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Literature / Akata Witch

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2011 book by Nnedi Okorafor. 12-year-old Sunny lives in Nigeria, but she was born in New York City. She looks West African, but is so sensitive to the sun that she can’t play soccer during the day, due to her albinism. She doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere. Her classmate Orlu and his friend Chichi reveal that they have magical abilities—and so does she. They are all "Leopard People", or people with magical abilities. Sunny is a “free agent", or someone who has magical powers without a relative having them. And she has a lot of catching up to do.

Orlu and Chichi have been working with their teacher for years. Sunny needs a crash course in magical history, spells, juju, shape-shifting and dimensional travel. Her new world is a secret from her family, but it’s well worth all of the silence, exhaustion and sneaking around. Still, there is a dark side. After she’s found her footing, Sunny, Orlu, Chichi, and their American friend Sasha are asked by the magical authorities to help track down a criminal. Not just a run-of-the-mill bad guy. A real-life hardcore serial killer-with abilities far stronger than theirs.

Received overwhelmingly good reviews for bucking the traditional Medieval European Fantasy norm and the Monochrome Casting of most Western fantasy books.


Akata Witch uses the following tropes:

  • 419 Scam: Amusingly, it seems that Leopard People are at least partially responsible for this, using juju to steal from people's accounts and other things like that.
  • Abusive Parents: While both of Sunny's parents use corporal punishment, her father is excessive. He is also never emotionally supportive of her.
  • Adult Fear: Sunny's parents don't know why she's acting oddly, only that she's been disappearing for days when there's a child-targeting Serial Killer on the loose and that she's started behaving the same way her grandmother did before she herself was murdered.
  • All Myths Are True: According to Sunny's guidebook Fast Facts for Free Agents.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Sunny's life in a nutshell, due to being both albino and American.
  • Aloof Big Brother: Chukwu and Ugonna towards Sunny. Chukwu in particular likes to hold himself above his little sister, but they also taught her how to play soccer and how to fight.
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  • Alpha Bitch: Jibaku.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Black Hat went very, very wrong because he aspired for material wealth.
  • The Apprentice: Anatov sends the children to meet different scholars so that they can, essentially, be apprenticed. Kehinde picks Sasha, Taiwo picks Orlu, Anatov picks Chichi, and Sugar Cream picks Sunny.
  • Appropriated Appelation: Akata is actually a Nigerian slur against foreign born black people, especially African Americans. Not counting the book title, Sasha and Sunny both use it sometimes.
  • Ascended Extra: Chukwu plays a much greater role in the sequel.
  • Because Destiny Says So: Why a bunch of inexperienced kids are the ones sent after Black Hat. It's what lets them succeed where many more experienced Leopard People died.
  • Been There, Shaped History: Quite a few events in history were influenced by Leopard People. In Akata Warrior, Sunny learns that in a previous life she was ordered to stop the bombing of Hiroshima, but the spiders she hired were tricked by a djinn and thus didn't finish the juju needed to stop the bomb from exploding.
  • Berserk Button: Whenever Sunny does something that resembles her maternal grandmother, Sunny's father takes it very, very badly.
  • Big Bad: Black Hat Otokoto, the serial killer who Sunny and her coven must stop. It's eventually revealed that he's just one of many pawns of Ekwensu.
  • Big Sister Instinct: Well, little sister, but when Chukwu is tortured and nearly killed by a confraternity, Sunny takes it upon herself to disband it and terrify his tormenters into leaving him alone even though she knows she'll be punished for it.
  • Black Sheep: Sunny, being the only albino and the only Leopard Person in her family.
  • Blood Magic: The reason Black Hat kills.
  • Broken Ace: Black Hat is not only a Leopard Person, he's Oku Akama, the final level that people rarely graduate to. For a sense of scale of how great his talent is, there are only eight such scholars in Nigeria, and Black Hat passed the test several years before he should even have been able to study for it since the university for third level students wanting to advance doesn't take anyone under forty-two.
  • Bullying a Dragon: The kids at school who pick on Sunny. Of course, she's not allowed to use magic on them, but she could take all of them out easily.
  • Canon Welding: The Book of Phoenix establishes that this series occurs in the same continuity by including Miknistic, post-angel-ascension.
  • Chekhov's Skill: As an albino, Sunny has the ability to move between the spiritual and physical worlds and has both friends and enemies in the spiritual world. One of those friends shows up at the climax, giving her the knowledge to temporarily seal Ekwensu.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Nimm women are known for being this.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: Sunny and her friends are on the cusp of puberty.
