Book Review: Sea of Broken Things by Aminat Sanni-Kamal
Aminat Sanni-Kamal is a feminist, lawyer, and writer. I went to school with her, so I feel a certain kind of pride (I know her!!!) that “Sea of Broken Things” is not even her first book, but the 7th!
If you like fantasy books, this is going to be your thing. Stay charged up! If you do not, stay with us, we may end up changing you.
Sea of Broken Things is set in the Kingdom of Ire, a mystical city watched over by goddesses. In this Kingdom, the highest spiritual authority is the High Priestess, who has an army of powerful priestesses. You’d think this is a matriarchy but no. The government is headed by a king, Adetooni, and the throne is passed to the male heirs. Nevertheless, Aminat shows that women are as capable of leadership as men are.
Omifunke is the warrior priestess who is the book’s ‘heroine’, leading her team of four on a mission to save the kingdom from the Dark Lord. Many times in the book, we see the exemplary leadership of women and an emphasis on leadership qualities, such as emotional intelligence, which we have not prioritized in our world.
One important thing I note with the Sea of Broken Things is the influence older writers have over young writers. I also see how the books we read are a genuine source of inspiration for our writing and even our daily lives. Dear young creative, look around you for your inspiration. Dear young woman, look at your foremothers and sisters for inspiration.
Aminat’s Sea of Broken Things is (in my opinion) inspired by J.K. Rowling and Tomi Adeyemi. The Dark Lord who uses humans to grow his power and achieve his mission of taking over the world reminds me of Lord Voldemort, He Who Must Not Be Named, in the Harry Potter books. His name is hardly mentioned in the book, even by his followers. A Basilisk is also used by a witch in Aminat’s book. It seems like wicked masters and mistresses love gigantic snakes. Also, like in Tomi’s Children of Blood and Bone and Children of Virtue and Vengeance, it shows the journey of the young targeted at redeeming the world from looming evil.
In her book, Aminat doesn’t just narrate a physical journey, she tells a coming-of-age story. She shows us how young people use all the training and knowledge obtained from parents, their intuition, and knowledge to form opinions and positions. We see also how important it is for young people to know who they are and when to break free from the shackles that limit them.
I also like the subtle feminist themes in the book women are seen as capable as men are, women take up leadership positions across the board, the highest spiritual beings are the goddesses of earth, fire, and water. Still, it is not a feminist society because girls are given off to be married, there is little or no sexual and reproductive health education, there are widowhood rites, polygamy is an established practice, and the highest government seat is that of the king, passed on through male heirs. Perhaps Aminat used this to portray how our societies exist today, especially with people who want women to fully participate in economic responsibilities, but at home, the man is the head.
Photo by Calvin Lupiya via Unsplash
There is a slight twist in the book though, one of the prominent male leads, who disrespects, abuses and rapes women, is controlled by someone you’d least suspect. My opinion is that this occurs even under patriarchy. If anything, it feeds the narrative that ‘na she dey control her husband’.
Knowing that a circle of women with a mission can change the world, Aminat uses the team of priestesses, spiritual warriors, to portray that women who are determined, skilled, diligent, and hardworking can go far together. Do you have your circle of women? I highly recommend it.
When Michelle Obama in her “Becoming” documentary talked about her sacrificing her dreams when she gave birth, a lot of people wanted to faint. We want women to give sacrifices but we don’t want them to talk about it. In Sea of Broken Things, we learn about the sacrifices of women, the Queen, Olori Ojuolape, the High Priestess, Omidolapo, even the goddesses themselves. I especially love Oritoke, the one who flees her murderous in-laws and takes her life into her own hands. Her process of becoming her true self is beautiful even though she makes the ultimate sacrifice.
I find it amazing that the world could be breaking into a million pieces and people will still find a way to fall in love. During this pandemic, romantic shots have been fired and landed on target, people have bonded with soul mates, my friend Jola has married the love of her life. Perhaps it is in times of darkness and trouble that we are the most vulnerable and beautiful.
This book is no exception. You’ll enjoy reading about the tiny but powerful love stories in this book, even where it is forbidden. For instance, the priestesses have a standing rule against being with men, but Omifunke is aghast when she finds herself falling in love with an annoying person. As young and inexperienced as she is with carnal things, she must decide if the rule is worth keeping at all. I think Aminat uses two love stories here to show how young people, nineteen-year-old in this book, are subject to rapidly changing emotions and how most teenagers, heck most adults, are conflicted and pulled by life in different directions.
An important theme we see in the book is the art of forging your path. Aminat shows us that it’s okay to claim a path different from what everyone thinks. And like I felt when I read Tomi’s books, we’re reminded that young people are important to forging a new, more equal and inclusive world. This is not like what they taught us in school that youths are the leaders of tomorrow, rather we must all recognize that youths are the leaders of today, along with baby boomers. All voices are important in shaping our world.
Personally, I would have liked to see stronger feminist themes in this book. I would have liked the reclaiming of women’s position in society, even in fantasy: an egalitarian kingdom where leadership is not passed down through fe/male heirs but with an emphasis on emotional, spiritual, and intellectual capabilities. If we don’t start dreaming and writing feminist realities now, when will they form?
Along with the good, so exists the bad in this book. In the quest for power and influence, people do the worst things. In this book, just like in real life, you will see how you shouldn’t trust anyone because of the lies, jealousy, manipulation, and cheating.
I’m not Yoruba but I speak it fluently (with a slightly weird accent, according to my friend Tobi) so it’s easy for me to flow with the language of the goddesses in Aminat’s book. I like the fact that African writers freely incorporate our languages into their fine works of art. Aminat also makes it easier by providing some translation but if you’re slightly stuck, Google Translate is your friend.
Ultimately, I encourage you to read this book for yourself. I want to hear your thoughts and see if we’ll disagree on some points. You can get the Sea of Broken Things and other books by Aminat on Okada Books or any other e-book platform. You can also read Aminat’s blog www.thisblackwoman.com.ng and follow her on Instagram @thisblackwoman and @thisblackwriter.
I leave you with my favourite quote from the Sea of Broken Things:
There is a goddess inside every woman. We only need to learn how to call [her] out.