The second book in the series, Nubia: The Reckoning, which Epps wrote with Clarence A. Haynes, is coming to shelves Sept. 26. Before it does, EW caught up with Epps to discuss the books and snag an exclusive excerpt from the novel.
The saga follows three teens, Zuberi, Uzochi, and Lencho, children of refugees from a fallen African utopia who must navigate their powers in a climate-ravaged New York City. In The Reckoning, Uzochi must grapple with the new expectations that he lead his people after being declared a Nubian catalyst. But sky king Krazen St. John is intent on harnessing Nubian gifts for himself, assembling a superhuman militia headed by ruthless Lencho.
Uzochi, with Zuberi at his side, cannot imagine facing down his cousin, but he has bigger problems when he discovers an ancient, forgotten force hungry for conquest and placing the world under its control.
Read on for more from Epps about his pivot to writing fiction and the Nubia series, as well as an exclusive excerpt from The Reckoning.
Collin Stark; Random House Children's Books Omar Epps; 'Nubia: The Reckoning'
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What first inspired the Nubia novels, and why was two the right number of books to tell the story?
OMAR EPPS: The inspiration for Nubia came about one day as I was imagining a world in which love itself was illegal, and what would happen if love was reborn through a teenager who didn't know he was the living embodiment of love. I began to build the story from that prism, and it evolved from there via the novel's protagonist Uzochi, a brilliant New York teenager who's revealed to have powers of the mind consisting of telepathy, empathy, and telekinesis. He goes on a different type of hero's journey where he needs to figure out who he really is before he can help others. From there, I worked to build out the world of the story, thinking about everything from how the climate crisis would affect a class-divided city to what innovative tech might look like in the year 2098.
As far as the number of books contained in the series, I'm always at the behest of the story. I'm simply a conduit from which the story speaks, so however many books are needed to complete that mission will happen organically. But as anyone who reads the second book can tell, I've left things open for the series to continue.
How much did other African-inspired storytelling like Black Panther inspire your own work?
I'm very inspired by African storytelling in general. I consider our ancient griots to be the pillars on which our modern literary world is built upon. So there are subtle threads from the ancient storytellers that are naturally woven into Nubia. An elder character named Adisa is meant to epitomize the concept of the griot, and there's a reveal in the books that showcases how he literally carries Nubian history within his soul and then passes that history down to his mentee Uzochi.
Additionally, Nubia in the books has such rich history and cultural traditions. How much did you draw on African traditions or folklore?
African traditions and folklores are extremely important to the mythology of Nubia, so I tried to both honor and reimagine a lot of those aspects, making them unique to the world and characters in the books. A fresh take, if you will, on things that may feel familiar. I was definitely inspired by the history of real-world Nubians who dwelled in northeastern Africa thousands of years ago, as well as a variety of western African nations. Throughout the books you'll see little callouts to African culture even though the realities of a harsh futuristic city had to be placed in the spotlight due to the demands of the narrative.
Why was it important to you to make your central characters and heroes refugees?
Making the central characters in Nubia refugees was a prime focus because I wanted to explore the emotional realities of division. Nubians come from an exalted, secret island nation and must flee their home due to circumstances beyond their control. Once they hit North America, they experience all sorts of hardship. They're relegated to an entrenched type of secondary citizenship, forced to live in the most dangerous part of Manhattan and blamed for things they have nothing to do with. If we look at our current political situation, that's a setup any reader can relate to even though the story takes place decades from now.
Sometimes it feels like YA dystopian fiction is the only way we actually discuss climate change. Would you agree?
Yes, climate change seems to be an issue that's constantly explored within dystopian fiction overall, not just YA, and that's probably because people are experiencing all sorts of visceral fears around how to live in a world that will be irrevocably altered. Dystopian fiction allows us to grapple with these fears head-on in ways that maybe we wouldn't otherwise, while presenting thoughtful, out-of-the-box entertainment.
Audiences knew you first as an actor. How do those experiences influence your work as a writer?
My journey as an actor goes hand-in-hand with my journey as an author. Storytelling comes in many different forms and facets, so it's less about authoring being a new endeavor for me and more about me revealing that side of myself to readers everywhere. I've always been a storyteller, and I'm particularly happy now to be part of the speculative fiction community. People have been surprised that I've authored sci-fi/fantasy books that appeal to teens and adults, and that makes me smile, to be able to showcase different aspects of who I am.
Do you think fans will be satisfied with the conclusion of the story?
I hope readers will be more than satisfied with the conclusion of Nubia: The Reckoning, as it answers many questions presented in the first book. In fact, I'm confident they'll be. The second installation is an action-packed roller coaster ride full of juicy plot twists and character reveals which leave the reader wanting more. And, super important, it has edge.
Would you ever spinoff and write other stories in this world?
Consider Nubia to be a tree with myriad branches. So literary spinoffs, film and television projects, as well as animated projects are all on the table. Nubia is a wondrous universe unto its own, so the notion of exploring every crack and crevice of it (creatively) is a tremendously exciting prospect. That said, there's much more in store for fans of Nubia!
