Okay you need to read What Sunny Saw in the Flames right now.
I haven’t read fantasy in literal years. After reading so much fantasy when I was a kid, nothing seemed right when I became an adult. No fantasy lived up to my expectations – nothing felt magical enough. And, more recently, inclusive enough.
Sunny is albino. She was born in America, but is also Nigerian. And, oh yeah, she can see into the future. Nnedi Okorafor has created the most beautiful world – full of Lambs and Panthers, only some are capable of wielding juju. People like Sunny, and her friends Orlu, Chichi and Sasha. But in this new world of enlightenment and adventure, danger lurks…
Firstly, the worldbuilding in this was incredible. It is like nothing that I have ever read before. It is full of life, love, and true magic. Okorafor not only creates a unique world, but also explains it beautifully. I always find that there needs to be a good balance in fantasy between action and worldbuilding/exposition – and it is done wonderfully here. Sunny acts as a perfect character for this – she discovers juju, her innate powers, and chittim (rewards for intellectual/spiritual discovery that fall from the sky) just as we do. Explanations come when needed, and the novel flows beautifully because of it. Each chapter is also followed by a paragraph or two explaining key concepts of juju and Panther society.
However, even these small paragraphs have secondary meanings. Everything in this novel is used to challenge expectations, draw attention to prejudices, and reaffirm the beauty of individuality. In this world, your biggest defect becomes your most important asset. For Sunny, this is her albinism. However, it is always implied that she should embrace her individuality with love – and that it gives her powers, perhaps beyond those of her friends. Feminism, cultural differences, and self-love are only a few of the topics that are beautifully handled in this novel. I honestly believe that for a young adult, this book could be life-changing.
What Sunny Saw in the Flames is gorgeous, inclusive, and most importantly, a lot of fun. I can’t wait to see what Nnedi Okorafor (and the UK publisher, Cassava Republic!) come out with next.
TL;DR: I need more Sunny, and I need her now!