The Merciless Ones by Namina Forma

The Merciless Ones by Namina Forma. Penguin Random House, 2022. 9781984848727 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Hardcover

Genre:  Fantasy

What did you like about the book? Deka has done it: she has awakened the sealed goddesses and accepted her role as the Nuru, a fully divine being. The patriarchal hierarchy starts to crumble, and the people both praise and fear Deka. The jatu (the soldiers of the old empire and male descendents of the god Oyomo) are considered traitors to the nation, and now, Deka, the aliki, and the deathshrieks must fight them off while the goddesses regain their strength. Freeing the other powerful mothers of her people and harnessing her powers to better the world gives Deka more hope than she ever thought possible, until a strange symbol appears. The jatu learn that the symbol can block the Nuru’s abilities and use this to their full advantage against Deka, trying to bring Oyomo to power once more. Something sinister is growing behind-the-scenes, and Deka senses that it will stop at nothing to have its way. What makes everything more difficult is that the elder mothers (still) refuse to share their secrets with Deka and the aliki, leading Deka to seek answers for herself. If she is to learn about the Nuru-blocking symbol, the jatu’s newfound power, and the history of her people, she must learn about the goddesses themselves. Historical lies, war, sacrifice, and betrayal abound in Deka’s path, but if she wants to change her nation for the better, she must battle the dark forces at play, both for her aliki sisters and for all of humanity.

The Merciless Ones offers a good fast-paced adventure story with the same world building, gender and wartime issues, and diverse characters as The Gilded Ones. Enter the West-African inspired world of Otera, where girls fight against the religious-patriarchal society that dictates every facet of their life. Deka and many side characters are African/Black, and other nations cover different ethnicities like East Asian, Nordic, and Arabian. Several side romances are also LGBTQ+. The plot is fast and will keep you on the edge of your seat as you wonder what secrets the mothers are hiding from Deka as she discovers the truth about the goddesses. All characters are unique and three-dimensional, and the brutal action reads cinematically. The Merciless Ones is a great sequel that will leave readers eagerly anticipating the final installment of the trilogy. 

Anything you didn’t like about it? Deka is now so powerful that she is almost unrelatable. This happens often in superhero/fantasy/manga comics where the protagonists learn all the powers the world has to offer and become the greatest being in the world, and in the story. The idea sounds cool, but it isolates the protagonist from other characters, and also from the readers. Deka will find herself in near-death/impossible situations, but then, at the last second, get a new power that saves her. After reading this scenario for the third time, it became tiresome and unsatisfying. Readers want the protagonist to struggle; winning every battle through power isn’t character growth. All side characters paired off into romantic couples, which seemed forced and unnecessary. 

To whom would you recommend this book?  The Gilded Ones and The Merciless Ones read like Blood Scion by Deborah Falaye, but much more hopeful and much less graphic. Other books similar are Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko and Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart. Recommend this series to high schoolers, on the older side, who like fantasy, trilogies, girls fighting for gender rights, and African-based fantasy.

Who should buy this book? High schools and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Teen Fantasy/Teen Fiction

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Laila Carter, Cheltenham Township Library Systems, Elkins Park, PA

Date of review: November 28, 2022

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