She Would Be King

She Would Be King

A novel of exhilarating range, magical realism, and history—a dazzling retelling of Liberia’s formation.Wayétu Moore’s powerful debut novel, She Would Be King, reimagines the dramatic story of Liberia’s early years through three unforgettable characters who share an uncommon bond. Gbessa, exiled from the West African village of Lai, is starved, bitten by a viper, and left...

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Title:She Would Be King
Author:Wayetu Moore
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Edition Language:English

She Would Be King Reviews

  • BookOfCinz

    I am not sure why there isn't a bigger hype surrounding Wayetu Moore's debut novel

    because it is absolutely enthralling. While I don't like comparing books, for some reason this book reminded me of how I felt reading

    by Yaa Gyasi. I felt a pounding in my chest and fluttering in my stomach as I asked myself while reading this book-

    . I was reminded of how I felt when I was younger and I opened a book I know

    I am not sure why there isn't a bigger hype surrounding Wayetu Moore's debut novel

    because it is absolutely enthralling. While I don't like comparing books, for some reason this book reminded me of how I felt reading

    by Yaa Gyasi. I felt a pounding in my chest and fluttering in my stomach as I asked myself while reading this book-

    . I was reminded of how I felt when I was younger and I opened a book I know I would absolutely love... it felt like magic.

    In

    we are exposed to magical realism, historical fiction, captivating characters and a storyline that grabs you from the very first line... I am talking about the dedication.

    The book features three characters- Gbessa born with a curse on her head but she would be king, June Dey born in Virginia from supernatural causes and Norman Aragon child of a Colonizer and Maroon Woman. These three characters were not only birthed in difficult circumstances but during a period in history where everything is stacked against them. We get a historical look into Jamaica during the time of the Maroons and Colonizers, Virginia during the booming slave trade and an in-depth look into Liberia's history. I never thought I would learn so much from this book, but from a historical perspective there is a lot to unpack- thanks for the additional reading material Wayetu Moore.

    If you are looking for a magical historical fiction, this is the book for you. If you want a book that is thoroughly researched, filled with strong female leads and tension for days- this is the book for you. If you enjoyed Homegoing, there is no doubt that you will love this as well. This book is currently on my top favorite books for 2018- it is that good! A must read.

    I could not put this book down and I haven't been able to shut up about it. This debut is a must read and an absolute favorite of mine for 2018. The characters are captivating the plot is well researched I learned so much from a historical perspective. A must read! Full review to come.

  • Hanna

    Wow. Just, wow. What a powerful and magical read. A retelling of the creation of Liberia featuring 3 heartbreaking and mystical characters; Gbessa who has the gift (or curse) of immortality, June Dey who has super strength and is bulletproof (similar to Luke Cage, but during slavery. Plus, I will NEVER stop feeling all of the things when consuming media about bullet proof black men), and Norman who, like his mother, has the ability to become invisible. Meanwhile, we're following the narrator who

    Wow. Just, wow. What a powerful and magical read. A retelling of the creation of Liberia featuring 3 heartbreaking and mystical characters; Gbessa who has the gift (or curse) of immortality, June Dey who has super strength and is bulletproof (similar to Luke Cage, but during slavery. Plus, I will NEVER stop feeling all of the things when consuming media about bullet proof black men), and Norman who, like his mother, has the ability to become invisible. Meanwhile, we're following the narrator who is the woman in the wind. Love, love, LOVED this. A retelling and criticism of colonialism and white supremacy. Easily one of my favorite reads of the year.

  • Irene (Read.Rewind)

    4.5

  • Darkowaa

    !!! full review -

    3.5 stars rounded up. I’d love to know what Liberians and Liberian-Americans think of this novel, as they would probably better understand the nuances of the story. I can confidently say I will read anything by Wayétu Moore, and that this debut is a lovely ode to the country of Liberia and Liberian womanhood, through Gbessa’s complex characterization.

