Who Fears Death

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Who Fears Death
AuthorNnedi Okorafor
GenreScience Fiction, Fantasy
Publication date
Media typeBook
Preceded byThe Book of Phoenix 

Who Fears Death is a science fantasy novel by Nigerian-American writer Nnedi Okorafor, published in 2010 by DAW, an imprint of Penguin Books. It was awarded the 2011 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel,[1] as well as the 2010 Carl Brandon Kindred Award "for an outstanding work of speculative fiction dealing with race and ethnicity."[2] Okorafor wrote a prequel, the novel The Book of Phoenix, published by DAW in 2015.


The novel takes place in a post-apocalyptic future version of Sudan, where the light-skinned Nuru oppress the dark-skinned Okeke. The protagonist, Onyesonwu (Igbo for "who fears death"), is an Ewu, i.e. the child of an Okeke woman raped by a Nuru man. On reaching maturity, she goes on a quest to defeat her sorcerous father Daib using her magical powers.


  • Onyesonwu — The protagonist, the daughter of an Okeke woman raped by a Nuru man.
  • Mwita — Onyesonwu's lover.
  • Najeeba — Onyesonwu's mother.
  • Fadil — Onyesonwu's stepfather and Najeeba's second husband.
  • Daib — Onyesonwu's rapist father, a powerful sorcerer.
  • Aro — Onyesonwu's mentor.
  • Ada — Aro's wife and mother of Fanta and Nuumu.
  • Luyu — Onyesonwu's closest friend
  • Binta — Onyesonwu's close friend
  • Diti — Onyesonwu's close friend
  • Fanasi — Diti's fiancé
  • Fanta — twin son of Ada
  • Nuume — twin daughter of Ada

Themes and influences[edit]

The novel was inspired in part by Emily Wax's 2004 Washington Post article "We Want to Make a Light Baby," which discussed the use of weaponized rape by Arab militiamen against Black African women in the Darfur conflict. According to Wax: "The victims and others said the rapes seemed to be a systematic campaign to humiliate the women, their husbands and fathers, and to weaken tribal ethnic lines."[3] Okorafor wrote that this article "created the passageway through which Onyesonwu slipped through my world."[4]

The novel contains several references to Amos Tutuola's novel The Palm-Wine Drinkard.[5]


Besides winning the 2011 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel and the 2010 Carl Brandon Kindred Award, Who Fears Death was nominated for the 2011 Nebula Award for Best Novel and the 2011 Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel. It also won the Best Foreign Novel award at the French Awards "Les Imaginales".

The novel includes a graphic scene in which Onyesonwu is subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM), which she later learns may affect her magical powers. Steven Barnes of the American Book Review noted some had criticized the scene.[6][7] In a blog post, Okorafor commented that she is proud of her Igbo identity, but that "culture is alive and it is fluid. It is not made of stone nor is it absolute. Some traditions/practices will be discarded and some will be added, but the culture still remains what it is. It is like a shape-shifting octopus that can lose a tentacle but still remain a shape-shifting octopus (yes, that image is meant to be complicated). Just because I believe that aspects of my culture are problematic does not mean I am “betraying” my people by pointing out those problems." She added: "What it [i.e., female genital cutting] all boils down to (and I believe the creators of this practice KNEW this even a thousand years ago) is the removal of a woman’s ability to properly enjoy the act of sex. Again, this is about the control and suppression of women."[7]


In July 2017, Okorafor announced the novel was the basis for an HBO television series in "early development", with George R. R. Martin serving as an executive producer;[8] Selwyn Seyfu Hinds has been selected as scriptwriter.[9]


  1. ^ "2011 World Fantasy Award Winners & Nominees". World Fantasy Board. Retrieved 2013-04-27.
  2. ^ "2010 Carl Brandon Award Winners". Locus Online. 2012-08-08. Retrieved 2013-04-29.
  3. ^ Wax, "We Want to Make a Light Baby," Washington Post, June 30, 2004, p. A01.
  4. ^ Okorafor, Who Fears Death, paperback edition, 2010, p. 387.
  5. ^ Okorafor, Who Fears Death, pp. 316, 385
  6. ^ Steven Barnes, "Beyond Mere Genre," American Book Review 32:2 (Jan/Feb 2011), p. 8.
  7. ^ a b Okorafor, "The Witch Strikes Back".
  8. ^ "Nnedi Okorafor". www.facebook.com. Retrieved 2017-07-10.
  9. ^ Martin, George R. R. (September 14, 2017). "Who Fears Death Finds Its Scriptwriter". Live Journal. Retrieved April 8, 2019.

External links[edit]