Children of Blood and Bone

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, magi were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers – and her growing feelings for an enemy.

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I’ve owned a copy of Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone for a while now. I put off reading it – it was super long and, as I have mentioned approximately 10,000 times during the life of this blog, I’m not much of a fantasy person. I was worried that, at 525 pages, it wouldn’t hold my attention.

Wtf is wrong with me? Did I not consider Adeyemi’s six figure advance? The movie that was optioned, like, IMMEDIATELY? The entire blogosphere’s ecstatic reaction to this story? 

Once again it was proved to me that I should really listen. Children of Blood and Bone is so good. SO GOOD. So good that, even though, as is standard for me at the moment, it took FOREVER to finish, every time I opened the book I was immediately hooked. The kids on the train, the strange gentleman who keeps asking me out on the bus and the biting cold of waiting around for whatever the next public transportation I was catching fell away. There was only Zélie, Amari, Tzain and Inan and their quest to bring back magic/destroy magic in Orïsha.

In many ways, Children of Blood and Bone is nothing incredibley unique. Even in my limited engagement with the genre I could see all of the hallmark tropes: family betrayal, forbidden love (written to sexy, heart breaking perfection I should add), a magic system I will never completely grasp (I thought I had a handle on who did what but then those cancer guys showed up?!), but the West African setting (Adeyemi is Nigerian-American) – for me, anyway – totally refreshed the narrative.

The richly imagined world of Orïsha utterly captivated me – even as it broke my heart. A shadow of its former self, we enter at a time of immense pain. The evil King Saran stole magic from his people, and murdered any adult magi who might fight him in the process. Left are destroyed families with children who were destined to become magi (but can’t now, cause magic is gone, apparently forever…) who are dealing with the dual grief and sorrow of losing a parent – and witnessing the violence and horror of their deaths – and the loss of the future they had been raised to expect. Add to that the steep taxes expected of these families to further punish them for their previous magical affiliations and you have poverty-struck, grief-ridden people struggling to survive and process their trauma in a world that is hostile to their existence.

Adeyemi says in the afterword of Children of Blood and Bone that she wrote the novel as a way of dealing with her own anger and grief at the violence black people experience in the US at the hands of the police. You see this clearly in Zélie’s story as she navigates the discrimination and structural inequality she suffers as a result of her divîner heritage. In addition to the unimaginable trauma she deals with every day after her mother’s horrific death, she lives in a society where violence (including threats of sexual violence) and sexual harassment are daily possibilities at the hands of the kingdom’s guards. The stocks – prison camp, essentially – are an ever-present threat if her father is unable to continue paying the obscene taxes expected of divîner families. In one of the most striking scenes of the book, Prince Inan, (son of King Saran, alternately the best and the worst. It’s complicated.) after a life of privilege and relative protection is forced to physically feel the weight of Zélie’s pain. He is made to understand, in no uncertain terms, that she is afraid all of the time. In much the same way as Zélie cannot escape King Saran, for people of colour there is no escape, no relief from violence (or the threat of violence) and systemic racism – in the US and elsewhere. There is so much emphasis, particularly in the latter half of the novel about the pain Zélie carries with her and this was such an effective – and completely heart-rending – way of illustrating the psychological cost of structural inequality and violence.

What was so striking about this book though, and what ultimately kept me so engrossed was that in addition to being plot-heavy and deliberately political, Children of Blood and Bone was also populated with complex, emotional and unique characters driving the story ever forward. Adeyemi tells the story through multiple perspectives – again, something I usually dislike but here was executed perfectly – of Zélie, Princess Amari and Prince Inan. Each coming together from very different circumstances (Amari and Inan may be siblings but it’s a long time since they’ve seen eye to eye on anything) their distinct voices and journeys add another level of complexity to this already rich story.

Also – the ships. Good lord. Somehow in amongst the trauma and war and magic there is also sexual tension for miles as these characters crash together before, inevitably, they are torn apart. It’s a war, remember? Nobody gets out unscathed.

All of which is to say… book 2, please, Tomi. The sooner the better. Like, I literally can’t wait much longer. WHY have you done this to me?!

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26

I turned 26 on Friday.

It’s been a funny weekend. I’ve had a lovely time with my family and friends celebrating against a backdrop of a lot of important things in my life being totally up in the air – and all the anxiety that comes with that. A couple of people have asked me what I want out of the next year, but I’m at this strange moment where I can’t really make any decisions. Whatever is going to happen will happen, and when it does I have to figure out what to do next.

I do not handle limbo well.

So this morning, as I woke up and once again confronted the anxiety that is ever-present as I go through this odd in-between time, I decided to make a list of things I do know – some of the knowledge I have accumulated during my 26 years.

