cover image She Would Be King

She Would Be King

Wayétu Moore. Graywolf (FSG, dist.), $26 (312p) ISBN 978-1-55597-817-4

Moore’s debut explores the contradictions of Liberia’s tenuous 19th-century beginnings in this impressive fantasy that revolves around three indelible characters. A Vai girl, Gbessa, is cursed for being born on the day a wicked fellow tribe member dies. Thirteen years later, she is left in the woods to die but miraculously survives years of deprivation and a lethal snake bite. June Dey, born on a Virginia plantation, restrains his inhuman strength until seeing his mother brutally punished unleashes his rage. He flees slavery, discovering that bullets and knives bounce off him. Norman Aragon inherits the ability to become invisible from his Jamaican mother and fair complexion from his British father, who plots to take him to England for scientific experimentation. The three separately find their way to Monrovia and join together briefly to fight back against slavers. Gbessa narrowly escapes being kidnapped by slavers, gets taken in as a housemaid for a family of former American slaves that have settled in Africa, and endures the lingering prejudices of her employers after marrying into their social circle. June and Norman discover ongoing slave raids in the countryside and use their gifts to help the fledgling state’s fractured tribes fight European meddlers. Moore uses an accomplished, penetrating style—with clever swerves into fantasy—to build effective critiques of tribal misogyny, colonial abuse, and racism. Agent: Susan Golomb, Writers House. [em](Sept.) [/em]