The Shadow Speaker

/ posted in: Reading The Shadow SpeakerThe Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor
on October 2nd 2007
Pages: 336
Format: Paperback
Source: Owned
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Set in Niger

In West Africa in 2070, after fifteen-year-old "shadow speaker" Ejii witnesses her father's beheading, she embarks on a dangerous journey across the Sahara to find Jaa, her father's killer, and upon finding her, she also discovers a greater purpose to her life and to the mystical powers she possesses.


I’ve been having a sort of disappointing book year.  It isn’t unusual for me not to give out many 5 star ratings.  I just did 7/170 last year.  But so far this has been a solidly 3 star book year for me.  That doesn’t mean I don’t like them.  It means that I liked them enough to finish them but they aren’t going to stay with me.

The Shadow Speaker was such a breath of fresh air.  From the beginning it was wonderful to sink into the world of Nnedi Okorafor’s imagination.

“Kwàmfà, Ejii’s home, was a town of slim palm trees and sturdy gnarled monkey bread trees, old but upgraded satellite dishes, and sand brick houses with colorful Zulu designs.  It was noisy, too; its unpaved but flat roads always busy with motorbikes, camels, old cars and during certain parts of the year, even the occasional truck.  Kwàmfà was also known for its amazing carpets and after the Great Change, in the shadier parts of the market, its flying carpets.”

After a nuclear war, so called Peace Bombs were dropped by a militant environmental group.  They caused a lot of molecular changes to Earth including rapid forest growth and the development of metahumans with special skills.  It also opened passages to other planets with civilizations very different from Earth.  Ejii is a Shadow Speaker.  She can see long distances and see in the dark.  She can hear shadows talking to her but can’t understand what they are saying.  Shadow speakers get an urge to wander but it isn’t safe to travel now and most of them die young during their travels.

Ejii’s father was the chief of her village.  He made women cover and hide themselves and said it was for their own protection.  He was assassinated by Jaa, a female leader.  Life has been going well in Kwàmfà for the last five years but now Jaa is leaving.  Ejii knows that her father’s younger wives have a grudge against her mother and her half siblings are planning to move against Ejii because she is a metahuman.  When Jaa asks her to go with her to a meeting with representatives of other worlds she knows she has to go regardless of the risks of travel.


There is so much to love in this book.  One of the favorite parts of reading this author is seeing all the amazing and unique ideas she comes up with.

  • A talking camel who named himself Onion because onions are his favorite food
  • A planet whose technology is all based on plants
  • Ghosts that act as advisors in a conference room
  • Trickster gods who act as guardians of the passages between planets
  • Wild cats who debate with themselves whether or not to eat you
  • Guardian owls

I was excited to see that the planet that they visit for the meeting is the world from Zahrah the Windseeker.  I loved seeing the apes that made an appearance in that book show up in totally different circumstances here.

My only minor quibble is the ending.  The books ends with a character telling Ejii that she has to tell her a story about what has been happening while Ejii was on her journey.  I want to know that story!  I want more!

If you haven’t read this author yet, you need to.  It isn’t necessary to read Zahrah the Windseeker first to read this book.  Both of these books would be considered MG/YA so they are easy reads and a great entry point to her work before reading her adult novels.