“Fengbe, keh kamba beh. Fengbe emu beh. We have nothing but we have God. We have nothing but we have each other.“
There are some books that you just know are going to stick with you a while. She Would Be King is one of those books. Wayètu Moore’s story follows the lives of three people with ties to Africa during the founding of Liberia.
The story starts with Gbessa, a woman from the Lai tribe who has been deemed a cursed witch for being born on a day cursed by a cat’s spirit out for revenge. She is eventually sent to be killed, but the friendship she forms with a boy leads him to spare her life. Instead, she is left alone in the jungle for years. Despite her inability to find food for long periods of time, she mysteriously doesn’t die. She returns to the village only to be banished after being accused of causing the death of the village medicine man and woman and thereby causing the death of her friend’s, now the king, son.
June Dey is born into slavery on a Virginia plantation. The woman who gave birth to him died many years ago, yet her spirit still lingers unbeknownst to all those around her and even the woman herself. Once June Dey is born and his father killed, he comes into the care of one of the kitchen maids. Years later, tragedy strikes as the slaves are all being sold off and the woman caring for June Dey is killed. In a fit of rage, he attacks the men running the plantation and exhibits superhuman strength and invulnerability as bullets bounce off his skin. (There is definitely a Luke Cage vibe going on here.)
Last is Norman Aragon, the child of a Jamaican Maroon slave and a British colonizer who came to study the Maroon villages in the mountains. After years of being the subject of his father’s research and promises that he and his mother would be taken to Freetown in Africa, a betrayal leads to his mother’s death and the realization that he shares his mother’s gift–the ability to disappear at will.
Each of their journey’s lead them to converge on the settlement of Monrovia in Africa as the guiding spirit of the wind continues to bolster them through the hardships they encounter. June Dey and Norman Aragon rove the continent protecting villages from French slave traders, while Gbessa comes into the employ of a family of African American settlers and eventually marries their leader. It all comes to a head when the three are able to use their gifts to settle tension between the settlers and indigenous tribes in order to face the invasion of the French.
She Would Be King is a magical epic tale that crosses time, languages, and continents to converge on a time in history of hard-won freedom. This is a story about finding a place to belong and accepting who you really are. The characters are not cursed with their powers but bestowed mystical gifts meant for good, meant for change, meant for them and an entire people to find their home. Wayètu Moore seamlessly weaves together the mystical with the historical in a way that leaves you wanting more and more.