Hugo 2019 Novellas: Binti – The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor (some spoilers)

I enjoyed the first of the Binti novellas. The second (Binti: Home) I found less engaging and also effectively incomplete as a story. Binti: The Night Masquerade is the third and is the missing second half of Binti: Home as a story and I really struggled to finish it. (Spoilers follow).

Binti has returned home with her companion Okwu the Meduse and has gone into the desert to discover the secrets of her father’s people (as told in book 2). The story starts where the last book finished with Binti seeing either events or a premonition of events back home with her family who are under attack by the Khoush people.

The stakes are high with her family possibly trapper inside a burning cellar, her father’s family revealing a long hidden connection to a different set of aliens, Binti acquiring new powers, answers about the strange alien artefact she discovered as a child, a potentially re-ignited interstellar war, and a fatal encounter at a peace conference. Add to this a repeated vision, loaded with significance of Binti flying through the rings of Saturn.

Yet…somehow none of it matters. There’s a very odd dislocation in the story that is repeated so often with each of the potentially life changing events that occur that I can’t believe it is accidental but which don’t appear to serve the story well. To be fair to Binti, she does go through more than one literally mind-altering experience, so the initial shifts between her desire to get back to her family (who she believes may be in mortal danger or dead) and revelatory visions of the past make narrative sense (but don’t work aesthetically). However, this same process of raising stakes and then answering with anti-climax continues throughout (most notably with the Saturn’s rings vision but also with the looming inter-species war that just gets forgotten about?).

I can’t fault the story for having ideas. There’s a whole pile of them and also a whole pile of events but they all seem to contrive not to matter. That kind of distancing of character from events can work powerfully (e.g. in the work of recently departed Gene Wolfe) and I can’t help feeling that I’ve missed the point with this story.

There’s a point late in the book where Binti has just come back from the dead (thanks to the intervention of the child of spaceship) and she herself learns that her family isn’t dead, which would naturally be a major emotional peak of the book. Instead the story drifts off in another direction with no happy re-union which makes the previous apparent deaths feel less significant. Or are we supposed to be troubled by revenant-Binti’s lack of interest in now-revealed-to-be-alive family’s well being?

There’s a lot going on here with death and rebirth and transformation: all themes that keep occurring in the Binti series but which here fall flat. I don’t have the critical skill to say why they fall flat here — perhaps there are too many cases of them, perhaps the shorter format hasn’t allowed the transformations that had already occurred to Binti to be properly explored. I don’t know but by the end it felt like just a bunch of stuff happening.

15 thoughts on “Hugo 2019 Novellas: Binti – The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor (some spoilers)

    1. Case in point: The Night Masquerade itself. I hadn’t really grasped what it was supposed to be in terms of Binti’s experience and beliefs, which made the revelation of what/who it was less of a reveal and more of an explanation. Perhaps if I’d re-read Home where it first appears, it would have worked better.


  1. After being so-so on Binti #1 (second half went completely away from the ideas I’d find interesting in the first half), I didn’t find much to enthuse me in Home, so to be honest reading this was just an exercise in shooting through it to see if there were any redeeming features.
    There weren’t for me.
    That said, I’ve been wondering if to some extent I’m just missing the context of the type of story being told – is it non-linear in a way I’m just not used tob and so I’m penalising it unfairly? I’m not sure, but right now it’s firmly at the bottom of my ballot.


      1. I’m not expressing this very well. I’m not thinking non linear in the sense of, say, Player of Games where the non linear nature is fairly formal and can be worked out. I’m more alluding to what strikes me as perhaps a more storytelling style where elements drift in and out, and explanation is more in the gift of the teller, not for the reader? Still didn’t work for me, but I feel the need to examine my reactions and wonder if they’re being formed by default assumptions.

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  2. I had the same feeling with this one. It just seemed to be floating out there in dreamland and I really couldn’t connect to it. I think part of that was that the author didn’t explain the world very well. I mean, I don’t like infodumps, but I do like to know the basics, such as what “treeing” is, which I never could figure out. So I am not rating this very highly either.


  3. So I kind of liked this a lot more than the second novella, although it’s clearly not as good as the first – which both works well on a character and plot level. The novella definitely takes a sharp turn away from all of the plot ideas brought forth in the last novella and a half for the final part of the story, but I kind of liked how the novella finished Binti’s own journey of self-realization – and the idea that the conflict couldn’t really be solved so easily by a single person, as this novella really suggests, is a nice side-effect. (I swear I don’t always disagree with your reviews on this blog btw, although it seems like it lately lol)

    I posted a little longer review here, though since this is a novella, it’s not much more detailed than my comment:


    1. I love informed disagreement, particulalry when I feel like there might be a better way of reading a story that I’m missing. I think that’s something novellas are particularly prone to. With novels there’s more opportunity to catch the rythym of it or adjust your expectations and with short stories it’s a lot easier to re-read the story with a new perspective (or even just at a different time of day). Novellas fall between two stools.

      That’s partly why I found that repeated aspect of high-stakes situation followed by something more anti-climatic as indicating that this was an intended feature of the story but if it was I wasn’t getting it.


      1. Yeah I agree with this as to novellas vs novels. Which makes me really curious whether your review of Lucky Peach tracks mine, as that novella similarly has issues in this regard (at least to me).


  4. Binti is one of those stories that makes it really hard to sustain suspension of disbelief. Not only does it have “magical math” and “magical science,” the characters (Binti in particular) keep behaving in utterly unbelievable ways. Like Binti calmly negotiating with the people she thinks just killed her family.

    “Treeing,” by the way, is a form of mathematical meditation. Unfortunately, the author uses the vocabulary of mathematics with no real idea what any of it means, and the result is painful to read. E.g. “Imagine the most complex equation and then split it in half and then in half again and again”


    1. //Like Binti calmly negotiating with the people she thinks just killed her family.//

      She does also scream at them but also that doesn’t negate your observation. I’m close to talking myself into re-reading it.


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