|Art by Sunny Efemena|
A new issue of Omenana is out now, with six new short stories (plus nonfiction and art!). It’s an issue devoted to urban legends, exploring stories of magic and gods, monsters and family. There’s a bit of a feel of storms to the stories, too, of the natural world and all its power and rage being channeled into magic, into people and situations that can’t be stopped. That must be weathered. Or not. And it’s something of a bittersweet issue as well, marking as it does the exit of editor Chinelo Onwualu, who has given the world some truly amazing issues of a fantastic publication. I can only hope that the publication itself might continuing its publishing, and I very much look forward to the future of Omenana. To the reviews!
“Abiba” by Dilman Dila (4964 words)
No Spoilers: Apeli is a young orphan and magical abiba, a person who can channel the energy of her ancestors, partly through the use of her kobi, which she inherited from her mother. Mistreated by her aunt, she yearns for a better life and a way to learn more about her powers, which to now have mostly manifested through fire farting, the ability to steal memories by looking into a person’s eyes, and strange dreams. One night, one of those dreams pulls her out of bed and directly into a heap of trouble, granting her wish in some ways but not in the way she imagined. It’s a nicely paced, slightly irreverent story (given the whole fire shitting business) that balances solid character work, plenty of action, and a bit of humor to make for a thoroughly entertaining read.
Keywords: Magic, Orphans, Dreams, Memories, Undead, Flight, Fire
Review: This story has a sense of YA for me, doing a great job of not only telling an entertaining story, but also introducing the reader to a whole lot of concepts around magic. Apeli being fourteen lends a sense of growing up and finding out about this world that exists just below the surface of our own, and often bubbles up before popping with troubles that need to be handled by people like Apeli. Only she’s been without training, without a teacher since the death of her mother. The piece acts as introduction into this world and this situation, catching the reader up at the same time that Apeli learns more about what she’s capable of, and what dangers are waiting for her out in the wider world. The story opens with her in a situation familiar through many storytelling traditions, a girl orphan with a cruel stepmother and a magical heritage that’s waiting for her. The details of her magic and the way that they manifest, though, are definitely new to me and rather delightful. It’s also a rather dark story, dealing heavily with death, exploitation, and power. Apeli is vulnerable because she has no one looking out for her, but she’s also resourceful and learns how to use her powers to get people to help her. It’s perhaps a little manipulative, because it’s using knowledge that she dodn’t get with permission in order to get what she wants, but at the same time what she wants is understandable and she’s still very willing to work for it, to struggle with it. The result is a piece that’s mostly just fun to read, fun to get into. Even the fire farting, which seems at first like it might just be a joke, is necessary and is handled well. it’s a fascinating story, and a great read!
“The Last of Her Kind” by Mame Bougouma Diene (2105 words)
No Spoilers: Mzintlava is a river. Or perhaps she is a river spirit. She’s a part of a group of beings who used to inhabit all rivers, who used to be able to interact with the creatures who interacted with them. And who are now all but gone, Mzintlava the last of them. The piece focuses on that, the loneliness and the fear and the sense of time and the weight of hunger. And it does an interesting job of capturing this voice that is decidedly not human, whose history with humans is bloody and dark. Who was once so much more but who has been lessened, diminished, made into something else, something that fits into the human imagination, and in so doing made into something that can be destroyed. It’s a wrenching story, and a great bit of framing, and it doesn’t look away from a moment of triumph and defeat and loss.
Keywords: Rivers, Family, Extinction, Exploitation, Nature
Review: I really like how this story is laid out, how it is broken into two parts. In the first part, told from the point of view of the river, of Mzintlava, there is this sense of time and loss. She’s mourning her sister, who has been dead a long time, and she’s mourning the past she had when she could exist openly. Now she must hide, must suppress herself, must go hungry. Until she finally has enough of the loneliness, the isolation, the fear, the hunger, and she feeds, and with that strength she decides that she’s going to go out in a blaze of glory, reminding people who and what she is and being able to rejoin the sister she misses so much. But it’s the second part of the story that really interests me, because it takes the point of view and makes it human. Which for me underlines the feeling of loss in the story. Because it’s after the death of the last of the rivers. And it differs so much from the description of events from the point of view of the river. Here the river isn’t a force of nature, isn’t really shown as thinking or feeling. Isn’t a she but rather an it. It’s a monster, a eater of brains. A dangerous beast. And that’s where so much of the tragedy comes from for me, that with the loss of the river there is no one else to tell her story other than the humans who killed her. Who drove her people to extinction. All that remains is the voice of the killers, and there’s something deep and dark and unsettling about that. Something subtle, too, for all that the story the humans tell is a somewhat familiar one, easy to be mistaken as similar enough to the first story that there’s no real reason to question it. It places everything through the lens of humanity, though, which is dangerous because it leaves out so much, because it rewrites history to favor those left behind to tell it. A wonderful read!
