This might get my Bookworm Card revoked, but I’m an avid eBook reader, and I struggle with finishing physical books the way I did when I was younger.
But when Onwe Press sent us a review copy of Daughters of Nri, for the first time in a while, I binged a physical book. I started the book at 9 pm, and when I’d finished, it was 4:37 am. From the first chapter, the book captured my attention.
Even as someone with almost no knowledge of Western African cultures, page after page, I read along learning more about the Igbo pantheon. I learned about the cuisine of Igbo people that would’ve lived in the Kingdom of Nri (a real Kingdom that is now in modern-day Nigeria), the clothes they would’ve worn, the environments they might’ve lived in. This book manages to do successfully what very few Non-Western books do: it educated without spoon feeding.
Never once did I feel as if the narrator is holding my hand throughout the story, in a Dora the Explorer-esque way. Better yet, it gave you all this information from multiple perspectives of the people who would’ve lived through it, which helped give you a broader sense of what you learned.
Reni K Amayo’s elegant and edifying way with words that shows you the soul of the characters, and makes you empathize with their struggles.
You feel for daring Naala’s restlessness as she struggles under the weight of conformity on her wedding day. You understand reserved Sinai’s longing to disappear and live unseen from the judgmental eyes that track your every move. You feel Meekulu’s righteous anger at the Eze’s abuse of power and corruption of justice. You understand Ina’s desire for power and autonomy in a patriarchal society.
The book tackled difficult matters like genocide, sexual assault, and domestic abuse, all from the eyes of survivors, showing the strength and resolve it takes to survive these ordeals and fight back against the perpetrator. It’s written vividly enough to make you understand an inkling of what the character must’ve dealt with, but never going into unnecessarily graphic detail that could be overly triggering.
It also painted a picture of disillusionment. Naala, who grew up on the outskirts of the kingdom, learned of the Eze’s might as well as his cruelty. She saw the truth of the Gods War for a while, but the day his army came to her doorstep she realized that society rarely listens to the words of a woman, even if she is trying to save them. Sinai came to see the reality of the pain that built the palace she lived in. The once beautiful murals she used to sit and watch for hours turned into ugly war propaganda when she realized the horrors of the Eze’s actions.
For all it’s better qualities, the Daughters of Nri fails to bring the book to a satisfying ending. The Eze of Nri, a seemingly immortal all-powerful man who is sustained by the heart of The Earth Mother herself, is brought down by two inexperienced young women in a few pages.
From the very first chapter, we’re told the Eze is a heartless and dangerous man who can and will snap your neck with his bare hands. A man who’s eradicated villages and issued edicts of infanticide is brought down because of an arduous monologue, a convenient burst of magic and the bond of sisterly love.
This, along with the irregular pacing for the plot, makes for a frustrating conclusion to an otherwise enthralling story. But the way Remi K Amayo wrote the majority of the book gives me hope for the sequel.
I look forward to the next book in The Return Of The Earth Mother series and give this first book a 7/10.
By: Keshav Kant
Edited By: Lauren Hailey