1 Balance is hard to find and very easy to lose

2 But that’s okay, you always have the option to course-correct

3 Have tampons, always. Even if you don’t wind up needing them you might save someone else’s day

4 Learned behaviours are fucking hard to put down when they stop serving you, but acknowledgement is the first step

5 You are on your own timeline. Yes, this can mean you get to things a little slower than everyone else, but you always get there in the end

6 Hiding at home instead of going out with your friends is rarely the right decision

7  Do the best you can with what you have. Be as environmentally friendly as you can, shop as ethically as you are able and eat as healthily as possible, etc. You get it

8 Talking about all of the things you hate about your body is a conversation that only leads down

9 You’re okay by yourself. Letting other people join you is the part you have to work on

10 Not everyone is out to get you

11 Letting go is hard. Holding onto anger is probably harder in the long run

12 Having angry, one-sided conversations with people in your head leads nowhere

13 This behaviour also leads nowhere

14 When heading out onto the moors, always take one more layer than you think you’ll need (this is a bit specific to where I live but I think the point stands)

15 Always wear sunscreen

16 Always take off your make up at the end of the night

17 Bring snacks – you’re never going to regret it

18 There will be long stretches of time when you feel like a garbage person living in a garbage world with a garbage future. As much as it feels like forever at the time, this feeling will pass. You can survive it

19 Sometimes you will feel so panicked about something you have to do that you’ll become convinced you’re going to die. So far you haven’t, so odds are you probably won’t

20 Always be more patient than you feel

21 The people who failed you made you a resourceful person, and there is beauty in that. Even when it doesn’t feel like it

22 When someone tells you who they are, believe them

23 Parents are humans too

24 It isn’t your responsibility to fix everything

25 Some things can’t be fixed

26 Most lessons you have to learn over and over again

October favourites

So that’s October over and done with.

How was your month? Mine wasn’t too shabby. I have managed to regain some semblance of a blogging routine (look at all. These. POSTS!). I caught the local leg of Dylan Moran’s tour and he was funny and exactly what my heart needed. I also started exercising again after months of putting it off for no particular reason, and, as I knew would happen, my body and mind are feeling better for it.

So without further ado, shall we get to some favourites?

(I barely remember how to do this it’s been so long!)

Watching: Jigsaw (Netflix)

Daniel Sloss

Daniel Sloss’s stand up special Jigsaw is an absolute MUST. A show about relationships, break ups and the unnatural shapes into which we attempt to bend for the benefit of others, it is necessary viewing.

Do yourself a favour and just watch it. Especially if you happen to be in a relationship you’re feeling unsure about. It will blow your mind.

Reading: The Guardian Long Reads

As our attention spans shrink and the field of journalism is gradually degraded into nothing, there is a slow but steady backlash happening against short, poorly reported articles and so called “long reads” are experiencing something of a renaissance. Contrary to what you might think, in SEO terms, Google actually prioritises articles that are more than 1500 words – all the better to combat fake news (in theory).

Enter The Guardian’s Long Reads, an ever evolving collection of essays, profiles and in depth reporting providing the sort of nuanced, contextualised stories that mostly died out years ago.

I love it.

Yes, it will take up most of your lunch break but it is almost always worth it.

A good starting point: Tommy Robinson and the Far Right’s New Playbook by Daniel Trilling.

Listening: Wolverine: The Long Night

wolverine the long night

I am getting somewhat sick of the amount of Marvel content available these days, but I have to say their new Wolverine podcast is REALLY good. One of the most atmospheric scripted serials out there, it details the experiences of Agents Pierce and Marshall after they arrive in Burns, Alaska to investigate a horrific massacre on a fishing boat.

Potential listeners should note there is a lot of hunting and animal death in this show.

Watching: Daredevil season 3 (Netflix)

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HOW GOOD WAS DAREDEVIL SEASON 3?! Fisk was back on terrifying form and every time Dex/Bullseye was on screen I had a small heart attack (the horrific buzzing sound that followed him whenever he was feeling particularly unstable was truly chilling and incredibly effective). I have been a huge fan of Karen Page ever since she shot Westley, so finally seeing her get her dues – and Deborah Ann Woll the opportunity to showcase how great of an actress she really is – was thrilling. Though I think that scene in the church may actually have shortened my life by several days. The stress.

Matt finally finding his way back to his friends was a necessary development – the ‘lone wolf’ storyline was getting old and, let’s face it, Foggy and Karen make him bearable.

I’m still very saddened by the loss of Luke Cage – and Iron Fist actually. Season 2 was so much better than season 1! – but I’m really happy to see Daredevil back on form.

What have you been reading/watching/listening to this month? I’d love to hear about it!

Losing It

Twenty-six year old Julia Greenfield has long suspected everyone is having fun without her. It’s not that she’s unhappy, per se. It’s just that she’s not exactly happy, either. She hasn’t done anything spontaneous since about 2003. Shouldn’t she be running a start up? Going backpacking? Exploring unchartered erogenous zones with inappropriate men?

