all undergoing the Eleventh Year Rite together. Later on, they, along with Mwita and Diti's husband Fanasi decide to accompany Onyesonwu on her quest West. somewhat subverted in that after a few weeks of walking in the desert they start getting on each other's nerves, especially Diti and Onyesonwu
    • Diti and Fanasi eventually ditch the others, deciding they don't want to risk their lives anymore
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Mwita's had to be, in order to survive.