One of my close friends had been enthusing about ‘She Would be King’ for a month before I finally decided to read it. Once I had, I regretted not having taken her word for it earlier because I enjoyed every page of this book. From beginning to end Moore manages to keep her debut novel exciting and engaging without seeming overly dramatic. She does this by using magical realism that catches the reader by surprise in a historical context that is incredibly familiar to our known histories of the west coast of Africa and its link to slavery.
The book follows three characters who have magical powers. Gbessa, is a red- haired girl who has been named a witch because of the unfortunate timing of her birth in a village called Lia in what we can assume is present day Liberia. The unusual colour of her hair is used as evidence that she is indeed a witch. Her super-power is that she does not die; not when she should have starved to death nor when she is chocked in the hands of an unforgiving enemy. June Dey, another character with magical powers is born into slavery in Virginia under precarious circumstances. He has a more common super power, that of incredible physical strength. In fact, his body is so strong it cannot be wounded even by a bullet which, as you can imagine, allows him an incomparable advantage over his enslavers. Lastly there is Norman Aragon a son of a Jamaican woman and a British colonizer who grows up in Jamaica. Norman inherits his super power from his mothers’ side and he is able to disappear into thin air.
Although for the most part of the book the three, Gbessa, June Dey and Norman, find themselves in different parts of the world their destinies are linked in their battles against colonizers and enslavers. This linkage becomes tangible when both Norman Aragon and June Dey find themselves in Gbessa’s country fighting against colonizers and enslavers and using their super powers to turn the tide.
My favourite chapter of the book was Chapter 26 where June Dey and Norman Aragon free a group of prisoners fromdifferent villages from the hands of enslavers. Although this scene does not contribute much to the overall narrative, it is powerful to me because it allowed for the Africans to be the victors.
The scene is so elegantly written with a focus on minute details that made it so realistic for me that I literally had goose bumps whilst reading it.
The scene is also my favourite because it cuts down to the core of the myth about the supposed superiority of Europeans over Africans. It shows that the greatest and possibly only advantage Europeans yielded was a destructive weapon; not a moral, religious, racial nor any other superiority we have been colonised to think they had.
Although this victory is achieved using magic which may seem unrealistic to some, I do not doubt that in the endless number of battles that were fought between Africans and enslavers across the continent there were victories on the African side too. The most famous example probably being the Battle of Adwa of 1896. However, as African readerswe are often not given the chance to indulge in these stories, not even in fiction, for fear of making the realities of colonialism, slavery and imperialism seem minimal or avoidable. Moore, has the courage to challenge this narrative and she does an impeccable job that shows the nuances of history.
Now that I have read the book, I feel I have become like my friend who seemed to talk about it non-stop for a whole month because there is something about it that is liberating for me. Moore offers us an alternative narrative, that far from minimising the complex history of Africans, is an empowering story that goes beyond demeaning and disheartening myths which continue to be reproduced.