Somewhere between her mother’s latent sexual awakening and her spinster aunt’s odd behaviour, Julia finally snaps. It’s time to take some risks, and get a lift. After all – what has she got to lose?

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Losing It by Emma Rathbone is the story of a 26-year-old virgin determined to lose it this summer that, I think, from its marketing and strapline (“life is what happens when you lose control”) was supposed to be an empowering tale of self-determination that for me, at least, sorely missed the mark.

Julia spends approximately 99% of her time thinking about her virginity. If you think this wouldn’t be particularly interesting to read, you would be right.

Fact is, virginity is really only one aspect of Julia’s life that hasn’t gone according to plan. Once destined to become an Olympic swimmer, her life took a nose dive when she realised she wasn’t good enough and hasn’t really recovered since. Stuck with friends she doesn’t like, in a job she hates (though it is worth mentioning I didn’t see Julia do any work throughout this entire book. She did do a lot of sitting at her desk thinking about being a virgin. It is a theme with her. Oftentimes I wanted to shake her and be like ‘maybe someone would do you if you were more interesting, Julia’, but, truth is, lack of personality is not a barrier for most people so it doesn’t seem like a valid argument. Basically what I am getting at is this: Julia is the worst), one day, overwhelmed by her accidental virginity, she decides to quit her job and move back in with her parents (how she thought this would help the situation is unclear), but her parents are going on a holiday to try and save their marriage (the ‘mother’s latent sexual awakening’ mentioned in the blurb), so they tell her to go and live with her plate-painting, drowning dog-saving, eccentric old aunt Viv.

Guess what.

Aunt Viv is also a virgin.

And not only is Aunt Viv a virgin, but she is a weird, lonely liar who tells people she’s lived in spiritual getaways in Bali or someplace when in reality she’s never travelled much further than North America – and she hasn’t even seen most of that. And she is, for some reason, totally incapable of having a normal conversation. She is the human embodiment of Julia’s nightmare for herself, the confirmation of all her worst fears – that there is something wrong with her, that she has diverged from the path too far to ever self-correct (her words, not mine), that she is capital D DOOMED.

Cue, from me, the longest sigh in the world. Whether your house was made of straw or sticks I blew that sucker down.

What bothered me so deeply about this book is that virginity, for these women, was conflated with personal failure, that it was only in having sex they might achieve legitimacy in the eyes of others and themselves. For me, this made for deeply uncomfortable reading and was an idea I kept waiting for Rathbone to challenge… but she never did. There was no real exploration of why these women had never had sex (despite Julia’s endless pondering on the subject she fails to draw one interesting conclusion throughout the entire novel), what their exact hang ups were and in Viv’s case whether a sex life was something she even wanted. We only ever saw her as Julia did – a shell of a crazy cat lady whose life had never really gotten off the ground, but from the hints of friendships and an art career Rathbone introduced but never explored it’s evident that can’t possibly be true. It’s shoddy characterization, does a disservice to Viv and struck me as really quite harmful to anyone on the aro/ace spectrum.

Aside from being varying degrees of offensive, Losing It is also very predictable (spoilers to follow if you plan on picking up this book, though I would recommend you spend your time doing literally anything else). Once she’s kissed a few frogs and caused total destruction in Aunt Viv’s life with her single minded need for the peen, after Julia calms down and let’s go of her desperation she winds up losing her v-card to a cute guy from her office she initially thought was married but it turns out isn’t and realises, as most do after their first consensual sex, that it isn’t such a big deal after all.

Short pause while we all slow clap for Julia.

I suppose if I’m being very generous there is comfort to be found in this book for anxious virgins that odds are, if you want it to, sex will happen. As Julia proves, even if you are the literal worst, someone, somewhere, will eventually want to fuck you.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing

The Carls just appeared. Roaming through New York City at three a.m., twenty-three-year-old April May stumbles across a giant sculpture. Delighted by its appearance and craftsmanship – like a ten-foot-tall Transformer wearing a suit of samurai armour – April and her best friend Andy make a video with it, which Andy uploads to YouTube. The next day April wakes up to a viral video and a new life. News quickly spreads that there are Carls in dozens of cities around the world – from Beijing to Buenos Aires – and April, as their first documentarian, finds herself at the centre of an intense international media spotlight.

Seizing the opportunity to make her mark on the world, April now has to deal with the consequences her new particular brand of fame has on her relationships, her safety and her own identity. And all eyes are on April to figure out not just what the Carl’s are, but what they want from us.

