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.