The Binti Trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor was the first book chosen by the Written in Melanin Book Club. The book was suggested by CJ, one of the members, and I had never heard of the book before he mentioned it — I can’t express how glad I am that he did.
A little background about me — I haven’t read on a regular basis since circa 2015, so about 4 years. I stopped when I got to college, for a few reasons:
- There wasn’t enough space to put all my books.
- I didn’t want to spend all of my free time shut off in my dorm room.
- Books are expensive and paying for textbooks was enough.
That being said, the Written in Melanin Book Club has been a great way to get back into it. I was adamant about reading books with black main characters, written by black authors. And while there were other factors that played into the selection of this book, I felt it was a great way to kick off the start of the book club. So, let’s talk about it.
[Quick note: The Spoiler-Free Review only talks about the first book, Binti. The other books are included further down.]
Binti is a brilliant young Himba woman who is known as a master harmonizer — a person who has the ability to build astrolabes, a highly sought after technology. She is the pride of her family and village and she is expected to take over her father’s astrolabe shop one day. She’s on track to be the “perfect daughter”, however, when Binti gets accepted into Oomza University — the most prestigious place of study in the galaxy — she doesn’t turn down the offer. She sneaks off in the middle of the night to board a shuttle that will take her into space to get there. The moment she leaves her village though, she sets herself on a path that she can never turn back from — she becomes the liaison between two nations that have been warring for so long, they’ve forgotten the true reason behind it.
It’s important to note that Binti leaving to go to Oomza University is a huge deal.
She is the first Himba to ever be invited to study there — something the Khoush are not excited about — and it is forbidden in her culture to ever leave the community. By leaving, she is breaking all the rules that have been ingrained into her thus far into her life, and it’s something that she struggles with throughout the book — her sense of identity and who she is. To combat this, she recites her full name and reminds herself that she is her father’s daughter, and that’s something that I greatly appreciated — her sense of pride in where she comes from.
Binti is a strong character who is forced into situations that would challenge the most fearless of people, and she handles them with her quick mind and harmonizing abilities. She is the type of character you root for from the first page and I enjoyed every minute of reading her story. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys the idea of a brilliant young woman — refusing to be bound by tradition — embarking on a journey into space in an attempt to better herself, just to get caught in the middle of a war that has nothing to do with her or her people.
Spoilers after this! If you haven’t read the book, now would be a good place to stop.
There was so much that I absolutely loved about this book. The writing style of this book is quick — there aren’t a lot of moments where you’re bogged down by a lot of details. The majority of the book is action-oriented and I appreciated that. Binti is on an adventure — and in a lot of cases, her life is in danger — I want to know what’s happening, and Nnedi Okorafor gives you that. There is enough to ground you in Binti’s world without having to read through pages upon pages of description.
To that end, the very first page of the first book puts you in the middle of Binti sneaking off and leaving home in the middle of the night. The lack of buildup doesn’t take away from the story though, and you get a clear sense of the high stakes she feels and the weight of what she’s doing. The same goes for when Heru — the boy Binti likes — is killed in front of her and the exchanges she has with the Meduse on the Third Fish — you get just what you want from the story without being bogged down with extra details.
Highlights of the book:
- Binti and all of her friends were interesting.
- Oomza University was the perfect backdrop for Binti to grow.
- Binti’s friendships took time — they weren’t instant.
- Binti continuously struggled with everything she had been through and with being away from home.
- When she went home, it wasn’t what she expected.
- Binti being half Himba and Enyi Zinaryia was perfect for it to tie into her edan.
- The ending feels complete.
I could go into detail about all of those points, but for me, the best part of the book was when Binti went home and she realized that “home” wasn’t what she remembered and because of her actions it never would be the “home” she remembered again. Her fight with her sister really drove this point home, and it was one of my favorite parts because she calls Binti out for her selfish actions. As the reader, because we get the story from Binti’s viewpoint, it’s easy to side with her — it’s how the book is written — however, her sister makes valid points. Binti left without a word to anyone, almost got herself killed, had her genetic material altered, came back with a monster in tow, acting completely different from the culture she had been raised in. And it’s easy to forget what it means for Binti to have been chosen to carry on their father’s work — no one else can do what Binti and her father do. She was chosen for a reason and had already been working in the shop, so her leaving caused her father to have to work harder which led to him becoming ill. She brought a level of shame on her family too because of her actions, her siblings began having issues with their peers viewed them and their family because of her.
Binti is the heroine of our story — she is brilliant, thinks quick on her feet, and is able to bring people together in a way no one else can. However, she’s also sixteen at the start of this and makes decisions based only on herself. I don’t disagree with her choice, but I’m glad that we got to see how she dealt with the consequences of it with her family. Because everyone else sees her as a hero and she’s praised for what she’s done, Binti gets a bit full of herself and goes so far as to spit in her sister’s face and ask her if she knows who she is. But family is family and they treated her as such — they weren’t impressed. They were glad she was back in one piece, but they were also furious with her for what she had done.
All in all, this was a wonderful book. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a fantasy, so this was a good way to jump back into the genre. The book isn’t perfect — because the writing is so quick, there were moments where I felt like I wanted more from the story, but I didn’t feel like I was missing anything. I also wish there was a bit more clarity regarding the relationships she has with Mwinyi, Dele, and Okwu, but there’s enough at the end to speculate.
Binti’s story is a trilogy: Binti, Binti: Home, and Binti: The Night Masquerade with an extra, Binti: Sacred Fire. They’re broken up into short stories — roughly 100 pages per story — so I would recommend buying the full trilogy version of the story and reading it as a completed novel rather than in sections.
That’s my two cents on this book — spend it how you like!
Until next time, may your days be lovely and your books interesting.