Select language, opens an overlay
Who Fears Death

Who Fears Death

Book - 2010
Average Rating:
Rate this:
Now optioned as a TV series for HBO, with executive producer George R. R. Martin!

An award-winning literary author enters the world of magical realism with her World Fantasy Award-winning novel of a remarkable woman in post-apocalyptic Africa.

In a post-apocalyptic Africa, the world has changed in many ways; yet in one region genocide between tribes still bloodies the land. A woman who has survived the annihilation of her village and a terrible rape by an enemy general wanders into the desert, hoping to die. Instead, she gives birth to an angry baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand. Gripped by the certainty that her daughter is different-- special --she names her Onyesonwu, which means "Who fears death?" in an ancient language.

It doesn't take long for Onye to understand that she is physically and socially marked by the circumstances of her conception. She is Ewu --a child of rape who is expected to live a life of violence, a half-breed rejected by her community. But Onye is not the average Ewu . Even as a child, she manifests the beginnings of a remarkable and unique magic. As she grows, so do her abilities, and during an inadvertent visit to the spirit realm, she learns something terrifying: someone powerful is trying to kill her.

Desperate to elude her would-be murderer and to understand her own nature, she embarks on a journey in which she grapples with nature, tradition, history, true love, and the spiritual mysteries of her culture, and ultimately learns why she was given the name she bears: Who Fears Death.
Publisher: New York : Daw Books, 2010
ISBN: 9780756406691
Call Number: F OKORAFOR
Characteristics: 386 p. ; 24 cm


From Library Staff

The novel is set in post-apocalyptic Sudan and mixes fantasy with magical realism. SFPL's January - February 2018 On The Same Page selection.

In a far future, post-nuclear-holocaust Africa, genocide plagues one region. The aggressors, the Nuru, have decided to follow the Great Book and exterminate the Okeke. But when the only surviving member of a slain Okeke village is brutally raped, she manages to escape, wandering farther into the ... Read More »

List - Books Read in 2018
SFPL_LauraL2 Aug 20, 2018

3 stars

The novel Who Fears Death is set in post-apocalyptic Sudan and mixes fantasy with magical realism. (In the book, one region’s genocide between tribes still bloodies the land.) After years of enslaving the Okeke people, the Nuru tribe has decided to follow the Great Book and exterminate the Okeke ... Read More »

In a far future, post-nuclear-holocaust Africa, genocide plagues one region.

Reared under the tutelage of a mysterious and traditional shaman, Onyesonwu discovers her magical destiny--to end the genocide of her people. The journey to fulfill her destiny will force her to grapple with nature, tr... Read More »

From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Jul 29, 2020

I read this because Okorafor is a female Afro-futuristic writer, and I have found so many of these authors deliver extraordinary works for us to read and learn from. I agree with another reviewer that there is a great deal to like about this book, but the ending stretched over more than 100 pages, just too long and anti-climactic. The subject of weaponized rape has been with us for a long time, and Okorafor brings it farther into the light, as well as female circumcision and its use to control women; kudos -- but this also made for hard reading. The first part of the book was dark and challenging to stay with, but Mwita's arrival in the story line, everything is lifted up; his brightness carried me through the story. The middle of the book is very rewarding, rich with ideas and symbolism that are sometimes made clear. I would have liked a glossary; I spent a lot of time on Wikipedia putting things I didn't know into context. I look forward to Nnedi Okorafor's next work!

Jul 28, 2020

There is a lot to like about this book, and I read it because I liked the Binti series. But the writing struck me as more YA than adult. It was too long and somewhat anti-climactic. Still, read it for its Afrofuturist importance.

ArapahoeTina Aug 01, 2019

I loved the flow of past and future, ancient and modern in this novel. The world felt real and tangible with the magic an integral part of the everyday. I really hope this makes it to the screen in its HBO adaptation. George R.R. Martin is set as executive producer and he has some ground to make up!!

IndyPL_SteveB Dec 10, 2018

This award-winning fantasy novel takes place in Africa after some apocalyptic event that destroyed much of the technological world. A girl is born after her mother was raped by the leader of an invading army. The mother names her Onyesonwu – “Who Fears Death?” The mother and daughter survive in the desert for many years and Onyesonwu or “Onye” discovers she has wizard powers and the ability to change into animals. She also discovers she can track what her biological father is doing. She vows to use her abilities to kill him.

The fantasy in this novel is dark, indeed, with rape and murder being common and with graphic descriptions of female circumcision. But there is also great beauty as Onye learns to fly as a vulture, to learn to control her abilities and emotions, and to fall in love. As she and her friends journey toward the inevitable confrontation with her father, they meet a fascinating tribe who live in the eye of a sandstorm for protection. Onye also grows to understand that nothing is to be gained by merely killing her father. She must find a way to begin changing the nature of the society she lives in.

