New Dawn by Naa Shalman

I wrote this post last year immediately after I finished reading the book. I sat on it because I wanted to reread the book. I’m halfway through reading New Dawn a second time and, yeah, my opinion is pretty much the same. While reading keep in mind that I enter sarcasm mode quite often in this post.

While at a mall in Accra, I came across a great box of quality green tea and a book that I bought without bothering to read its blurb. What was written at the back cover was too long for me to bother reading but several words including ‘warrior’ and ‘in the days of ethnic strife’ jumped out to me so I pretty much had to buy New Dawn by Naa Shalman.

In the days of ethnic strife and struggles for Kingdom-wide control in the African Gold Coast village of Asempa’Krom, the beautiful young Ima eagerly awaits for her marriage to the village’s lustiest warrior, Batum. Batum’s air of cockiness and physical strength are nearly a perfect match for Ima’s impetuous spirit, and both have a fire burning in their belly for the power of their promising young lives. The impending union causes Ima’s peers to envy the haughty, saucy and self-indulgent maiden. But, when Batum carries out a wholly unprovoked attack on the neighbouring village’s Chief warrior, Adiago, to feed his greed for power and glory, his uncontrolled actions prompt his desperate flight from Asempa’Krom. Learning that Batum has killed the wife and children of another man in the surprise night-time raid, Ima’s father, Seth, informs her of the dissolution of her betrothal. Ima becomes the immediate target of her peer’s ridicule and cruel mocking.

To avenge the attack on Adiago, the offended warrior’s clan sets out to kidnap Ima, and unintentionally begin her journey to womanhood. Over a week’s journey by foot away from her home, Ima is kept in the house of the man whose family was slaughtered by Batum. Referring to her only as “Batum’s intended wife”, Ima must learn to stave off her loneliness, and prove herself as an individual and not the reflection of Batum’s evil doings. While there, she discovers her compassion and resolves her growing desire for the very man who is now her captor. Her spirit and tenacity which once served as an impediment in her immaturity, now serve her well – helping her to find true love and guide her in the ways to reel in the man’s heart she desires.

New Dawn tells the story of two very complex men and two resolute women who are fierce in their mannerisms, sharp tongued, bold in their actions, protective as lionesses and determined to take what belongs to them – but, will they succeed?
Look at how long the blurb is and to think that it doesn’t even cover up to a quarter of the story! it doesn’t even mention the secondary characters. I bought the book expecting it to be mostly historical and full of intrigue, what I wasn’t expecting was romance. I was initially so excited, giddy, thrilled, because New Dawn is honestly the first historical romance set in a precolonial African nation that I have read. I know that there are not many books marketed as purely romance set in Africa to begin with so New Dawn is quite a gem.

But that is just the first note of importance, New Dawn is dare I say, the only book I’ve read that actually portrays a precolonial African kingdom quite accurately. What I mean to say is Naa Shalman did not write precolonial Africans as superstitious people running around naked and barefoot in jungles while living in simple crumbling huts etc. Learning history from any part of Africa should put that to rest but these images still prevail even in works by Africans who really should know better. For example, I read a certain book by a certain Nigerian author who thought there was nothing wrong in portraying precolonial Nigerians walking barefoot into a thick forest in the middle of the night with no light except for the moon. I’m sure I’m not the only one that finds this incredulous. There are snakes in the forest! The forest is a dangerous place! Who in their right mind knowing this would walk into a forest without any protection or light in the night? It doesn’t make any sense to me at all. When a character described shoes as ‘contraptions’ worn by Europeans, I felt like burning the book (as it is, I stopped reading the book before I even finished the first chapter). I recall thinking that if precolonial Africans were really so stupid, they would have wiped themselves out…You see if someone walked into a forest under those conditions and was bitten by a snake, that person would definitely die because there were no doctors in precolonial Africa.

This post is about New Dawn, I will not stray off topic.

I don’t think it is a secret that I enjoy reading romance. New Dawn has passionate kisses, fluttering bellies, weak knees and sex scenes, all this in a precolonial Ghana setting. Honestly, I’ve never read a book like New Dawn before. I find that what makes me eternally grateful to the author is that she does not belittle precolonial Africans with her books. Even if you don’t like romance, I’d still rec this book just so you can get a glimpse of precolonial African villages that are not offensive and make sense.

The Africans in Naa Shalman’s book wear clothes and sandals. They live in huts, some characters have big and beautiful houses while others don’t. She shows a complex society; the difference between the rich and the poor is pretty obvious, similarly those with privilege and those without are pretty easy to spot, traditions are detailed carefully, there are subtle differences between the two villages Asempa’Krom and Sika’Krom. As the story is set in the eighteenth century, there are Europeans in the book who appear as traders and doctors. A friend of mine said this was a good thing because a lot of people have this idea that the Europeans came out of nowhere and enslaved Africa.

