Binti: The Night Masquerade, Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com Publishing 978-0-7653-9312-8 $14.99, 160pp, tp). January 2018. Cover by David Palumbo.
Well worth a look is Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti: The Night Masquerade, third and concluding volume in her trilogy of novellas starring a young Himba woman who defies cultural expectations to go to an off-planet university. Binti is a harmoniser, with a natural talent for mathematics and a predisposition towards bringing people into new, better, more peaceful connections with each other.
In Binti, she left home, suffered significant trauma, formed a connection with Okwu, a member of an alien species (the Meduse) who have a long-standing rivalry with the Khoush – the people who rule the area in which Binti’s people live, and who look down on her people – and became part-alien herself. In Binti: Home, she returned home with Okwu, discovered new things about herself and her family, and found herself and Okwu at the centre of a flashpoint of renewed conflict between the Khoush and the Meduse. Binti is in the desert, learning about another side to her heritage from her father’s mother’s people, when the conflict starts. This is where Binti: Home ends, and Binti: The Night Masquerade begins.
I find it difficult to discuss what Binti: The Night Masquerade is doing. It’s science fiction, yet it borrows liberally from other traditions of the fantastic. It’s a story about discovery, self- and otherwise, and about political agency, about being shoved into the middle of hostile factions and doing the best you can to make peace, but Binti: The Night Masquerade doesn’t emphasise the same narrative beats as other stories that use these elements. Where other stories might make the world bend before Binti’s whims, this one focuses on her struggle, on the way that the elders of her community fail to support her, and on the way that she does everything in her power to bring people into dialogue and peace, and it still doesn’t work.
But that’s not the heart of the story, either. The heart of the story is Binti, and her emotional connections with history and heritage and the wider world, with other people. It’s her learning to challenge – and to unlearn – the biases she’s been taught, and realising that she needs not to take the truth-as-she’s-always-been-told at face value. It’s her transforming, yet again, into someone who has more connections – this time with a living ship. Binti’s connections have often been necessary for her survival. In Binti: The Night Masquerade, though, her embrace of the ways in which she’s changed, the ways in which she no longer fits what she was brought up to believe was the only way for her to be a Himba and a woman, is an embrace of her willingness and her right to be happy as a person – even as she undergoes startling changes and challenges.
Binti finds that home can travel with her, that it can be wherever she is. Choosing happiness is radical, and makes Binti: The Night Masquerade – for all its occasional moments of disaster and loss – a very uplifting book.
The prose is vivid and unadorned, the pacing strong, and the novella as a whole, deeply compelling. I enjoyed it. I hope Okorafor writes more.
Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, is out now from Aqueduct Press. Find her at her blog, her Patreon, or Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign.
This review and more like it in the December 2017 issue of Locus.