“Sin Eater” by Chikodili Emelumadu (4852 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is a presumably normal young woman eager to go away to college only to find that her first roommate, Nchedo...isn’t exactly what she was expecting. Drawn into a world of sin and cleansing, the narrator has to come to terms with her own beliefs and those of Nchedo, and what Nchedo reveals to her. The piece builds up a world that is tainted by defilement, where sinners walk the streets without fear. Where justice sometimes has to come through the strength of a jaw, through the pain of taking that sin into yourself in order to cleanse it. It mixes humor and horror to great effect, crafting a chilling experience that still managed to make me laugh a number of times, and which resolves into a visceral, powerful ending.
Keywords: Sins, College, Eating, Roommates, CW- Rape
Reviews: I love the way that the story builds up the situation and Nchedo through the perspective of the narrator, who is supposed to be “normal” but is normal in a way that means she’s hard to phase. She’s grown up in a world of filth, never really ever to avoid it. It’s just part of her world, and in many ways she’s accepted that because she has to. There’s so much that’s...gross in the story. The vomit, the shit, the blood, all of it on display. But not only that. The sins are there, too. The killers and the rapists, the crimes that go unpunished because of the corruption, because people are allowed to get away with it. The two become linked, because they are both just reflections of the same problems, the same systemic issues that everyone accepts. That no one seems to do anything about. Until the narrator meets Nchedo, who is trying to do just that. And it’s a rather disgusting, rather violent process, and one at first that the narrator has problems seeing. Despite everything that has in many ways become normal to her, looking at Nchedo work seems like too much, too impossible, too dangerous. But also compelling. She’s drawn to Nchedo and what she does it seems to me because even though she’s somewhat used to the terrible things around her, she still cares. She still wants to believe. Not in the religion that she was taught, the Christian God who wants glory in His name. But rather in the forces of nature, in the supernatural world that might have ways to punish the wicked, to eat that sin and cleanse it so that people can live maybe without fear. Without fear, at least, of being preyed upon by the human kinds of monsters who target the vulnerable. Who are entrenched in their power by human institutions. Nchedo represents an outside influence, a person who refuses to bend to the corruption that maintains the violence and threats against the narrator and everyone else. It takes more than just the narrator wanting to believe, though. Ultimately, it takes her active participation to really push back against the human monsters that Nchedo reveals. It takes her teeth and effort to try and forge a world where justice is possible and expected. And it’s a dark, tense, difficult story that finds horror not in the supernatural forces waiting just under the surface of the world, but in the very human evils that exist in plain sight, that people accept because they seem impossible to push back against. A fantastic read!
“Goody Goody” by Mazi Nwonwu (3434 words)
No Spoilers: This story focuses on a boy and a girl and growing up. The narrator is the boy, tasked with looking over a new arrival to his village and school, Zainab. She’s a person who even at a young age seems to have a power over people. A magnetism. It’s not something that the narrator is immune to, and he’s definitely drawn to her even as there’s a distance between them that seems to stem from his inability to fully trust her. Because there are rumors that her powers are not natural, and that she’s involved in something dark and dangerous. It doesn’t stop the narrator from loving her, and the piece paints a complex picture of this relationship and the seeming innocence of it that might cover up...something else.
Keywords: Chocolate, Witchcraft, Growing Up, School, Rumors
Review: On the one hand, this is a story that could have no speculative element to it. The focus is on this relationship between the narrator and Zainab, where he’s devoted and follows her around even as he doesn’t trust her. Doesn’t trust her relationships with others (especially other boys), and so he maintains a distance that he feels is necessary because he doesn’tw ant to fully commit, because he’s not certain that she feels about him as he does for her. She’s flighty, and doesn’t like giving firm answers, and always seems to be able to get out of trouble while getting other people slapped with punishment. And yet he still loves her, still wants to be with her. And the piece does a nice job of it, and of making her nature eventually bring unwanted attention in the form of people thinking she’s a witch. Whether or not she is isn’t really answered, and the ending really does sort of change based on if you think that she’s actually a witch trying to make some sort of pact with the narrator. For me, I like how the story really complicates trust, showing that for all he says he loves her, he can’t quell this fear or distrust of her, and that is something that keeps him from being with her, that keeps her from being sure of him. That stands between them in a way that is profound and shattering. They are separated by that doubt, by his willingness to believe that maybe she is a witch, that maybe she has done something to him because she’s made him vulnerable and he doesn’t like that. She’s taken too much power for his tastes, and needs to know if he can be okay with that. There’s this uncertainty and darkness in the ending, but for me it sits with him, with the way he’s let this rumor infect him and make him doubt someone he professes to love. In any event, it’s an interesting and very well constructed story and relationship that’s very much worth spending some time with. A fine read!
