The Importance of Creating Worlds for Young Black Readers

**This piece contains SPOILERS for Children of Virtue and Vengeance and Daughters of Nri.

The field of fantasy in the fiction world has predominantly been comprised of white writers. While many authors, like Kai Ashante Wilson and N.K. Jemisin, worked hard to break down that barrier, we’re just starting to see an increase in the number of diverse authors coming into the field and bringing their African roots with them. This transition is essential in our modern society to provide more representation not just for Black people but also for our traditions and rich history. From Lagos to Wakanda, a fusion of the past and newly created stories has merged into an explosion of love, launching a journey of rediscovery for Black people. 

Authors like Tomi Adeyemi (Legacy of Orisha trilogy) and Reni K. Amayo (Daughters of Nri), have successfully introduced Nigerian heritage in their writing; Adeyemi honours the Yorùbá tribe, while Amayo pays homage to the Igbo tribe, thus allowing our culture to exist and thrive within the fantasy realm. While we can’t ignore our history and the excruciating ordeals of our ancestors, slavery has become the depiction of the African Diaspora, and unfortunately, portrays the absence of excellence which is reductive to our accomplishments. Books like Brown Girl Dreaming celebrate the eloquent poetry of Jacqueline Woodson and her interpretation of the Civil Rights movement era. A great example of how fiction allows us to retain our past and provides a platform for writers to create new worlds young Black readers want to exist in. 

Adeyemi’s debut novel Children of Blood and Bone features a character named Amari, a princess in the mythical kingdom of Orïsha, where her father’s tyrannical rule plagues their land. In the first book of the trilogy, Zélie, the protagonist, was my favourite, however after reading the second in the series, Children of Virtue and Vengeance, I found myself rooting for Amari, her best friend, more. I was very invested in her character development throughout the story, as she transitioned from a timid girl into a warrior with newly discovered magical powers. 

As the story develops, Amari struggles with her father’s legacy as she tries to do what’s best for Orïsha. She strives to put the kingdom’s needs before her own, struggling to forge a new path as she fights to become queen. Readers begin to notice how her father’s teachings and brutal training affect her decision making, inadvertently putting the people she’s closest to at risk. Born a noble, Amari found it hard to empathise with Iyika — the maji resistance group — due to her tunnel-visioned approach to defeating their rivals in battle. In an attempt to gain loyalty and respect from them, she challenges an elder in the camp, and although she wins, they still refused to acknowledge her.

Over time Amari reflects on the tough decisions her father had to make as King, leading her to deviate from her original plan. Eventually, she chooses to sacrifice the lives of residents at a nearby village in a ploy to defeat her family, thus putting a further strain on her friendship with Zélie. The cause of the divide stems from Amari’s desire to rule Orïsha as a better queen, after the manifestation of her magical powers in the ritual that concluded the previous book.

As she emerges as a tîtán — nobles with magic ancestry — Amari is keen to use her magic for good, but her new abilities come without a manual, and so she lacks the knowledge of the Yorùbá tradition required to harness and control it. We later discover that majis and tîtáns differ in the way they use their magic; while majis rely on spells to activate their powers, tîtáns are not bound by them since they possess blood magic in their veins. Moreover, having this unlimited access to these powers causes Amari to unintentionally hurt others when driven by rage, something she and other tîtáns had to work on when training with chants recited by the maji. She relied heavily on her instincts and advice from maji clan leaders in her quest to become queen.

Likewise, in the Return of the Earth Mother series, Amayo focuses on the self-discovery and journey of twin sisters separated at birth for their protection. Both born with magical powers unknown to them, Naala and Sinai encounter several obstacles that prompt them to question their existence and the rules plaguing their communities. I liked that although the main protagonists are twins, Amayo wrote each character with distinctive personalities in a complementing way that allows both individuals to learn from each other.

The ruler of their kingdom, Eze, has hunted down sets of twins over time to prevent a prophecy foreshadowing that his reign would be ended by one. In the Igbo spiritual realm, Chukwu is the supreme spirit that created the universe and creator of the Mother, birthing life on earth. The Eze is now in possession of the Mother’s crystal that gives him unlimited access to unimaginable power, but only a type of being can access it. So, an onus falls on the girls to use their magic as demi-gods to defeat him.

In the early chapters of the story we meet Naala, due to get married in an hour. Still wearing her bridal gown, she hesitates and ponders what life would look like outside the village. Naala, raised on the outskirts of Nri is the more courageous and feisty twin, constantly questions the decisions and customs of the villagers, consequently resulting in punishment for her defiance. Her lack of discipline in decision-making is also mirrored in her magical abilities as she struggles to control her powers. Initially, her magic is sparked accidentally and is often triggered when her mind is in a chaotic state, so, though it frightened her initially, it almost acts as an anchor to keep her internally grounded.

As the story unfolds, we learn that though Naala has lived in the village all her life, she never belonged there. She sensed that a part of her was missing and following an attack against her people, she makes the brave decision to run away, and embarks on a journey with her companions, as she attempts survival outside her comfort zone. Likewise, her sister Sinai learns more about the complexity of nobles and their way of life before fleeing the royal city on a quest for survival, not knowing how her life is about change. 

Unlike Naala, Sinai lives in the city of Nri, several miles from the village. She displays a certain naivety to the actions of nobles within the palace and shies away from attention. Over time she learns that to prevail in her trials she has to completely surrender to her purpose, and being her authentic self informs her decisions.

This story of survival incorporates the values and experiences many young women face today because as we get older, we make more difficult choices in life. Inspiring stories like these can help us get through them. We need more magical books that present real models to inspire, inform and empower the younger generation in a world where they may have to try twice as hard to excel. For younger kids, in particular, our history needs to be presented in a digestible form and not so full of struggle and pain to the extent of trauma, so a fictional version is required. When certain characters in the story encounter problems, readers get to experience this journey with them and, as such, learn how they approach it rather than reading about them as facts and figures. Powerful young women like Naala and Sinai and Amari and Zélie encourage other young Black people through their stories and teach them to reach for the stars and realise their potential. 

It’s here, and it’s working. But we need more of it!