  • Continuity Nod: Ginen, the planet featured in Zahrah the Windseeker and The Shadow Speaker, is mentioned. Sunny's juju knife also appears to be made of the same material as Sarauniya Jaa's sword.
  • Cool Uncle: Sunny's aunt Chinwe. Her sisters, one of them being Sunny's mother, both became doctors. Chinwe was also supposed to become a doctor because that was their father's ambition for them, but instead she became a professional dancer and married an American. Sunny looks up to her aunt because she is the only other person in the family who doesn't quite fit.
  • Cool Big Sis: Chichi takes this role with her friends, even though for all they know, she might be the youngest.
  • Cue the Sun: Sunny has a moment the morning after her initiation where the sun is rising and she realizes it isn't burning her skin.
  • Did We Just Have Tea with Cthulhu?: After the climax of Akata Warrior—did Sunny just eat kola with the Supreme Being? Yes, but even Sunny has no clue why.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Sunny manages to singlehandedly banish Ekwensu when she escapes. Not completely, but still, Ekwensu is a masquerade capable of ending the world as we know it, dangerous enough that the scholars believe the only way to beat her is by luck, but Sunny manages to send her back to the spiritual world.
  • Disability Superpower: Among Leopard People, a deformity or condition usually comes with an innate knack for some sort of juju. Sunny has albinism and the ability to enter the Spirit World; Sugar Cream has severe scoliosis and can transform into a snake; Orlu has dyslexia and is excellent at unraveling juju; and so on.
  • Disappeared Dad: Chichi's dad is a famous musician who walked out on her and her mother years ago. He never sees them or sends money, but they honestly don't care.
  • Dispel Magic: Orlu has a particular knack for unravelling almost any kind of juju. He can intuitively disable hostile juju without specifically identifying it and even talk a powerful Masquerade into de-manifesting.
  • Double Standard: Sunny is often treated worse than her brothers because she is a girl. She also has to do a harder tryout for the Zuma Nationals soccer game because she is a girl.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Junk Man, who sells a random variety of things at his market stall.
  • Fantastic Fruits and Vegetables: Plants touched by the Spirit World are popular in Leopard Person food. "Tainted peppers" are a favourite for soup, despite their tendency to explode or Curse the eater if prepared improperly.
  • Fictional Currency: Chittim are an outright supernatural version, spontaneously manifesting near Leopard People whenever they gain new knowledge. They're also said to disappear eventually, making it important to keep learning.
  • Foreshadowing: Sunny says at one point that nothing is perfect and without exception, except Library rules. A few chapters later, she has to defy them for the greater good.
  • Four-Philosophy Ensemble: A little bit, with Sasha as the cynic, Sunny as the optimist, Orlu as the realist, and Chichi as the apathetic.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Sunny and her friends.
    • Chichi is sanguine. She is optimistic, cheerful, impulsive, and easily the most lustful of the four.
    • Sasha is choleric. Ambitious, charismatic, and one to take charge, he is proud and has a quick temper.
    • Orlu is melancholic. Courteous, analytical, and hard-working, he acts as a moral compass and voice of reason.
    • Sunny is phlegmatic. She is the peacemaker of the group, but also the most insecure because she's new. Incidentally, her nose runs often.
  • Game Face: A non-evil example. All of the Leopard People have their "spirit face" that they can conjure up, which is seen as a very personal thing and seeing someone's spirit face is akin to seeing them naked. The face is usually a manifestation of their personality or powers. Sunny plays this trope straight when she gets into a fight with a schoolmate.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Sunny is expecting Sasha to be a girl. Also, Orlu (male) and Chichi (female) may count because those are Igbo names that in English are kind of ambiguous.
  • Glass Weapon: Sunny's juju knife has a paper-thin green glass blade. The material is irrelevant compared to the fact that it's a conduit for her power, but even her more experienced friends think it's odd.
  • Gold–Silver–Copper Standard: The Leopard People's chittim use an inverted version, adding bronze as the second-most valuable denomination behind copper.
  • Hostile Weather: In the build-up to the climax, it rains heavily and nonstop for a week to purify the world for Black Hat's final ritual. Sugar Cream notes that no ordinary rain could leak through the library, but this does.
  • Impossible Task: In order to gain a favor from Udide, you must tell her a story she does not know, which is impossible as she is the writer of all stories. Sunny manages it by telling her a story she does know, but from Sunny's perspective, so it's technically a new story.
  • Initiation Ceremony: An instructor awakens a Leopard Person's power with a rite that briefly sends them through the Wilderness. Sunny's is fairly uncomfortable, and there are implications it could have killed her.
  • Intangibility: Sunny can do this.
  • Kid-anova: Chukwu, to the point that Sunny wrote an essay about it. He struck out hard with Chichi, though.