I don’t think I can sing enough praises for the historical aspect of New Dawn. Now as for the historical romance aspect, well I’m pleased such a book exists because it can help towards debunking the myth that before the Europeans appeared to teach us love, Africans were living unhappy lives. Women were forcibly married as adolescents to old men who already had multiple wives. These old husbands used to beat and abuse their wives. There was no concept of love in Africa till the continent was ‘liberated’ by Europeans, yes Africans have actually said this to me. New Dawn and the upcoming titles by Naa Shalman help combat the ignorance!

I liked the book a whole lot but that does not mean New Dawn is perfect. I don’t like the cover of the book.

If I were to judge to book by its cover, I may have ignored it and…well, that would be very sad. My main issues are the colours used, even though I adore the kente as shown and that the model has chemically straightened hair. There were no relaxers in Asempa’Krom or Sika’Krom, I wish a model with natural hair had been used instead. Then again, I guess people work with what they have.I also had some problems with the language used. This is the point where I check myself as well. IMHO, a lot of the language used in New Dawn was too modern for a historical setting. Why would the author use feet and inches to describe height? It just doesn’t seem authentic enough.

I believe there were also some characters with ‘size 10’ feet. Why? I had major problems with such descriptors. Mind you, I am not saying that New Dawn takes great liberties with African history by having the characters use soap to wash in bathtubs. To me, what Naa Shalan wrote is entirely believable. That bakery shops, doors with locks, bells with which to call servants/slaves and bonesetters existed in precolonial Africa is not far-fetched even though some people will have you believe it is. Still, I initially wished Naa Shalman had used different words and descriptors (especially when she used ‘bathroom’, I envisioned tiled floors and faucets!).

I found the first few pages of the book to be confusing, I couldn’t get the names and who was being referred. It started slow, but by the time the action began reading got easier. Understandably, difficulty getting into the characters and story did not happen with the second reading.

I’ll not conclude this post on a negative note hence, I loved that New Dawn is undeniably African. I adored the hints at the supernatural that are quintessential to most African fiction, the importance attached to dreams (Badu, a secondary character and warrior is gifted with the ‘second sight’), the persistence of the words such as ‘shame’ and its not so distant cousin ’embarrass’, ‘offend…ancestors/the land’, ‘taboo’ (a word that I’ve found fascinating since the first time I came across it). Yes, while you’re reading New Dawn you know you’re reading a historical romance set in Ghana.

Naa Shalman has some soon-to-be released books set in the same time and place. I am really looking forward to them, especially as some minor characters from New Dawn will be taking lead roles in the books.

25 thoughts on “New Dawn by Naa Shalman

  1. This looks very interesting – I’ll have to add it onto my to-read list! Will you be reviewing the other books by Naa Shalman as well? 🙂

    1. I’m not entirely sure but I believe this is her first book in the historical series. As the other books are released, I’ll definitely be reviewing them. African historical romances are rare! 😉

  2. I am definitely going to read this book ($5 on Amazon Kindle!).
    I also have a question, I tried reading one of the African History books you recommended (by Robin Walker), and I found it to be too academic and almost like a social science argument based book (which I think its supposed to be). I’m going to get the Basil Davidson and read that next. Thanks for the recommendations!

    1. I guess my main question would be do you have any recommendations for an African History book that tells a history (for a long time, I believed Chinua Achebe’s history and took it as absolute fact) that is as close to fact as possible without being too academic?

      1. Tbh, like 99% of books that approach African history in factual terms are academic.

        Rest assured that if I had more recommendations, I’d be sure to put them up here. I tend to purchase a lot of books set in the African past but, excluding the ancient Egyptian ones, most are more interested in slavery.

        Sadly, I have more ‘recommendations’ for books that completely mess up African history (like the one that had Africans roaming in dangerous forests without any precautions and gave any light skinned character an European ancestor).

        I’m keeping an eye out for fictional African history books that are full of FAIL.

  3. Thanks for this review. I have not heard of the author nor have I seen this book. And to think you got it in Accra, where I live :).

  4. I have read this and it is every bit as wonderful as you’ve described. I was drawn particularly to the genre since it is so unique and there is nothing else out there in this time period and setting — and nothing anywhere near as authentic to the true African culture. While it is a love story (and I sexy, realistic one at that) it is also an adventure story (so much intrigue). I was left wanting to hear more about the characters — I can’t wait to read her next book.