  • Marchpane

    Wayétu Moore’s debut,

    , infuses the historical founding of Liberia with tales of spirits, wanderers and strange happenings. In true superhero style, each of the key figures has a tragic backstory, and the first half of

    relates their origin stories in turn. Mothers are central to Moore, so the three tales all begin with a mother and an auspicious birth. Each of the three infants gr

    Wayétu Moore’s debut,

    , infuses the historical founding of Liberia with tales of spirits, wanderers and strange happenings. In true superhero style, each of the key figures has a tragic backstory, and the first half of

    relates their origin stories in turn. Mothers are central to Moore, so the three tales all begin with a mother and an auspicious birth. Each of the three infants grows into a child with a distinctly superhuman talent, each is forced to flee their home, they are destined to cross paths in a land yet to be dubbed Liberia.

    It’s a lengthy set up in order to unite the three central characters, who are clearly representative of the disparate peoples who formed the beginnings of Liberia (the indigenous groups, African-Americans and Afro-Caribbeans respectively). But I enjoyed this extended prelude immensely. The stories have an epic flavour and the lush style of the telling was suitably grand for a founding myth. Rome has Romulus and Remus, maybe Liberia could have Gbessa, June and Norman?

    Unfortunately I found the second half of the book less successful. Mainly because the story was unevenly weighted towards Gbessa the witch, with June and Norman relegated to background players whose stories didn’t deliver a satisfying payoff. I kept hoping Moore could pull it off and bring all the threads together by the end. It was this hope more than anything else, I think, that propelled me through the last part of the book, but it just didn’t quite land for me.

    I saw an interview with Moore in which she said she is working on a memoir that will also ‘engage with magical realism’ (at age 5 she fled Liberia with her family to escape the civil war there) and also a novel about

    , both of which sound fascinating so I very much look forward to those.

    3.5 stars rounded up

  • Dominique

    This is such a beautiful, magical read. I found myself completely engulfed in the retelling of the beginning of Liberia and felt so connected to my family, ancestors, and history in a way that simply took my breath away. This is a piece of historical fiction that I will carry on my spirit for a long time.

    The story starts in 1831 with Gbessa, the witch being exiled from her Vai village for being cursed. While she is shunned from everyone, th

    This is such a beautiful, magical read. I found myself completely engulfed in the retelling of the beginning of Liberia and felt so connected to my family, ancestors, and history in a way that simply took my breath away. This is a piece of historical fiction that I will carry on my spirit for a long time.

    The story starts in 1831 with Gbessa, the witch being exiled from her Vai village for being cursed. While she is shunned from everyone, the ever-present wind guides her (yes, the wind is personified and a narrator), and through Gbessa's solitude she takes on the wisdom of her "curse" that she will never die. Her part was fascinating to read and gets the novel off to its fantastical start very well. From her relationship to herself, to her mother, to Safua the Poro warrior/king, there is no shortage of richness between these characters.

    Moving on, we meet June Dey through his parents and the village that brings him forth in the good ole South of the United States. In Virginia, we learn the story of the Emerson plantation, we meet characters that may not be who they say they are and this section needs very attentive reading to follow what's going on, but the birth of June Dey, and his journey to discovering his "gift" (gift and curse are interchangeable with these characters so it's all about perspective). And when this Luke Cage mofo gets going, whew chile, he had me all in my feels. I love, love, love this section with my whole heart because it got me to thinking about the necessity to empower ourselves, in the event that whatever is trying to destroy us will never cease, and the idea of empowering ourselves with that which ensures our survival forever and always. It's like who do I have to become, what do I need to do or believe about myself to survive this persistent storm that may never go away? And the magical realism of this was just...*chef's kiss*

    And then we meet Norman Aragon, the mulatto son of Jamaica, whose gift is his ability to be in this world and of this world. I got my first hearty laugh in this section and appreciated its ability to marry the conceptual dichotomies between the colonizers and the colonized, the seen and the unseen, the known and the unknown.

    😂😂😂😂

    And then when our three characters come together in Liberia, my goodness I just want to have a class on this book. The history of Liberia's beginning is so well crafted with all the characters that come together from the American Colonization Society, the first Americo-Liberians, and the indigenous groups trying to figure out, "Who are all these people coming up in our area, o." Anyway, I love my historical narratives so much and this did not disappoint! The presence of all these forces, the build up of drama, the character arc of Gbessa, the relationship dynamics, the vision of a country where freedom and unity could exist puts this book into immediate must-read status.

    I'm not going to gush much more here (video soon come), but definitely read this book as soon as you can. It is exceptional. I'm so excited for Wayetu Moore's debut and can't wait to see how her offerings transform the literary canon. This is one helluva debut!

