Tuesday 28 June 2016

REVIEW: Nuzo Onoh - The Sleepless

Genre: Horror / African
Publisher: Canaan-Star Publishing
Publication Date: 28th June 2016
Pages: 314


A copy of The Sleepless, by Nuzo Onoh, was sent to Confessions of a Reviewer by the publishers, Canaan-Star Publishing, in exchange for an honest review. This is said review.

This one intrigued me when it landed in my inbox. Firstly, I had never heard of Nuzo Onoh and secondly, it was blurbed as African horror and this interested me. After asking around a few people, some came forward and said they had read previous books by Ms Onoh and loved them so I decided to give it a go.

This was certainly a horror book with a bit of a difference. One that would affect me in some very deep ways.

Kene has gone missing. His sister Obele misses him terribly and cannot wait for the day he returns. When she sees him in her dreams she misses him even more, until she realises that she isn’t dreaming when she sees him. She sees his ghost.

Once she realises he is dead, she sets out to try and find out who is responsible. With guidance from a mysterious voice that talks to her inside her head she tries to uncover the truth. Little does she know that others are plotting her own death, and the war is coming.

This is certainly different from any horror story I have read previously. Set in Nigeria during the Biafran war in the late 60’s, this story is horrific in so many different ways that it will scare you and make you feel totally helpless. I will explain that later.

We have a few characters of note in this one. Obele is the main one the story focuses on. When it starts, she is only six years old but with a mind and attitude that belies her young age. She is confident in many things but quite obviously a young child in others. Her sister Ada is her closest ally. She is older and definitely the kindest person in this story. I wonder though sometimes if she was like this to protect herself.

Papa is Obele’s father. This man is despicable. He is vile. He is horrible. He is a person I would like to meet in a dark alley for five minutes. On the other hand, everything he does is in keeping with the beliefs and ways of the people, in that place, at that time so can you really blame him? Hmmm yes I can. Despicable.

There are a host of others involved in the story. Some good. Some evil. Others in between. To go through them all would take a while and give a lot of the story away. All you really need to know is that they all fit together perfectly and even though you may not understand how some of them can act and react in the things they do, Ms Onoh does an extremely good job of making you realise it was just how things were.

The plot is as I said earlier. Kene has been killed and Obele wants to find out by who, and try and help Kene’s soul to get some peace. Others want to stop her in her tracks to protect their own selfish deeds and she doesn’t realise just how much danger she is in. Then, there is the war coming. A war that is so brutal in its execution that anyone who survives will be scarred in a way that would stay with them for the rest of their life.

So what’s it written like? No frills. That’s the immediate thought I have. This is dealing with a subject that a lot of you probably know nothing about. I did because I studied a little bit of it in school but that was a long time ago. The unfortunate thing is that the subject matter is what I would best describe as harrowing. There are things that happen in this book that are very unpleasant to read. The treatment of children in those days was unbelievably horrific. Especially in the respect of the many varying religious beliefs in the region and the old fashioned witch doctor types that seemed to brain wash their people and practice more in the dark arts than actually trying to help people.

That’s what this book deals with in abundance. It is very supernatural. It’s almost like a tale of old voodoo as we westerners would probably think of it. A lot of it you would imagine would be made up in this story but to be honest I’m not so sure. This is written by a lady who lived through this time and has reportedly lived through some of the situations described in the story as well. That is always at the back of your mind when you read this and it almost feels autobiographical at some points. This definitely lends another macabre element to it and it will make your skin crawl.

All in all, I did enjoy this. Being a father, it is a bit hard to read at times due to the cruelty involved, but again you need to accept that this was the way of life for the people during these times. Doesn’t make it any easier to read though.

Nuzo Onoh paints a wonderful picture of the area and the sights and smells of the times. To get the true feeling of the story across, these sights and smells aren’t very pleasant a lot of the time but again that is necessary. It certainly brings plenty of horror to the story and, if you believe that some of the methods and demons and horrors are true, it certainly makes it even more scary.

To summarise: a dark, dark tale of the supernatural and witch craft set in the harrowing times of the Biafran war in Nigeria during the late 60’s. Harrowing most of the way, you can expect plenty of creepiness and plenty of horror and mind bending scenes. Be prepared though. Some of it is not pleasant to read due the horrific cultural attitudes of the time.

General rating:

★★★★ enjoyable but difficult to read at times for me.

Horror rating:

★★★★ certainly creepy.

If you would like to help support Confessions of a Reviewer, then please consider using the links below to buy The Sleepless or any other books from Nuzo. This not only supports me but also lets me know how many people actually like to buy books after reading my reviews.


Book Synopsis:

An innocent boy is lured to his death by the one person that should have protected him. Someone knows the truth about his disappearance; his little sister, Obele, a child that hears a secret voice which tells her terrible things no child should know about. Obele knows too much and must be killed. Her salvation lies in the hands of her new friends, a group of giggling little girls she meets at an abandoned "cursed house." Except their friendship comes with a terrible price. And suddenly, Obele starts to ask herself who exactly...or rather, what exactly are her new friends. Worse, how can she free the tormented ghost of her dead brother, trapped by a witchdoctor's curse? Set amidst the Biafran War, "The Sleepless" follows one child's struggles against both the natural and supernatural forces that threaten to end her life before the deadly enemy bombs can do so. And perhaps, death from the skies is a better option than the terrifying alternative. "The Sleepless" - Another chilling tale about the restless and vengeful dead by the Queen of African Horror, Nuzo Onoh."

Nuzo Cambridge Onoh is a British writer of African heritage. Born in Enugu, in the Eastern part of Nigeria (formerly known as The Republic of Biafra), Nuzo has been championing the horror subgenre, African Horror. Nuzo holds a Law Degree and a Master’s Degree in Writing from Warwick University, (England). A keen musician, she plays both the piano and guitar and enjoys writing songs in her spare time. Her book, The Reluctant Dead (2014), introduced modern African Horror into mainstream Horror genre. Her other books include Unhallowed Graves (2015) and The Sleepless (2016). Nuzo lives in Coventry, England, from where she runs Canaan-Star Publishing.

And for more about Nuzo, visit her site or find her on social media:

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