“Becoming a God” by Keletso Mopai (3707 words)
No Spoilers: Mmadjadji is a daughter in a family of people with powers, people called gods. Only it’s uncertain if there has been a god since the death of Mmadjadji’s grandfather, because her father certainly doesn’t fit the bill. And in the middle of all of this Mmadjadji is also a lesbian facing the stigma of that as well as what her family does to her to try and “cure” her of the sin. The result is a deep schism between them that she embraces, that she uses to give herself space and time. But sometimes those things aren’t enough to undo the harms that have been done. It’s a difficult read mostly because of the content, but it takes on the subject matter in order to reach of healing, for hope, for power to stand up to injustice and intolerance.
Keywords: Lineage, Family, Queer MC, CW- Rape, CW- Pregnancy/Abortion
Review: The subject matter of the story immediately makes it a heavy read, the magic and wonder of Mmadjadji’s family tainted by the reality of what it has done and what it has allowed. How it failed her so fundamentally, when it was supposed to protect her but actually hated her because of her queerness. Because to them that made what happened to her...not okay, exactly, but also not something they were going to stand against. And so she left, and tried to put distance between them. In some ways the story is about the pressures to reconcile, to forgive, when some things can’t really be reconciled, cannot be forgiven. Everyone requires Mmadjadji to get over what was done to her, to forgive those who had an active role in abusing her. But I love how the story doesn’t quite give in to that. She makes some hard choices that involve not letting her mother die, but at the same time I don’t feel that the magic of the ending comes from her forgiving her family. For me, at least, it comes from her stepping into her power. Her power to let them go, as she let them go when she left. She takes the power that has been chosen for her but not the chains of her family’s judgments and not the weight of their crimes against her. She shrugs it off, embracing instead the life she’s made for herself and the promise of what she can do with the power of a god. A queen of storms. Again, it’s a difficult read, but I do appreciate the way that Mmadjadji gets to decide what to do, how to move forward, and that her power is not linked to her giving up any part of herself. That she is a god, and a lesbian, and isn’t going to apologize for it. A great read!
“Holding on to Water” by Shingai Kagunda (3807)
No Spoilers: Nakuti is a rainmaker from a family of rainmakers, from a family who has given much for their village, for the rains. The story is split between past and present—a past focused more on Nakuti’s parents and their growing despair and anger, and a present focused on Nakuti and her own decisions and choices surrounding the will of the gods and the rains. The piece is tragic, looking at sacrifice and family, life and death. There is a feeling throughout of cycles, and of the weight of the past and the decisions that other people have made, and struggling to come out from under all of that to find something new, some way of breaking the chains that hold people in their sorrow and loss and grief.
Keywords: Family, CW- Pregnancy/Childbirth, Sacrifice, Waters, Rains
Review: This story looks closely at the ways that people approach loss, and the ways that people react to death and life. The piece opens with death and birth, and builds up this generational story where mother and daughter seem cursed when they are pregnant. Because the mother loses her sons—loses them during a drought, at which point the rains return. These things twist her hopes into anger, into rage, into a resentment that she’s not able to have this thing that she wanted, that she had pinned her hopes on. And in doing so her daughter, her one child, gets caught up in it because she was supposed to be a sister, was supposed to have this role in the dream, and without the dream the reality of her daughter seems so much. Which helps to feed into the tragedy of what happens when this cycle of pregnancy and loss seems destined to play out again with the daughter, who falls in love and gets pregnant and decides that she wants to defy what’s happening. Only the situation seems to require a sacrifice, and because there’s no help for her, because her parents are lost to their own griefs. She has to try and face everything alone and because of that the cycle is moved forward, and maybe forward again in the aftermath when her mother decides that perhaps even more sacrifice will fix things to right again. The piece is dark and that it leaves the present on this very deadly impulse and then doesn’t return just builds this intense and visceral tragedy that seems like it might have been avoided if only people had talked, and reached out to each other, and resisted the pull of silence and rain and sacrifice. It’s a powerful piece, full of storm and stress, and it’s definitely worth checking out. A fine close to issue!