  • Trudie

    This a tough review to write because my feelings on this book are so mixed. On one hand I learned a terrific amount about the foundation story of Liberia. A story that has been rarely explored in fiction. I thought it was interesting that a recent NYT article aligned

    Th

    This a tough review to write because my feelings on this book are so mixed. On one hand I learned a terrific amount about the foundation story of Liberia. A story that has been rarely explored in fiction. I thought it was interesting that a recent NYT article aligned

    This book does paint a picture of Liberia that is far more nuanced and interesting than perhaps what I had in my head from the news or other books about Africa. The three background stories that form almost half the book are exceptional and represent the populations from whence the nascent Libera would be drawn. Gbessa the "witch" belonging to the indigenous Vai tribe, Norman Aragon- a Jamaican Maroon - and June Dey a slave from America. Moore invests much time setting the scene for these three characters to end up together in Monrovia.

    The style of storytelling is very much rooted in an African tradition where supernatural elements exist. And this may be a deal-breaker for many readers. For example, the three main characters have some obliging super powers - invisibility, super-human strength and immortality, very useful for dealing to those pesky French. An added annoyance for me was the narrator, a disembodied voice that pops up like Clippy the office assistant, whispering endearments of little import into characters ears.

    Maybe the most significant problem was not in the end the magical realism but the disappointment that after all the effort Moore put into the background of her characters, it is really only Gbessa's story that had enough oomph in it to sustain the second half. Norman and June are left to Super Hero their way out of the occasional skirmish. I wish more could have been done with the ultimately disappointing second half, especially given such a strong start.

    In summary : - an interesting but flawed debut. However, bring on more stories from Liberia, there is surely a gold-mine of storytelling potential here.

  • Meike

    When a beautiful special edition of Moore's debut was delivered to me as part of Powell's Indiespensable collection, I was stoked: Finally a novel about the foundation of Liberia, a fascinating country I had learnt about when I was part of an (American) Model UN team representing Liberia at National Model United Nations. And Moore does talk about the complicated history of this state, envisioned as a "free colony" at the African coast, a place were free slaves could settle. The three protagonist

    When a beautiful special edition of Moore's debut was delivered to me as part of Powell's Indiespensable collection, I was stoked: Finally a novel about the foundation of Liberia, a fascinating country I had learnt about when I was part of an (American) Model UN team representing Liberia at National Model United Nations. And Moore does talk about the complicated history of this state, envisioned as a "free colony" at the African coast, a place were free slaves could settle. The three protagonists stand for the peoples of Liberia and are endowed with magical powers: We meet June Dey, a former slave from Virginia with superhuman strength; Norman, the child of a white colonizer and a Maroon slave from Jamaica who can become invisible (thus turning the fact that the humanity of slaves has been ignored by their captors into a weapon); and then there's Gbessa, a member of the African Vai tribe - she owns the biggest gift of all: Life, as she is undying. (Yes, all of this is blatant symbolism.)

    Moore tells the backstories of her three characters in pretty excessive length before they finally meet in Monrovia - I have to admit that this tested my patience quite a bit. Another factor that bothered me was the use of the superpowers: I really enjoy magical realism as long as the fantastical elements teach me something that lies beyond actual reality or reveal something about the worldview and culture of the characters. In this case though, the powers often felt like plot devices employed to hold the story together. The choice of narrator didn't do much for me either

    .

    What I really appreciated though was Moore's talent for describing scenes and moods - everything she writes feels elegant and alive, even if the pacing is sometimes slightly uneven. I also liked that she discussed the various conflicts that erupted in Liberia, and finds voices for the different sides (except the slavers, but this story is not about them - their voices have been too loud for too long). When they met the indigenous population, the settlers themselves came from different places and had different backgrounds - are the aspirations to make Liberia (liber = free) a haven for all of them sufficient to render the country a success?

    A promising debut, but the story does not quite come together.

  • Sarah Jessica Parker

    This beautiful novel dazzles and makes you want to lock yourself away and only read. Ms. Moore illuminates what it means to be of and from places that are both faraway and inescapably familiar. She took me away from the chaos of our world and it was hard to leave her's. A Book Club Central pick!

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