A genre-hopping, continent-spanning debut novel that uses the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade as the backdrop for a magical realist adventure involving four characters from far-flung corners of the African diaspora.
Reading Wayétu Moore’s debut novel, She Would Be King...feels a lot like watching a superb athlete’s performance ... Moore makes deft use of magical realism, and her plot and its details are compelling ... Like her remarkable protagonist Gbessa, the author has tapped into her own backstory–and emerged with literary superpowers.
The Liberian-American writer’s debut novel is a Marvelesque national epic about Liberia’s independence centered on three supernaturally gifted misfits ... The varied and frenetic action makes for a novel that, while stimulating, is often confusing and overstuffed. Some sections read like folk tales or adventure novels, while those set in Virginia serve up reheated plantation melodrama. She Would Be King shows greater originality when Moore dissects Monrovia’s social world ... Moore’s sophisticated treatment of [the singular relationship between Liberia’s black settlers, for whom 'returning' to Africa was a form of deliverance from American white supremacy] showcases her novelistic talents, though the tension somewhat dissipates when the 'real' enemies arrive: The complex dance of nation-building gives way to a Garveyite battle royale pitting the reconciled settlers and natives against French slavers who attack Monrovia.
Moore’s vivid characters, beguiling language and powerful subject matter engage us thoroughly. The book is unforgettable ... Magic, ghosts, transmogrification and all manner of hauntings are as commonplace as the casual death and dismemberment of Africans ... The novel examines some...colonial tensions and contradictions, but it leaves many others unexamined in its focus on the European colonial menace. Still, even with these fissures, the story is irresistibly evocative and fierce. She Would Be King is a masterfully wrought alternate history of magical black resistance and should not be missed.