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Nnedi Okorafor is best known for children’s books about Nigerian culture and mysticism, but her newest novel, her first for adults, should probably be kept out of kids’ hands. That might go without saying, since Who Fears Death takes place in a postapocalyptic Africa and follows Onyesonwu, a sorceress who was conceived when her mother was raped by a member of an enemy tribe.Because of her mixed race, she is an outcast in her small desert village. Onyesonwu’s existence is as violent as her origins—she participates in rituals like female circumcision in an effort to fit in—but she’s also possessed of magical powers, inherited from her father, a sorcerer who appears in her dreams as a sort of tribal Eye of Sauron. As befitting a fantasy epic, Onyesonwu soon discovers she has a destiny, one in which she must save her maternal tribe from genocide at her father’s hand. Onyesonwu’s Africa is technologically advanced—she and her friends use a GPS device to cross the desert—but its social order is stuck in colonial times. Because of her heritage—the future has done little to advance racial attitudes in Okorafor’s book—the determined Onyesonwu spends much time proving herself worthy of respect, education, and friendship. But she also fails to return the tolerance she begs of her peers. When one character reveals deep-rooted prejudice by uttering a racial slur in a heated argument, Onyesonwu beats her down physically, and then congratulates herself for not using magic. It doesn’t feel like the act of a heroine—much less that of a savior—and in the end Onyesonwu is almost too flawed, even for the kind of damaged hero common in dystopic fiction. While the best examples of the genre tend to mirror reality, Okorafor’s story frequently borders on the nonsensical, right down to the prose; in one particularly wacky passage, Onyesonwu describes a facial expression as “the kind of look a man would give a pregnant woman if he accidentally walked in on her in the bathroom defecating.” The storytelling, meanwhile, is ambitious, as Okorafor attempts a sort of colonialism metaphor: Onyesonwu fights to free her dark-skinned people from the fairer-skinned tribe of “the West.” A noble topic, no doubt, but at the end of the book, Okorafor’s cure for Africa’s deeply rooted racial wounds feels far too simple: To end a genocide, all Onyesonwu has to do is magically rewrite the book of history. Rewrite, that is, but not understand.