Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Who Fears Death

Winner of the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel

WHO FEARS DEATH has been optioned by HBO and is now in early development as a TV series with George R. R. Martin as executive producer.

“Dear friends, are you afraid of death?”
—Patrice Lumumba, first and only elected Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo

In a post-apocalyptic Africa, the world has changed in many ways, yet in one region 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 tribe for good. An Okeke 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 child Onyesonwu, which means “Who Fears Death?” in an ancient tongue.

From a young age, stubborn, willful Onyesonwu is trouble. It doesn’t take long for her to understand that she is physically and socially marked by the circumstances of her violent conception. She is Ewu—a child of rape who is expected to live a life of violence, a half-breed rejected by both tribes.

But Onye is not the average Ewu. As a child, Onye’s singing attracts owls. By the age of eleven, she can change into a vulture. But these amazing abilities are merely the first glimmers of a remarkable unique magic. As Onye grows, so do her abilities—soon she can manipulate matter and flesh, or travel beyond into the spiritual world. During an inadvertent visit to this other 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 seeks help from the magic practitioners of her village. But, even among her mother’s people, she meets with frustrating prejudice because she is Ewu and female. Yet Onyesonwu persists.

Eventually her magical destiny and her rebellious nature will force her to leave home on a quest that will be perilous in ways that Onyesonwu can not possibly imagine. For this journey will cause her to grapple with nature, tradition, history, true love, the spiritual mysteries of her culture, and ultimately to learn why she was given the name she bears: Who Fears Death?


Winner of the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel

Winner of Le Prix Imaginales (France) for Best Translated Novel French title: Qui a Peur de la Mort? (Panini Books)

A Locus Award Finalist for Best Fantasy Novel

A Nebula Award Finalist

Winner of the RT Reviewer’s Choice Best Book Award (Science Fiction)

A Tiptree Honor Book

Finalist for a Black Excellence Award

A Library School Journal Best Book

A Publishers Weekly Best Book

A Selection of the Amelia Bloomer Project List

A Goodreads Choice Award Finalist: Best Fantasy


“A fantastical, magical blend of grand storytelling.”

-Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Beautifully written, this is dystopian fantasy at its very best.”

-The Library Journal Review (starred review)

“Both wondrously magical and terribly realistic.”

-The Washington Post

“The book is an untraditional fantasy novel; it actually features Black people in an alternate reality that is set in the Motherland. It also skews more toward the Octavia Butler end of the fantastical spectrum with believable, nuanced characters of color and an unbiased view of an Africa full of technology, mysticism, culture clashes and true love.”

-Ebony Magazine (Editor’s Pick)

“Her pacing is tight. Her expository sections sing like poetry. Descriptions of paranormal people and battles are disturbingly vivid and palpable. But most crucial to the book’s success is how the author slowly transforms Onye’s pursuit of her rapist father from a personal vendetta to a struggle to transform the social systems that created him.”

-The Village Voice

“The subject matter of this haunting tale is brutal, yet its words inspire hope…It is a story that begs to be read in one sitting.”

-The Christian Science Monitor

“Written in a direct and uncompromising prose and driven by a passion and anger only hinted at in the earlier novels, Okorafor’s first adult novel is easily her best.”

-Locus Magazine

“Nnedi Okorafor is American-born but her Nigerian blood runs strong, lacing her work with fantasy, magic and true African reality. Many people need to read WHO FEARS DEATH, it’s an important book.”

-Nawal El Saadawi, bestselling and award-winning Egyptian feminist writer and activist, author of Woman at Point Zero

“Haunting and absolutely brilliant. My heart and guts are all turned inside out.”

-John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars

“Her newest teaches us that we can and should look beyond labels and genres. She is in the passing lane now, and she is starting to pull away. Catch her now.”

-author Luis Urrea

“The voice of Nnedi Okorafor does not obey the rules of distance, time and place. Hers is that voice that fuses matter and imagination. WHO FEARS DEATH captures the substance of our necessary but often ignored realities. Read it.”

-Tchidi Chikere, Nigeria’s prolific award-winning film director and screenwriter