Book Review: She Would Be King by Wayétu Moore

A novel that is as rich in its fantastical character depth as it is in its history of Liberia and slavery” – a CUB must-read!


For my final review for CUB Magazine, I cannot think of a better book to recommend.  Whilst I am sad that this is my final book review, this is not the end (as I shall explain at the end of this article).  So here it is, my farewell review: She Would Be King by Wayétu Moore.


In the West African village of Lai, red-haired Gbessa is cursed at birth and exiled on suspicion of being a witch.  Bitten by a viper and left for dead, she nevertheless survives.  Meanwhile, June Dey is born into slavery on a plantation in Virginia and hides his unusual strength until a confrontation forces him to flee.  And in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica, Norman Aragon, the child of a white British coloniser and Maroon slave, can fade from sight at will, just as his mother could.  Misunderstood by her own people, Gbessa finds a new life with a group of African American settlers in the colony of Monrovia.  When she meets June Dey and Norman Aragon, it isn’t long before they realise that they are all cursed – or perhaps uniquely gifted.  Together they protect the weak and vulnerable, but only Gbessa can salvage the tense relationship between the settlers and the indigenous tribes.


The perspective of the narrator in this novel is a very unique and interesting one: the wind, which enables the narrator to be everywhere at once and communicate with each main character.  The wind appears to be as much a guiding influence to each protagonist as it is a protector towards them.  The narrative point of view also structures the book in the fashion of alternating parts and chapters, which piques your interest as a reader and makes you eager to read on.


One of the aspects of this book that deeply moved me was the powerful instinct that mothers had towards their children, whether it was Gbessa’s, June’s, or Norman’s mother.  No matter the cost or punishment, these women would do their utmost to care for and protect their children, even surrogate mothers like June Dey’s mother.  The relationship between Maisy and Gbessa is heart-warming to read as Gbessa gradually begins to trust Maisy and learn from her, whether it is cooking or languages.  Despite their difficult pasts, they are able to help each other heal.

Moore strikes just the right balance between colonial history and magical realism as she provides the brutal and cruel reality of life as a slave on a plantation, which is blended nicely with moments of awe and surrealism.  Although colonisers’ behaviour towards slaves was uncomfortable to read at times, it makes you admire the indigenous peoples all the more as they somehow endure the pain and resist their oppressors in whatever ways they can.  The book recounts the formation of the country of Liberia, and although Gbessa changes as the nation changes, she never entirely forgets who she truly is or her roots, and she uses them to find herself again.  It is wonderful to witness her character development throughout the novel and culminate in a powerful, defiant acceptance of her personality and gift.



One of the most powerful messages within this novel for me was the ‘gifts’ that Gbessa, June, and Norman possessed.  Whilst their respective communities ostracised them and regarded them as cursed, each individual used their gift for a good cause.  Moore suggests through her novel that we should celebrate our differences rather than desire to align with everybody else.


Overall, She Would Be King is a novel that is as rich in its fantastical character depth as it is in its history of Liberia and slavery.  Combining magical realism with colonial history, Moore does a fantastic job of piquing her reader’s interest and keeping them engaged until the final page.


Rating: 5/5


First of all, I would like to thank the editors of CUB Magazine over the past couple of years for giving me this platform to voice and share my passion for books and reading.  Without this opportunity, I would not have discovered the enjoyment of creating my own articles (not to mention the excitement of reading books that are yet to be published!).  Next, I would like to thank all of my readers who have supported me throughout my time at CUB Magazine; it has been incredibly rewarding to read and recommend fantastic novels.  Now, as I said at the start of this article, this is not the end of my book reviews, as I have set up my own book review blog: Readers’ Corner.  If you would like to continue to read more of my book recommendations, follow and save the link above, and follow my blog on Instagram (readers.corner).  Thanks again and happy reading!

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