She Would Be King
Booklist Reviews 2018 September #1
*Starred Review* Moore's stunning debut novel is a magic-realism tour de force taking readers on a journey through the beginnings of Liberia. Gbessa, a girl shunned as a witch by her own Vai people who later comes to terms with her immortality, is a heroine cast in the mold of legendary women. June Dey, with his extraordinary strength and almost supernatural origins, becomes a metaphorical representation of the journey of former slaves who moved from plantations in the American South to the newly created settlement of Monrovia. And then there is Norman Aragon, of mixed race, who fulfills his mother's deep desire to move to the free state from Jamaica, even as he comes to terms with his own power to disappear. Moore trusts her readers to follow complex characters and breathtaking plot twists as she brings together the story of what all of them leave behind and where they come together to create a brave new world. There is an aching sweetness to Moore's writing that effectively captures the dichotomous and vulnerable strength of her protagonists and catapults this into the realm of books that cast a long-lingering spell. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.
LJ Reviews 2018 August #1
Many books are devoted to connecting Africans of the diaspora, yet Margaret Mead Fellow Moore's debut does so with remarkable physical, spiritual, and mystical dimensions. It reimagines the formation of Liberia through protagonists June Dey, a runaway from Virginia after conflict with his overseer; Norman, a freedman of mixed race from Jamaica; and, mainly, Gbessa, a woman from the native Vai tribe, who is deemed a witch and ostracized by fellow villagers. What seems a chance meeting is Mother Africa bringing them together for their gifts to be used to save Liberia, which still draws European enslavers despite the illegalization of the transatlantic slave trade. Whether separately or together, their encounters with others reveal their many-layered personalities as well as the changing societies around them. The descriptions of racism are not overt; Moore uses the experiences to reveal the systemic oppression of Africans of the diaspora and the desire to reconnect with the continent. The dialog is fluid and poetic, allowing readers to imagine the events, sights, smells, feelings, and sensations.
PW Reviews 2018 July #1
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.