Onyesonwu is an Ewu, a child of hatred. Her mother is a dark skinned Okeke and her father was a yellow-brown skinned Naru who raped her mother. She lives in a world where the Great Book justifies the enslavement and subjugation of the Okeke by the Naru and fuels brutal enslavement, abuse and genocide of the Okeke that has driven her mother to the east, away from the fighting, to live in an Okeke town.
But, as an Ewu, even the Okeke revile her as a child of shame and violence, doomed to perpetrate that violence herself. Onyesonwu is also an Eshu – a shapeshifter – and a gifted potential sorceress but even trying to meet that potential is hemmed in on every side because of her blood and because of her gender.
With anger and passion, Onyesonwu and Mwita, a fellow Ewu, challenge the restrictions placed upon her, demand the respect and position she deserves and ultimately wins friends and training –albeit both heavily coloured by the prejudice she faces. Unable to tolerate the hatred and the killing, Onyesonwu turns her eyes back to the west, at the genocide’s heart, and is determined with her few friends to stop it, though it is a long journey through many hostile places. By magic or will, with a thin thread of prophecy for hope, she will find her father and end the killing.
This is a story about growth in many ways. Onyesonwu’s journey from happy childhood, difficult coming of age, then her resolve no longer to live with the world that she’s in and a determination to change it. Through the book we see her learn and change and grow, from a small child to a powerful sorceress, she is shaped by the world around her and it’s fascinating (but slow) to see.
We see how prejudice – both against her Ewu mixed blood and as a woman – shape her. How it both enrages her and constantly blocks her – and drives her to change things. She has a lot of passion and anger – some of which is directed destructively, as one would expect, but most is driven to push down the barriers and insist that she not be held back or stopped because of her race or gender and her determination, even her violent determination, to battle against those who treat her poorly because of it. Sometimes through demanding they treat her properly, refusing to accept their words and actions and sometimes through revenge.
The story has some really strong characters that grow along with Onyesonwu with both Mwita and Luyu growing and changing with their own experiences and learning. Even though they are secondary characters, they are still grown and developed rather than just being extension of Onyesonwu.
The world, is also fascinating and well built – the mythological history that was created with Ani and the Okeke and Narru and how that was exploited to justify the genocide. The magic system is deeply involved with many different forms and rules but coming back to the same basic foundation over and over. It’s rich and consistent and fascinating – definitely one of the better depictions of magic I’ve come across