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Literature / The Book of Phoenix

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The Book of Phoenix is a 2016 fantasy novel by Nnedi Okorafor. It is a prequel to her 2010 novel Who Fears Death.

Phoenix was grown and raised among other genetic experiments in New York’s Tower 7. She is an “accelerated woman”—only two years old but with the body and mind of an adult, Phoenix’s abilities far exceed those of a normal human. Still innocent and inexperienced in the ways of the world, she is content living in her room speed reading e-books, running on her treadmill, and basking in the love of Saeed, another biologically altered human of Tower 7.

Then one evening, Saeed witnesses something so terrible that he takes his own life. Devastated by his death and Tower 7’s refusal to answer her questions, Phoenix finally begins to realize that her home is really her prison, and she becomes desperate to escape.


But Phoenix’s escape, and her destruction of Tower 7, is just the beginning of her story. Before her story ends, Phoenix will travel from the United States to Africa and back, changing the entire course of humanity’s future.


  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Phoenix has a hard time believing that Seven is an angel.
  • Artificial Human: Phoenix and many of the other speciMen.
  • Cyborg: Many of the speciMen, especially in one of the towers that Phoenix destroys. Bumi also gains some cybernetic limbs.
  • Blatant Lies: Phoenix, who can burn to death and regenerate, is told she is named after Phoenix, Arizona.
  • Boomerang Bigot: The man who twists Phoenix's story from a blistering critique of imperialism to a text about how the Okeke were evil and deserved to be nuked by the goddess Ani is himself Okeke.
  • Canon Welding:
    • The story about the Anansi drones not only exists in-universe but occurs.
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    • Also, Seven is Miknistic, from Akata Witch
  • Creator In-Joke: Mmuo was part of a student uprising in reaction to mass murder by overzealous spider droids created to guard oil pipelines by the government and the oil companies. The engineer who designed the droids was inspired by a science fiction story (about how the spider droids were a symbol of colonialism and oppression). Okorafor wrote just such a short story, called "Spider the Artist". Then the events of the story itself proceed to happen.
  • Death by Childbirth: A terrifying variant happens to Phoenix's surrogate mother, who dies of a painful, degenerative condition—possibly radiation poisoning—after being permanently damaged by the radiation that Phoenix exuded even as a fetus.
  • Determinator: Much to Phoenix's chagrin, Big Eye in their efforts to track her down and retrieve her. Bumi especially qualifies.
  • Driven to Suicide: Saeed. Supposedly.
  • Extreme Omnivore: Saeed, who eats things like crushed glass and rust flakes. An unusual example in that he actually has to eat things that would be inedible to most people; normal food will kill him.
  • Framing Device: The story begins with an old man finding an audiobook that is really Phoenix's extracted memories.
  • Global Warming: Takes place in a Just Before the End scenario in which much of New York is under water. And is now tropical.
  • Humans Are Bastards: The message behind Phoenix's account of her life. Unfortunately, the old man reading the story misinterprets this and makes Phoenix's account into a religious text supporting the oppression of the Okeke.
  • Human Weapon: Phoenix and all of the other speciMen, at least the ones that aren't the "mild speciMen" that are allowed to live among humans.
  • Intangibility: Mmuo's ability to walk through walls.
  • Last of His Kind: When global warming swallowed the Andaman Islands, no one came to help the Jarawa people, making HeLa the last one left.
  • Made of Indestructium: Bumi, who somehow survives multiple events that should have killed her.
  • Meaningful Name: And how. Phoenix can literally burn up and be reborn from the ashes.
    • Mmuo can walk through walls. His name means "spirit".
  • Nested Story: The story begins with an old man finding an e-book that begins reading him "The Book of Phoenix".
  • Power Glows: Phoenix begins to glow and become hot to the touch.
  • Resurrective Immortality: Phoenix can regenerate after dying, whether it's after a few days or a few hours.
  • Science Fantasy: Phoenix is an artificial human created by scientists who also has the ability to time travel.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Seven is one to Gabriel García Márquez's "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings".
    • When she is reading the Big Eye's records in the Library of Congress, Phoenix happens to see that one speciMen has the name Experiment 626.
    • While comparing Seven to a New Mythology superhero:
      Where the new myths had villains like Penguin Men, Goblins, and Human Magnets, Seven had the Big Eye.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Dartise betrays the Big Eye to help Phoenix because he is in love with HeLa. HeLa doesn't survive the story, and whether or not Dartise survives is ambiguous.
  • Walking Transplant: There are children who can regenerate who are being used as this.


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