This fantasy novella is a finalist for the 2020 Nebula Award. It was published in Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora, from Aurelia Leo. The author is Nigerian and seems well established as a short story writer. He was also one of the editors for the anthology. This review contains spoilers.

Moroko and Imade are lovers who live in the village of Ife-Iyoku, Afrika. The village has been cut off from civilization by a nuclear war, and it’s now surrounded by a radioactive wasteland and Igbo Igboya, the Forest of Fear, inhabited only by outcasts and mutated beasts. Despite this situation, the village thrives reasonably well, as the men are hunters and the women till the soil, and they always take care to develop the talents of the children. These have grown into mystic arts since the nuclear conflagration, and workers can pull rain from the air, weave invisibility and similar talents. Moroko’s father Ooni, the head man, fears for the continuance of the village, and he uses old technology from before the war to contact people outside the wasteland, offering them some of the talented outcasts in the forest in return for aid. Instead, the outsiders send soldiers to capture villagers in order to study their talents. The men hide the women and children and fight successfully against the soldiers, but Imade leaves hiding to help with the fighting and the soldiers follow her backtrail to find the women and children. All are killed in an accidental explosion, leaving Imade the last woman in the village. This is a crisis. What can they do now to save the village?

This reads like a translation, both in language and in culture. The narrative is very straightforward, but I suspect there’s some wry humor hidden in there somewhere. The discussion of women’s work versus men’s is fairly commonplace these days, as is the rebellious woman who wants to refuse her traditional role. We just don’t often get into the situation where everybody is fighting over the last woman. Of course, Imade is eventually vindicated. She continues her strong-willed rebellion, aborts the child Moroko forces on her, defeats both the village men and the outcasts, becomes a channel for the god, and opens her village to the outside world in the end.

That’s a fairly clear statement for the power of women, but there are some issues here that I think Ekpiki missed. The men are all very concerned with Imade’s ability to bear more children to make sure the village survives, but no one mentions all the work in cooking, agriculture and weaving the women were doing. I imagine all the men are going hungry after the women die, and I don’t know why they’re not trying to get Imade to cook for them instead of all that planning on how to rape her. Also, it’s interesting that Imade erased all the women who were following their traditional role. Is this a comment?

Four stars.