Book Review: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Book Synopsis

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself — but first she has to make it there, alive.

In this multi-award-winning novella, Nnedi Okorafor introduces us to a vivid and bright science fiction universe that, despite the short length of the story, feels very well fleshed out. On this front, it’s very clear as to why Binti has won so many awards, including the 2016 Hugo Award for Best Novella and the 2016 Nebula Award. But all these awards and accolades do mean you go into a book with very high expectations. At least I did. Did it live up to these expectations?For me, not quite.

Now, I try to keep my blog a pretty positive place, so what was it I liked about this book? Well, quite a lot actually. Nnedi Okorafor does a lot well here. For me, the biggest strength is the world-building. This certainly isn’t always the case with novellas, but everything here feels so fleshed out. It really feels like there is a whole world/universe with a rich and detailed history behind the scenes of what we are seeing. Which is just really impressive and a credit to Okorafor’s craft.

Aside from the world-building, I think Binti as a character is very well done. Her personality and character, her ambitions and desires, all come across strongly in the writing. She is a determined young woman who finds herself thrust into the unknown and unfamiliar, but has the smarts and sheer brilliance to navigate these dangers.

However, despite this, Binti lacks that special spark for me. She feels like a solidly written character. I can’t find fault with anything about her, but I just didn’t feel particularly attached to her at any point in the story. Now you could argue that this is an issue with the format. How can you truly get attached to a character in such a short space of time? Well, while I think it is a valid argument, I would point you towards Devin Madson’s In Shadows We Fall and the whole of the Murderbot Diaries series by Martha Wells. The characters in those stories really leap off the page, despite the short length, and really stick with you. Binti, or any of the other supporting characters, unfortunately lacked that same WOW factor.

This lack of spark, for me, could also be carried over to the plot of the story. I think there are a couple of moments that were meant to give you that WOW or OMG feeling, but they didn’t land for me. They kind of felt just a little too out of left field, and I think this was the big issue here. The story lacked tension. And the tension that was there at the beginning didn’t get any pay off.

Overall, should you read this? I’d say ‘Yes.’ Clearly loads of people love it and I think it does a lot really well. I do wonder if my enjoyment of Binti would have been greater had I not known it was so highly acclaimed, however. Perhaps I just went in with my expectations too high. Despite this, I will be carrying on to the next novella in the series, Home.


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