  • Language of Magic: The Nsibidi writing system is powerfully magical and in some sense alive. The Archmage Sugar Cream is an oddity for having learned to work juju through Nsibidi itself; most people use a juju knife and their native language.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: Sasha is as impulsive as they come, experimenting with dangerous jujus just because he can and lashing out at anyone who tells him no. He was banished from America in the hopes that they could teach him restraint. Notably he's the only one not to do anything particularly impressive in the climax, as he runs forward and tries to duel Black Hat head-on who easily defeats him.
  • Liminal Being: Leopard People stand astride the physical and spirit worlds; they are simultaneously human in their current incarnation and eternal spirits that manifest through their Spirit Faces.
  • Living a Double Life: Said verbatim multiple times. Sunny comes to realize that both her Leopard Person and family lives are intrinsic parts of her, but it still leaves her feeling like she's not fully a part of either world.
  • Magic Wand: A juju knife acts as a conduit for a Leopard Person's power and is essential to work many kinds of juju. The knife chooses the owner, who can never work juju with another knife unless the original is destroyed. Junk Man sells them, but says nothing about where they come from.
  • Magical Society: Leopard People, also called witches, warlocks, sorcerers, and any other title for the magical, depending on where in the world you are. There are Leopard centers all over the world. Nigeria's is in Leopard Knocks, by Aba.
  • Market-Based Title: Was released as What Sunny Saw in the Flames in Nigeria and the UK (which has a sizeable Nigerian population), presumably since Akata is a Nigerian insult.
  • The Masquerade: The Leopard world and the Lamb (human) one. A Leopard Person must never tell a Lamb what they are. Sort of averted, in that most Leopard People come from families where everyone is a Leopard Person.
  • Meaningful Name: Several.
    • Sunny's name is initially ironic because the sun burns her very easily. It turns out to be a clue as to her spirit face and spirit name, Anyanwu. Anyanwu itself means "eye of the sun." She is also the only member of her family to have an English rather than an Igbo name, reflecting her different place of birth.
    • Sunny's brother Chukwu, meaning "supreme being." It's not a direct translation, but essentially his name is God. His ego drives Sunny nuts.
    • Sunny's brother Ugonna, meaning "father's pride." Possibly a hint towards their father's preference towards his sons.
    • Twins Taiwo and Kehinde have names given to older and younger twins respectively.
  • Mentor Occupational Hazard: This is what happened to Sunny's grandmother, Ozoemena. Only it was Black Hat himself who killed her.
  • Mixed Ancestry:
    • Chichi's mother is Efik and her father is Igbo.
    • Sunny's grandmother was a Leopard while her other three grandparents were Lambs.
  • Muggles: Called Lambs.
  • Muggle Foster Parents: Averted, her parents are actually her biological parents, but they have no abilities.
    • Her maternal grandmother did, though.
  • Mundane Utility: Juju can be used, among other things, to keep mosquitoes away.
  • Murder Into Malevolence: According to Orlu, creatures killed in acts of thoughtless cruelty often become unpleasant spirits. Swatted mosquitoes appear in the Spirit World as much larger, much nastier entities with paralytic venom.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Black Hat. Also Ekwensu.
  • Not Too Dead to Save the Day: Sunny's grandmother arrives in the climax (in a way) to teach Sunny spirit touch and help her bind Ekwensu.
  • Omniglot: Sunny and her friends all speak more than two languages. Sunny, Orlu, and Chichi all speak Igbo, English, and Nigerian Pidgin English. Chichi also speaks Efik. Sasha speaks English, Spanish, Hausa, Igbo, and Arabic.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname:
    • Chichi's full name is Chijioke. Others use her full name in special situations, but she never does.
    • Sugar Cream, at least as far as anyone can tell. It's implied that her real name is her private Spirit Name, like the spirit apes who raised her, which would explain why she doesn't share it.
    • Jesus's General.
  • Only the Knowledgable May Pass: You need to be initiated to enter Leopard Knocks.
  • Our Spirits Are Different: Masquerades, which are not to be confused with Masquerade or Masquerade Ball. They are spirit creatures, and they will hurt you.
  • Parental Abandonment: Sugar Cream was found in the woods when she was three or so. She was found and raised by a seventeen-year-old.
  • Photographic Memory: Both Sasha and Chichi have this, which is why neither of them goes to school.
  • Prone to Sunburn: Sunny's albinism makes her so sensitive to sunlight that she can only play soccer after dark. She's overjoyed when the awakening of her Leopard Person abilities negates the sensitivity.
