Hugo reading 2018: Two YA nominees enter, neither leaves with a proper review

This is the part where I talk briefly about two novels that aren’t getting a fair deal from me this time around.

Four of the nominated novels were available in full in the Hugo Voter Pack.

For one of them, Akata Warrior, by Nnedi Okorafor, a four-chapter excerpt was provided.

For the final novel, The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage, by Phillip Pullman, nothing was provided.

You may recall that in the Best Novel category, we were given two books in a complete form, and four with excerpts.  But as it turned out, the four for which there were only excerpts were all available at either our local library or the City library, and I felt that judging more than half of a category solely on excerpts would be a pity.

With this category, it’s a bit trickier.  Akata Warrior is not available at our library.  The Pullman book is, but I feel disinclined to give him more of a chance than I’m giving Okorafor, given that she at least provided us with something, whereas Pullman didn’t even provide a link to so much as a summary.

Also, I’ve read some of Pullman’s other work, and really didn’t like it.  So there’s that.

Given all this, I’ve decided that for this category, I’m going to read only what was given, which means that Pullman will get a null vote (the odds were high he was never going to get higher than fifth in this category anyway).  Sorry, Mr Pullman.  You seem like a nice bloke in your interviews, but all the interesting stuff you talk about doesn’t seem to come through in your work for me.

As for Akata Warrior – well, that’s a tricky one.  Because I’ve read the excerpt now, and I really liked it.  I especially enjoyed the narrative voice in the introduction, which tells us what happened in the previous book, but does so with great personality and charm.  I like the main character, Sunny, and the things she has to juggle.  I like the Nigerian setting and the way magic feels… very different to the way magic works in most fantasy written by Europeans – much more dreamlike and with less obvious logic, at least to my eyes.  But it’s really difficult to judge an extract against an entire book, and I’m also a little suspicious of Okorafor after she pulled that no-ending trick in Binti: Home.  Akata Warrior is the second book in a series, too – is she going to do the same thing?  (I’ve read a couple of reviews now, and it sounds like she doesn’t, so that’s a point in her favour.)

I definitely liked this excerpt more and felt that it was a stronger work than The Art of Starving.   I suspect that it has more depth than Summer in Orcus, but it’s really hard to tell (and I have a feeling that in saying that it has more depth, I’m falling into that trap of thinking that Dark and Tragic is intrinsically more complex and thus superior to Light and with a Happy Ending.  Which I disagree with, but our culture does value Tragedy over Comedy, and sometimes that gets into my head too…).  On the other hand, I really liked the ending and the message of Summer in Orcus, so I’m going to put that first out of the four YA novels I’ve read so far, with Akata Warrior second.

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