The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor – Arthur C. Clarke Shortlist Post #2

I am currently trying to read the entire Arthur C. Clarke shortlist, before the announcement I only read Europe at Midnight but since all the other books looked interesting I decided to challenge myself to read the entire shortlist before August 24th (the date  the winner will be announced). The shortlist is as follows :

 

  • Europe At Midnight by Dave Hutchinson (That I already read at the beginning of the year and loved)
  • Way Down Dark by James Smythe (first that I read for this challenge, it had some interesting ideas it was overall underwhelming)
  • The Long Way to A Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
  • The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor
  • Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovski
  • Arcadia by Ian Pears

 

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“Phoenix was grown and raised among other genetic experiments in New York’s Tower 7. She is an “accelerated woman”—only two years old but with the body and mind of an adult, Phoenix’s abilities far exceed those of a normal human. Still innocent and inexperienced in the ways of the world, she is content living in her room speed reading e-books, running on her treadmill, and basking in the love of Saeed, another biologically altered human of Tower 7.

Then one evening, Saeed witnesses something so terrible that he takes his own life. Devastated by his death and Tower 7’s refusal to answer her questions, Phoenix finally begins to realize that her home is really her prison, and she becomes desperate to escape.

But Phoenix’s escape, and her destruction of Tower 7, is just the beginning of her story. Before her story ends, Phoenix will travel from the United States to Africa and back, changing the entire course of humanity’s future.”

 

The Book of Phoenix is the third book I read by Okorofor, I read Lagoon right at the beginning of this year and Binti in March. So far The Book of Phoenix is the only book of hers that really worked for me ; it might just be because I am getting used to her style but I really enjoyed most of the elements of this story.

The Book of Phoenix is the prequel to Who Fears Death, a book that won the World Fantasy Award in 2010 which I have not read (yet). You can read the prequel without reading the other one since I think that they are very loosely linked so if you’re scared of being spoiled, I don’t think that it is much of an issue (but don’t quote me on that).

For me, the best part about this book was the themes it explored, it was a really well-done character study but most of that, it was declaration of love to Africa and against racism. It explored the complicated relationship between the West and Africa in way that I found very thought-provocking.

One part that really stood out to me was the part where Phoenix met a man just after growing wings (not a spoiler, I mean if you look at the cover you pretty much know that it is going to happen). I cannot find the exact quote because I’m lame at reviewing and I forgot to write it down but, the man that sees her he’s afraid (normal reaction when one sees a human with wings) and asks her if she’s an angel and then takes it back « because angels couldn’t be black since only white can represent Heaven ».

This book is full of those remarks and the most schocking thing is that I can totally picture real people saying that. And that’s scary.

It’s a book a lot of people would need to read but probably won’t understand (or won’t try to) but in the time we’re living in, I’m glad that this kind of book is being published.

However, even if this book had really interesting things to say, if think that it also had some serious flaws which prevented me from giving it a five stars rating. I didn’t liked how science and scientific research were treated in it at all. All of the scientists in this book were awful human beings that couldn’t care less about hurting people.

I would have liked to see at least one « good » scientist and I was disappointed that in a book where a lot of important subject were treated thoughtfully, this wasn’t at all. Also, some plot points were a tad too convenient, I won’t say much but the whole episode at the Library of Congress was so convenient I kept rolling my eyes during the whole chapter.

The character of Phoenix was really interesting, Phoenix is an accelerated being which means that she has the appearance of a forty something and she’s really smart even if she’s actually only two years old. It allowed some really thought-provocking moments where she had the reflexions and reactions of a child even if she had a lot more knowledge and I found that really fascinating. I read some reviews that were a little annoyed with her character because of some things she thought and did but really, for me, most of her actions totally made sense with her character.

I can safely say that at this point The Book of Phoenix is my favorite story by Okorafor and now, I really want to read all of her works (which wasn’t really the case after reading either Lagoon or Binti). I am really glad it was nominated and I would be pretty happy if it won the Clarke Awards (even if for now, I am still routing for Europe At Midnight).

★★★★

Arthur C. Clarke shortlisted book I am currently reading : Arcadia by Ian Pears

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13 thoughts on “The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor – Arthur C. Clarke Shortlist Post #2

  1. Okorafor is one of those authors I keep reminding myself to read because I see her books mentioned quite often and I’ve grow curious: this could very well be the perfect place to start, because I’m intrigued by the central themes. It’s a pity that the need of the author to drive home some concept went against some narrative “laws” and spoiled your enjoyment, but from your review it’s clear this is a writer worth of attention. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I had similar thoughts as you on Binti, so if you enjoyed this one there might be a good chance we’ll be on the same page too. The portrayal of the scientists sounds a bit problematic; reminds me of the annoyance I often feel when I encounter books where doctors or healthcare professionals are portrayed as blatantly corrupt or incompetent in order to paint them as easy villains. Just feels like a cliche and a cop out somehow.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I absolutely agree with you, I really don’t like when authors do that. All of the scientist in this were completely heartless and did some really horrible thing for them in real life the “but it’s for SCIENCE!!” thing wouldn’t work that way. I’m not saying all the scientists out there are angles but, come on, must they all be monsters? Oh well…

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  3. Eeee! What a coincidence that we were both reading Okorafor 🙂 It’s so great to read your review of another one of her books (Binti was my first) – it sounds like the themes and characterizations are just as good. Definitely an author I look forward to exploring a lot more in the future! Thank you for a great review!

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