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The Leopard Sleeps Tonight

Other leopard-based wordplay considered for the title included "a leopard can't change its spots," but when the leopard is a princess as badass as Nzingha: Warrior Queen of Matamba, she can do whatever the hell she damn pleases.

The Leopard Sleeps Tonight

BOOK REPORT for Nzingha: Warrior Queen of Matamba by Patricia C. McKissack

Cover Story: Anogla's Next Top Model
BFF Charm: Eventually
Swoonworthy Scale: 1
Talky Talk: Brevity is the Soul of Wit
Bonus Factor: Sub-Saharan, Pre-Colonial African History
Anti-Bonus Factor: Smallville Syndrome
Relationship Status: Comrades-in-Arms

Royal Diaries Drinking Game

Take a sip when:
• There is talk of a betrothal
• The protagonist references the diary concept (i.e. apologizes for not writing often enough, has to find a hiding place for the diary, explains why she's writing in it to begin with, etc.)
• The protagonist wonders what it would be like to be a "normal girl"
• There’s a ball
• There's a trip to the marketplace
• Somebody makes a chess metaphor
• Somebody becomes deathly ill (pour one out if they die!)
• Somebody is poisoned or strangled or in some other way Ye Olde Murdered
• You wish you were a princess

Take two sips when:
• The protagonist becomes officially betrothed
• The protagonist suspects someone of reading her diary
• It's the protagonist's birthday
• Secret nighttime adventure!
• Obvious historical foreshadowing
• The protagonist becomes deathly ill
• You're really glad you're NOT a princess

Take a shot when:
• The protagonist gets hitched
• Another Royal Diarist is mentioned

Cover Story: Angola's Next Top Model

This image has all the usual hallmarks of a Royal Diaries cover—attention to detail, accuracy, eye-catchingness—but it also looks like a shot Tyra would be proud of. Work that smize, girl!

The Deal:

Nzingha is the First Daughter of Ngola Kiluanji's many, many children, living and hunting in the sixteenth-century West African region which is now Angola. For longer than Nzingha has been alive her people have been at war with the Portuguese, who constantly try to invade their land and capture slaves to ship to Brazil. Her father is a great and powerful leader, but Nzingha's brother—the heir to the throne—is a universally-recognized dipshit. Luckily for everyone, Nzingha's around to pick up the slack.

BFF Charm: Eventually

Nzingha is fierce—and I mean grrrr-fierce, not snapping-in-a-Z-formation-fierce. When we first meet her, she's headstrong and stubborn to the point of pigheadedness. I admired her convictions and the fierceness with which she defended her people, but I didn't think she'd make a very good friend. She's kind of a terrible listener, and she's not into any frivolous pursuits—understandable given her circumstances, but difficult to deal with if you live and breathe frivolity (guilty). But over the course of her diary, Nzingha matures and softens (though of course never to a degree which would negate said fierceness). Even without the historical epilogue acting as a mini-sequel, it's clear that Nzingha will grow into her role as a wise and inspiring leader. That's the Nzingha I'd like to be friends with.

Swoonworthy Scale: 1

There are technically two love interests—an almost-love triangle—but neither really registers as swoonworthy.

Talky Talk: Brevity is the Soul of Wit

Full disclos: I first wrote "brevity is the absence of wit" before realizing my mistake, which should give you an idea of where I'm coming from. I had the same problem with this book as I had with Elisabeth: The Princess Bride, which is: it's too damn short. Nzingha clocks in at only 86 pages; the average book in this series is at least double that. There simply wasn't enough time to really get to know Nzingha or Matamba or the conflict with the Portuguese very well, and there wasn't a lot of depth to what we did learn. Which is too bad, because I feel like this is a really unexplored area of history, especially in YA books. Which brings us to...

Bonus Factor: Sub-Saharan, Pre-Colonial African History

A really unexplored area of history, especially in YA books! There still exist way-too-persistent stereotypes about the African continent, wherein people rarely differentiate between its many countries and/or assume that not much has changed between Africa's ancient past and the present. Despite its other shortcomings, Nzingha is an excellent refutation to such stereotypes. The threat of colonialism and the slave trade looms large in this book, but never completely overtakes the narrative. Instead, readers get a glimpse into the self-contained Ndongo kingdom, a flourishing civilization with history and culture to spare. This book accomplished what all the best Royal Diaries do—indeed, the best historical fiction—by making me want to learn more about the era in which it takes place.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Smallville Syndrome

A subtrope of "prequel syndrome," Smallville Syndrome occurs when you decide to write a story about a cool person's life before they did all of the things that made them so cool. Understandably, you want to make sure the story is still interesting, so you might fudge the details a bit—pile on the foreshadowing, let the protagonist face a minor version of a significant threat they'll face later in life, actually just move things around and pretend that something which happened in the person's Cool phase actually occurred Before They Were Cool. And then the next thing you know, Clark Kent is already working at the Daily Planet, has had a whole a tumultuous relationship with Lois Lane, and is mortal enemies with Lex Luthor, so why the hell hasn't he just put on the damn cape already? (This could also be called Merlin Syndrome.)

Many of the books in this series face the Before They Were Cool challenge, and at least one of them—Marie Antoinette—just went ahead and reshuffled history, portraying a significant event in the princess' life as happening two years earlier than it actually did. Nzingha takes this technique to the extreme, portraying arguably the most significant story told about Nzingha's life as happening twenty-six years earlier than it actually did. While I get the urge to have something big and significant happen within the time frame of the diary, I can't help but feel that this does a disservice to the actual life of the historical Nzingha. Maybe this wouldn't bother me so much if it weren't for another choice Patricia McKissack makes... The event in question is this: a Portuguese negotiator fails to offer Nzingha a chair, so she makes a servant get on all fours and sits on his back. In this book, Nzingha sees her future husband make that exact power play and later decides to copy him. Something just rubs me the wrong way about taking what should be a story of badass female empowerment and attributing the whole thing to a dude.

Casting Call: 

Quvenzhané Wallis as Nzingha

The best part about this casting call is that for once I got to choose an actress who is actually younger than the character she'd be playing. That means there's still a time! C'mon Hollywood, make it happen!

Relationship Status: Comrades-in-Arms

The time I spent with this book was neither as long nor as in-depth as I'd've hoped. We didn't really connect in a romantic—or even in much of a platonic—way, but I still can't help admiring this book and everything it stands for. I might not show up to this book's birthday party, but I'd certainly answer its call to battle.

FTC Full Disclosure: I purchased this book with my allowance. Nzingha: Warrior Queen of the Matamba has been available for years, y'all. So get on that.

Maria Greer's photo About the Author: Maria is originally from Montana but goes to school in the Bay Area, where she totally fails to take advantage of the tech industry. Instead, she is majoring in history and creative writing, with which she plans to do...something. Currently her hope is that someone will come along and offer to pay her to read YA novels and eat cupcakes. Until that day, Maria spends most of her time studying and petitioning the university to let her keep a cat in her dorm.