2018’s Binti: The Night Masquerade is the third and possibly final instalment in Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti series.
Still digesting the lessons learned in Binti: Home, young Binti is woken by a dreadful vision: her family trapped in the basement of their burning dwelling. She rushes home. She finds charred ruins and no visible survivors.
Blame the Khoush and their inability to let go of grudges. Although the Khoush – Meduse conflict is officially over, the presence of alien Meduse Okwu is too tempting for the Khoush military to resist. A preemptive missile strike on Okwu’s tent fails to bag Okwu … because he is not in the tent. The Khoush soldiers attempt to force Binti’s family to give up Okwu … which they cannot do even if they were willing, because he is not there. Okwu returns too late to stop the soldiers from attacking Binti’s family. All the Meduse can do is make the soldiers pay a terrible price.
Binti could, if she wanted, escalate the cycle of violence. She could incite the Meduse to level every Khoush building, for example, or urge the aliens to execute every person who can even spell “Khoush.” Binti chooses a different path. She cannot alter the past but she can try to guide Meduse, Khoush, and her own Himba people towards reconciliation. Binti is herself mixed race, both Himba and Desert People, and mixed species, human and Meduse1; she is perhaps uniquely qualified to see the virtues of forgiveness and reconciliation.
“Uniquely” is the problem. The Himba are stubborn traditionalists. The Khoush are worse: arrogant weaklings who compensate for their inconsequential status on the galactic scale by bullying anyone they can. Bindi’s efforts are well intended, but they place her between factions determined to quarrel. When the inevitable occurs, she will be caught in a literal crossfire.
So, about that 2018 in the first sentence: I didn’t notice the publication date until I began to write this review. I did check to make sure the book was not embargoed until closer to the publication date. In retrospect, I should have tracked down a copy of Okorafor’s Akata Warrior, which has just been released. Oh, well.
I really need a “James ignores the story to look at the flats and set pieces” warning. It’s clear from Binti: Home that aliens have been visiting the Earth for some time (the “we just have not noticed them” answer to the Fermi Paradox.). This raises the question of why it is this is not generally known. There is a perfectly reasonable answer for that question provided in the course of the story.
The Himba and the Khoush are both inflexible, though the Khoush are marginally worse in that they are willing to escalate to lethal violence on the flimsiest of pretexts. Both groups are, sadly enough, unremarkable as species or social groups. The universe is full of the imperfectly socialized. There are, at least, some individuals, even some groups, who aspire to more. Even if few of them seem to live on Earth. Ah well … look to the stars.
Quite often in reviews like this one, I quote a particular passage from The Princess Bride. Notice how I am not doing that. The thing about taking risks is that a kind heart and pure intentions won’t stop the dice from coming up snake eyes. At the same time, I can assure readers that Binti’s efforts are not in vain, even if the results were not the ones she wanted. Binti isn’t a fool whose good intentions are intended as a cautionary story.
The Night Masquerade brings Binti’s coming of age story to a satisfying end, its endearing protagonist having lived up to the potential promised in the earlier volumes. Once again, Okorafor demonstrates something the tor.com novellas seem set on proving; that in the hands of a skilled, disciplined author like Okorafor, a well-written, tightly paced novella is far more satisfying than some rambling shambles of an incoherent bus-crusher.
1: It’s complicated.