There seem to have been quite a few books recently which reflect on the ancient beliefs of African cultures. Central to many of these stories is the character of a Shaman; those people who have a magical ability, often connected to the natural world surrounding them and able to act on behalf of the ordinary people around them. I was delighted to be asked to take part in this blog tour for this fabulous story about the amazing Adia Kelbara.
The story begins with Adia as the unwanted niece of a family of farmers; in fact she is often considered to be an Ogbanje or child demon, someone who needs to be kept under control by the missionaries who basically rule the countryside. In order to try and rid herself of all of this bad power she manages to get herself accepted as a servant at the Academy of Shamans, hoping that they can cleanse her of the evil. However, when Adia arrives at the Academy she finds that it is a shadow of its former self and there are no true Shamans left among the tutors or students. What follows is the start of an amazing adventure and a quest to save the world that she knows. Whilst exploring the rooms below the school Adia discovers the unused library; then she overhears three immortals talking about the danger from the evil demon Olark, who has re-appeared after being defeated by the gods five hundred years before. Not only that, but Olark has been inhabiting the country’s emperor for the past year and becoming increasingly warlike. Adia ends up following the goddess Ginikanwa (or Gini to her friends!) as she attempts to find a way to overcome the demon. With the help of several companions they meet on their way, they endeavour to succeed in their quest. The question is whether they will win and can Adia discover the secrets of her powers and whether they are for good or evil?
This is a brilliantly realized fantasy with strong themes which echo the colonization of many countries by religious groups and what in this book are called the “Sunless Empire”, but whose people speak English. What is so dreadful is the way that the people of the swamplands (like Adia) who have darker skins, are looked down on and are being manipulated and controlled by those outsiders. Whilst this is supposedly set in a fictional country, it is very easy to feel the resonance with our own colonial past. However, while this is a major element of the book it does not overwhelm the fast and exciting pace of the story. The characters are a very broad range of personality and whilst we gradually warm to some of them, there are others that are something of an acquired taste. Without a doubt Adia is a person that you really want to succeed, although it is frustrating that she really believes what she has been told about her powers. Thankfully over time she begins to understand that we can have some control over our behaviour and that maybe she can be more self confident. The ending of this story gives us some unexpected twists, which bring a positive feel to the outcome. I hope that we might see more adventures for Adia, as there still seems to be some work to repair her country. What a fabulous story, definitely a ‘keeper’.
Isi Hendrix is a Nigerian American children’s book author who has been lucky enough to live and work all over the world, from the Himalayas to the Amazon rainforest, during her past life as an anthropologist. Now she’s based in her hometown of Brooklyn, NY, where she lives with a rotating roster of foster kittens and a stubborn refusal to accept that she is highly allergic to cats.
Thank you to the author’s website for the biographical information.