Excerpt from Nubia: The Reckoning, by Omar Epps and Clarence A. Haynes
He knew his powers were gone long before he opened his eyes. Beneath the castaway, the beach was coarse, his lacerated skin burning. Sand raked his fingertips, filled his mouth. He heard the easy lap of the water nearby. He supposed he should have felt relief that he had washed ashore, though he had no idea where he was. The man slowly opened his eyes, the air thick against his skin as he spat an errant braid from chapped lips, a gesture that required more energy than he had. He couldn't move his hands or limbs, couldn't lift his head, his body a wasted, corpselike thing almost devoid of life. How long had it been since he'd eaten, since he'd had fresh water, his days defined by the thrashing of the ocean?
He shifted his gaze, trying to discern the surrounding landscape. The sand on the horizon was a brilliant gold even with overcast skies. The castaway lifted his eyes slightly, barely making out the thick copse of palm trees dotting the horizon.
A hole opened in the castaway's chest, an agonizing chasm of regret and grief. As much as he wanted it to be, he knew this land wasn't Nubia. And even worse, he knew he'd lost the glorious, wondrous thing he'd cherished above all else.
He closed his eyes, his mind racing to the recent past, to the hurricane he'd chosen to create as an exercise of power. Doing so was his divine right as both sovereign and catalyst, a ritual that would have strengthened his connection to the kinetic. Never had he dreamed that he'd lose control of the storm, that the thunder and winds and rain would become a rampaging terror, destroying everything in its path. His people barely had time to get to the boats as they shrieked and moaned and wailed, sounds that hadn't desecrated his land in eons.
The ache in his heart burst forth again as he thought of the other elemental Nubians who'd rushed to his side to try to stem the storm so others could flee. How many people had escaped? Had his wife made it to safety? His brother?
"You have to leave with us, you numbskull," his brother had begged, running up to him during the storm. "You must come now, or you'll drown."
In response, the man had tried to make light of the situation, letting forth a small smile, trying to convey that this absurd situation would soon be resolved, that Nubians would never be run off their land by a storm. Anything to get his stubborn sibling onto the boats to watch over their family.
He remembered seeing the last of the vessels leave the shore of his island home amid the wind and rain. He whispered a quick prayer for his pregnant wife as the small league disappeared on undulating waves. The rain grew thicker and he could barely see the hands he held in front of his body, trying to focus his gifts. He finally grasped that all was lost when the gigantic wave reached the shores of the only home he'd known and battered his head and arms and torso and filled his lungs and swept him away, drowning out the screams of the other elementals who'd stood by him.
He didn't know how long he'd lost consciousness for, how his body had managed to rise to the ocean's surface from the depths. But when he awoke, he was shocked to find that life still throbbed within his veins. He was even more shocked to find that he was surrounded by floating debris. A Nubian boat, he was sure, destroyed by the hurricane. No survivors to be found.
And so he'd clung to a large piece of driftwood as day turned to night, shame eating away at him as he cried, a being once heralded for his power reduced to such vulgar circumstances. His head pounded. He could barely stay awake, much less call forth his gift. And then, after two full days had passed and the storm had subsided to reveal a bright blue sky, it had happened. The man had felt the break in his heart that cracked and splintered through his entire being. The splitting of his body, his mind . . . everything. The exquisite power that had lived and breathed within, sliced and gutted from him for no reason he could discern. The pain of losing his connection to the kinetic had been unlike anything he had ever known, even though the castaway was a hardy man, having withstood regular beatings over the years from Thato during their blasted fighting-forms sessions.
My gift has vanished, the man thought.
No . . .
He'd clung to the driftwood in disbelief, trying to settle his mind and heart, thinking the watery abyss might offer him true peace. But still he'd held on, even as the storm returned more ferocious than ever, so unrelenting that he eventually succumbed to sleep even while being battered by waves and rain.
The weight of these memories seized the man as he lay on the beach, pulling him in so many directions that, at any moment, he thought he might shatter, might disappear. He was spent. He had no voice to cry for help, no strength to rise. If night fell, he would be easy prey for any manner of beast. This isit,then,he realized as the last bit of energy left his frame, as his powerless body succumbed to whatever the fates decreed. He felt the darkness closing in like a heavy blanket, the kind his wife would drape over him when they lay down.
"Sleep, dear heart," she would tell him. "Sleep, and when you wake, you'll find me in your arms."
But that tenderness was gone. That life, his beloved . . . all gone. The tears came again. Nubia, their paradise, their oasis, swept away, all because he hadn't been good enough.
The drums of failure beat a sharp, staccato dirge in Siran's mind. And as he closed his eyes to welcome death, a bead of rain fell upon his cheek.
Text copyright © 2023 by Omar Epps. Cover art copyright © 2023 by Adeyemi Adegbesan.