    1. Yay! More Naa Shalman fans. I loved the adventure and the intrigue too!

      You’re right, the genre she writes in is so unique. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book like New Dawn before. Now I just wish more authors writing in this genre come out.

      Plus, it seems her next book is out!

  5. OMG- I have read this book and I have been waiting with bated breath to read her next novel, thanks to your review I have to her site and I have just seen that her next book is out. I found New Dawn to a story touches the reader emotionally I couldn’t put it down once I started. The male characters kept me entertained but I felt very protective of Adiago. I like a novel when I can identify with some of the issues raised (it makes the story substantial not one of those weekly written ones) this lady does that for me, hot too. I didn’t like the blurb too, love the book, loved her talent for storytelling and her gift of sharing her culture.

    1. WHAT??!! Naa Shalman’s next book is out? ::rushes off to buy a copy::

      And…I preferred Badu and Amana’s part of the story, I wish they had a book all to themselves 😀

  6. Hmm, I will try to get this. The issue of modern language usage for a historical setting is what I also encountered in Tutuoba.

    1. Please do!

      Having read a few pages from Tutuoba, I can say that it is nothing like New Dawn. From what I’ve read of Tutuoba it was difficult for me to tell whether the book was historical or not, if it was a mix of both historical and modern etc. But New Dawn is clearly a piece of historical fiction even though the author slipped now and then 😀

  7. This critique is good in many respects but for someone who complains about the length of the blurb, I am surprised that your peace is too long to follow. It is most confusing when you later state that the blurb was not long enough.
    In my opinion many people do not understand the non western world and they value western contraptions like shoes (you cited someone else’s book about people walking without shoes in a dark forest) as if without it we cannot exist. May I point out that there are many regions and communities where shoes are still not used. I once found myself vulnerable when my own claded delicate feet could not stand the strains in a forest region where people without shoes moved around nimbly. The tribes of the Amazons come to mind.
    In another sense, this writer I think used a shoe size more to point the reader to a feet size than the fashion in the era.
    I do however agree with you on many things. For one: New Dawn paints a picture of Africa that has been missing. It shows that romance is as African as it is human.
    It has created an interest in us men who have found romance as something for women. For an African man I say that is what counts.

    New Dawn tries to do an African reawakening that I hope will create in new and up and coming black people a sense that we have a history and culture that is distinct from the Oliver Twists, Rip Van Winkles and Snow Whites. Naa Shalman has joined the long list of African pioneers for an attempt at African reawakening. I am all for Africans who try to repaint Africa. Not try to remake Africa as a poor copy of someone else’s. As an African man I say bravo to her.

    1. My regular blog readers will tell you that most of my pieces are very lenghty. I’ve tried working on that but sometimes there’s just too much too say…I’m sorry this post is too long for you to follow. From your comment I can see that you did not fully understand my post.

      Re: the blurb, it was too long and did not contain enough information. That’s my main beef with it.

      Re: shoes, I’m sorry I don’t believe shoes are a ‘Western contraptions’. We’ve seen pictures of Africans from different parts of the continent wearing shoes, so why not portray that? I’m trying to speak out against authors who write African history in a way that belittles our ancestors, the way they lived and their achievements. I’m all for glorifying the African past, which in today’s case really means showing it as it really WAS not as we imagine it to be. I am not saying that every single African historical person was wearing shoes, the way I see it, some people did not wear them for several reasons including class, status and profession (for one example, see this image the girl on the right is wearing sandals but the other is not). Those people should not be taken as the majority. It’s like people believing Africans only ever lived in huts when we know that yes there have always been huts but there were also people living in mansions and metropolises. I hope you understand me now.

      I don’t know much about the Amazons so I can’t speak for them.

      Re: shoe size, I know the author used modern day shoe size to illustrate how large or small a characters foot size was. Yet this is a piece of HISTORICAL fiction and in order for the book to feel more authentic more creative methods could have been employed to point readers to feet size.

      Re: the book’s romance themes. I recommend the book to Black women who don’t have interest in romance but are interested in realistic portrayals of African history. The same to Black men. The fact that New Dawn is a historical romance book set on the African continent is a very good thing because such books mostly don’t exist. And as a comment above states, New Dawn is more than romance, it’s also packed with adventure 😀

      New Dawn tries to do an African reawakening that I hope will create in new and up and coming black people a sense that we have a history and culture that is distinct from the Oliver Twists, Rip Van Winkles and Snow Whites

      I strongly agree with this. We really need this African reawakening. However I don’t know any other African authors who are actively portraying African history as it was, not like the horrible mess we imagine it to be. Do you know of any others?

  8. I went in search of this book on Kindle and found it. Yippee! I look forward to reading it.

    Thank you, eccentric yoruba, for the recommendation.

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