Goodreads Review – Okorafor’s The Book of Phoenix

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The Book of Phoenix (Who Fears Death, #0.1)The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor

I think the problem is I read the prequel immediately after reading the first book, Who Fears Death? While it is an interesting book that could have potentially explored the ethics of scientific/medical research and discovery, it doesn’t. The question posed but never discussed. The title character, Phoenix, touches upon it several times throughout the book but never takes hold of the dilemma. She needed a better antagonist. Someone who would make her doubt herself and her motives. Unlike Onyesonwu in the first book, Phoenix is surrounded by friends who never question her motives.

Phoenix’s “sister” character, HeLa, is a direct indictment of the medical community that condoned the theft of biological matter from Henrietta Lacks, a poor black tobacco farmer. Jonas Salk is credited with developing the polio vaccine. Henrietta, whose cells he used to develop the polio vaccine and other cures, remains ignored. A brief history of Henrietta’s plight is given when Phoenix meets HeLa (As a matter of fact, “HeLa” is the name of the cells scientists stole from Henrietta.)

I believe the goal of a prequel is to provide a clearer depiction of the events that lead up to the story it is supposed to precede. The Book of Phoenix does not do this. It did not explain the rise of magic or how the arrogance of science and its practitioners lead to the apocalypse. Did the speciMen die off? They do not appear in the first book. Is the sorcerer Sola from the first book one of the immortals that HeLa helps create in the prequel? Phoenix’s ability to “slip” (teleport) the same as Onyesonwu and her mother’s? Is this something genetic that can be inherited?

The Book of Phoenix is a good book but not as a prequel to Who Fears Death? It is better as a standalone.

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