  • Red Pill, Blue Pill: Chukwu gets a choice between forgetting he saw the Leopard world and keeping the knowledge under oath to tell no one else. As terrified as he is, he chooses the oath so he can protect Sunny.
  • Reed Richards Is Useless: Averted. Even from the shadows Leopard People do their best to help the world, it's just that they can't stop it all, not all Leopard People are willing to help the common good, and there are supernatural creatures just as eager to harm it. For one example, Sunny learns that Nigerian corruption would be a lot worse if there weren't Leopard People using jujus to fight against it. She also learns she was supposed to stop the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in a past life, but was thwarted.
  • Renowned Selective Mentor: Sugar Cream has never mentored anyone, but she's been considering, just this once, taking a student. Sunny wins her respect by helping defeat Black Hat and singlehandedly banishing Ekwensu.
  • Reward from Nowhere: Chittim is the currency of Leopards, and it comes out of nowhere after one learns something new.
  • Saved by the Awesome: At the end of Akata Warrior, Sunny and the coven are dragged before the council to face punishment for their actions. Sunny replies by simply telling them the events of the climax, which stuns the council so much they can't bring themselves to punish any of them.
  • Scary Librarian: Sugar Cream is the head librarian at Leopard Knocks. Due to the importance of knowledge to the Leopard People, this means she's also at the highest rank of juju and is on its council of justiciaries — and the library in question is a profoundly magical Eldritch Location besides.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: What Sunny thinks she's doing when she terrorizes the confraternity, and what she and her coven actually do when they flee Leopard justice so they can stop Ekwensu.
  • Secret Keeper: Chukwu in the sequel after accidentally seeing too much.
  • Secret Test: Anatov is very fond of doing this.
  • Serial Killer: One of these is killing and mutilating children throughout Nigeria It is found out that he is a Leopard Person and is using the children to work juju.
  • Shown Their Work: Since Okorafor is actually of Nigerian descent, all of the Nigerian mythology and culture depicted in the book are actual myths. The detail is shown in this review.
  • Silver Has Mystic Powers: The handle of Sunny's juju knife is silver.
  • Sink-or-Swim Mentor: This is how learning works in the Leopard world. All the teachers are this, but we see the most of Anatov.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Jesus's General, according to the narrator.
  • Spirit World: The Wilderness is a timeless otherworld that overlays the physical world and is home to spirits of all types. Leopard People can partially or fully enter the Wilderness, though the latter essentially means dying and returning.
  • Stealth Pun: The African American Leopard headquarters is called Tar Nation, likely in reference to both the word "tarnation," a light variant of "damnation," and the racial slur "tar baby."
  • Superpowerful Genetics: Leopard abilities are specifically stated not to be this. It's a matter of spirit, not genes.
  • Super Strength: Sunny develops this as she grows into her Nimm warrior heritage. She's strong enough to tear off Ekwensu's mask.
  • The Tease: Chichi at times. When she falls in love with both Sunny and Chukwu, this goes up to eleven.
  • Tell Me About My Father: Sunny desperately wants to know about her maternal grandmother, who may have been a Leopard Person.
  • Thin Dimensional Barrier: "Full" places are those where the material and spirit worlds blend into each other, like the small patch of The Lost Woods where Sugar Cream spent her early childhood. Visiting one, Sunny has the headache-inducing sight of a physical neighbourhood and a busy Wilderness market occupying the same space.
  • True Companions: Sunny, Orlu, Chichi, and Sasha make an Oha coven.
  • Twofer Token Minority: Sunny sort of feels like this in Nigeria, since she was born in New York City but moved to Nigeria when she was 9, and she is an albino.
  • The Unfavorite: Sunny's father doesn't like her.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: With Sasha and Chichi. Eventually resolved when Sunny catches them making out multiple times. This happens to a lesser extent between Sunny and Orlu as well.
  • Vague Age: Chichi deliberately invokes this. She refuses to tell anyone how old she is, except when she's teasing an older man. After she gets him excited, she tells him she's twelve (or whatever age she feels like being), laughs at their horror, and runs off.
  • Waif Prophet: Sunny has the potential to become one. At the beginning of the book, she sees the end of the world in a candle flame.
  • Wham Line: Sugar Cream reveals that Sunny's grandmother was Black Hat's teacher, and that he murdered her.
  • The Worf Effect: Sunny and the others ask why older, more experienced sorcerers aren't going after Black Hat. Well, they did. It didn't end well.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: The only currency worth anything is chittim, and the only way to obtain it is by learning, so most Leopard People don't bother with mundane money any more than they have to. To drive the point home, the least valuable chittim is gold, followed by silver, with only copper and bronze being seen as valuable for major purchases.


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