Okorafor tells her story from a much different background than almost anything else you will read, although it might remind you a bit of Octavia Butler. There are very few fantasies which use African traditions and mythologies. Okorafor is a professor at Chicago State and is the daughter of Nigerian immigrants.

Ms Okorafor is an African American author, the daughter of two Nigerian immigrants. I can’t remember how this book came on my radar but I’m glad it did. It’s catalogued as Science Fiction but the first half really doesn’t seem to fit that category–later on ‘magical’ things are at work but it dovetails so well into the story it doesn’t ‘read’ as Sci Fi.

It was a hard read in that it dealt with topics of racism, genocide, genital mutilation, the use of rape as a weapon of war, the societal views of children that are a result of these rapes – and the fact that these children are a result of two races mixing . Climate change is a small part of the story (there are more deserts in this future earth) and the problems technology has brought society is also discussed.

The book presents us with a heroine, Onyesonwu (which means Who Fears Death), who has struggles to overcome as a child of a rape victim. A ‘Quest’ must be completed–a chance to right wrongs and vengeance taken.

Onyesonwu is a strong, emotional, conflicted character but you root for her every step of the way. (Submitted by RZ).

TSCPL_Miranda Nov 04, 2018

Wow, this was a hard one. I almost quit after the first couple of chapters. Then I almost quit again about halfway through. TW for rape, genocide, and female circumcision...which tells you in a nutshell why I found it so hard to read. That said, it's a powerful, memorable book, a woman on a quest, driven by destiny to be the salvation of her people. You'll find magic, deep lore, and a strong, admirable female lead. The setting is a near-future earth, in Africa, that has lost touch with much of its technology, and the tone is both bleak and hopeful.
I almost brought this one down a star because of how ill it made me feel in parts, and then decided I can't penalize an author for being good at what she does. If you've read Okorafor's young adult fiction and loved it, be warned that you need a stronger stomach to tackle this one.

Oct 18, 2018

What a great book! I am always looking for a science fiction author or book that is different, original, fast-paced, exciting, emotional, intriguing characters...I found it all in this book.

Jun 06, 2018

I LOVED THIS BOOK. It is amazing, and told extremely well.
The harshness and the pain makes the ending only more bittersweet, and it opened my eyes to the conditions other people experience in the world. Onyesonwu is a powerfully complex character, and her journey is an inspiring one.
I read this book in little over a day, and I've started the prequel, The Book of Phoenix (so good!), and Nnedi Okorafor is doing an amazing job

Apr 05, 2018

I love this book. The heroine just does not buy into racism or sexism. She doesn't much like the Great Book either. I can so relate!

SPPL_Kristen Mar 13, 2018

A breathtaking novel. Nnedi Okorafor is one of the best authors writing today. Please be mindful of the content warnings: the book deals with a lot of difficult and graphic subjects. This is one of my new favorites, and I highly recommend it to all sci-fi lovers.

View All Comments


Add Age Suitability
Mar 31, 2020

Maluka11 thinks this title is suitable for 18 years and over

Apr 07, 2018

WittySofa thinks this title is suitable for 18 years and over

Feb 27, 2016

mlynxqualey thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and over

Jan 08, 2016

Birkbm thinks this title is suitable for 18 years and over

Apr 28, 2012

Rilelen thinks this title is suitable for 15 years and over

Feb 14, 2012

Incarnadine thinks this title is suitable for 15 years and over

Apr 24, 2011

rachelleme thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and over


Add a Quote
ArapahoeTina Feb 07, 2020

“We'll never know exactly why we are, what we are, and so on. All you can do is follow your path all the way to the wilderness, and then you continue along because that's what must be.”

ArapahoeTina Feb 07, 2020

“We all are born with burdens. Some of us more than others.”

Sep 15, 2016

Humiliation and confusion were the staples of my childhood. Is it a wonder that anger was never far behind?

Sep 15, 2016

Humiliation and confusion were the staples of my childhood. Is it a wonder that anger was never far behind?


Add Notices
Sep 15, 2016

Sexual Content: Graphic depictions of rape

Sep 15, 2016

Violence: Including sexual violence, genocide, and stoning. Depictions of female genital cutting.


Add a Summary
Sep 15, 2016

Onyesonwu is Ewu, a child born of the violence that the Nuru have long visited upon the Okeke people they have enslaved in post-apocalyptic Sudan. Nuru and Okeke alike regard her as an abomination, but she is protected by her determined mother, and her highly respected adoptive father. Her magical talents begin to manifest early, setting her even further apart from her Okeke peers in the village of Jwahir. But things begin to change when she meets Mwita, an Ewu boy with connections to the village sorcerer, Aro, who has never agreed to take a woman as his student. Her untrained power ties her to a larger destiny, one will impact the future of Nuru and Okeke alike.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at SFPL

To Top