Sunday, 2 May 2021

Sankofa: Born Equal Only by Beenie T Mel

Sankofa: Born Equal Only by Beenie T Mel
Published in America by the Independent Book Publishers Association on the 1st May 2021.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

add to Goodreads

Sankofa: Born Equal Only is an Afrofuturism adventure that takes on gender injustice from the perspective of rival fraternal twins, Toomi and Ras, born to be the Guardians of Maat, the first Queen to rise to the throne in the kingdom of Axindar in a post-apocalyptic medieval Africa, where the future of our technology shapes the past of our time.

I loved this vivid and exciting fantasy adventure! Sankofa: Born Equal Only is set in a vastly different future Africa, one in which our present-day civilisation collapsed centuries previously. Strictly patriarchal societies live in warring Kingdoms which recall Medieval history, but their armies are strengthened by 'metalji' - a futuristic technology that seems to combine armour with living tissue and a hint of magical realism to create superior human and animal warriors. The symbolism of the Sankofa bird itself is an important theme of this novel. Its representation of looking backwards while moving forwards, making sure learning from the past influences the future, allows Mel to deeply explore ideas around colonialism, slavery and male supremacy while still delivering an utterly gripping story. It's a wonderful piece of work. Through reading Sankofa: Born Equal Only, I felt I was really seeing from a new perspective, yet never felt lectured. Mel's ideas are completely integral to his story and I thought they gave this novel a satisfying sense of authenticity.

What most amazed me though was how such depth could be imparted without ever dragging down the narrative pace. Sankofa: Born Equal Only keeps up a breathtaking speed throughout. The world is never fully explained, by which I mean readers aren't subjected to lengthy descriptions of augmented creatures. I still don't know, for example, exactly what a metallion looks like or how the pedals on horses work, but I do have a wonderfully powerful sense of Mel's imagined world as a whole. I could clearly envisage Axindar's impregnable walls, Meerakan's grim slave market, and Emma's home village. I was also moved by the intensity of Toomi and Ras's filial relationship and intrigued by their mystical connection to the future Queen, Maat. These are three memorable characters.

Sankofa: Born Equal Only is not an easy read. I found I had to consciously slow my more usual frenetic reading pace in order not to miss important details. It was easy to get caught up in the emotional aspects and overlook a disguised political affiliation between minor characters! There is a fair amount of rather grim violence too, from scenes of genocide, rape and enslavement in the early chapters to bloody Medieval-style battles later on. That said, even for a normally squeamish reader such as myself,  I never found myself unable to continue reading. In fact I was quite disappointed to reach the final page. I hope Mel is already writing the second book in this series. Sankofa: Born Equal Only did end in a satisfying place, but I am already keen to get started on its sequel!

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Beenie T Mel / Fantasy fiction / Books from Ethiopia

No comments:

Post a comment