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I am predisposed to resent people who have what I perceive to be a disproportionate amount of talent. I almost want to dislike their creations because it seems deeply unfair to me for one person to have so much ability in multiple different areas when I am flailing in all of them. Hank Green is one such person. One half of the Vlog Brothers in addition to like a thousand other things, Hank is one of those people I am inclined to blame for my personal failings because he took all the talent before I had a chance to grab a piece. But he is also an adorable man I think it is actually impossible to dislike, so when I heard he was releasing a novel (an intimidating endeavour, I imagine, when your brother is one of the most popular authors currently publishing work), despite his unfairly large piece of the talent pie, I wanted the best for him. In projecting my own imagined inadequacy onto him, I forgot for a moment that Hank Green is good at everything.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, Hank Green’s debut novel, is really fucking good. A book about Queen-loving aliens that isn’t really about Queen-loving aliens at all; it dissects the dehumanising effect of fame (by others and ourselves), how the power that comes with fame can be used and abused, how we use rhetoric to progress our agenda and how that rhetoric can spin out of control.

Hank Green has written a novel for 2018 – as culturally relevant as it is resonant with the polarising politics of today. When the Carls arrive, April May unexpectedly finds herself at the centre of the news cycle of aliens making first contact with earth – by accidentally making first contact with them. She’d never much thought about fame before – she was barely even on social media – but once in the eye of the media storm she puts all of her energy into remaining there. In April May’s journey from regular Joe to tier five fame we really see the corrupting potential of that fame, as April May even starts to see herself less as a person than a brand. I suppose the work of building your own identity is less when you let everyone else define it for you, and once April May has that and the relevance and attention that comes with it she is utterly unable to let go – at the sacrifice of pretty much everything else in her life.

But the Carls are also the first contact between aliens and Earth and though it may not always seem that way from her perspective, the story is much bigger than April May herself. As time goes on and the Carls remain (doing, it is important to note, nothing at all, for the most part), the world seems to split into two camps. Those who agree with April May, that the Carls are a force for good and promoting togetherness – and those who look at the Carls and see a threat. Led by right-wing media pundit Peter Petrawicki, this group comes to be known as The Defenders (as in, of Earth) from what they perceive to be the alien threat. As the novel progresses the politics of fear espoused by Petrawicki and his Defenders grows, slowly becoming ever more toxic and out of control. Even as a reader seeing the story firmly from April May’s perspective, you are not immune to their rhetoric. For a lot of the novel, the Carls aren’t really doing anything definitely good or bad – they simply exist in a way that was heretofore impossible. But it is in the absence of action that both factions project ideals onto them, and as they fail to live up to either they have, throughout, the potential to be both. Though I can’t get behind the extremism to which The Defenders descend as the book goes on the whole time I couldn’t help but wonder if they had a point.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is a novel about a special snowflake – April May, the first human girl to make contact with aliens – that resists that narrative in a really interesting way. As the novel progresses, April May starts asking herself what the Carls saw in her in the first place. What made her so special? Why did they choose her? When she finally has the opportunity to ask the question, the Carls don’t respond – because, I think, there isn’t an answer. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing isn’t about a special girl seeing her specialness finally recognised – it is the opposite. April May is a girl desperate to feel special and worthy of something and so willing to believe in that narrative when it arises – and there is really nothing much more normal than that. Even when there are aliens involved.

There is so much more I could write about this book. I haven’t even touched on April May’s relationships, particularly with her girlfriend, Maya, and how her interactions display a deep and relatable level of insecurity she does a really bad job of hiding. I haven’t talked yet about her monstrous agent, and how certain at times in this book you wonder whether April May stands for her actual beliefs, or simply the stance that gets the most likes on Twitter. But we don’t have all day.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green is just that (an absolutely remarkable thing) – this book is packed with questions, compassion and a pacey sci-fi story I will absolutely return to in the future.

Yep. Hank Green is good at everything.

 

7 pieces of advice from Tiny Beautiful Things that shape my life

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Someone Who’s Been There by Cheryl Strayed is one of my absolute favourite books. A compilation of the advice she gave during her time as the anonymous advice columnist, Sugar at The Rumpus (now defunct), Strayed, with her perfect combination of wit, wisdom, compassion and no-fucks-given attitude created an advice column like no other. Sugar is nurturing but tough, ever so giving but concrete when it comes to her boundaries. She will get down in the dirt with you when necessary, but more often than not, instead gently points you in the direction of the answer you already knew in your heart when you were writing to her.

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From the gay kid stuck living with his evangelical parents to the woman still in mourning for her miscarried baby over a year later, you will find yourself in these pages. I’ve written about this book before, but in the same way I have recently come back to it in my own reading, I wanted to come back to it here. My copy of this book is littered with underlining and folded down page corners; wisdom I knew I would want to come back to – do come back to – in moments of difficulty. Today I figured I would share some of it here.

“Go! Go! Go! You need it one more time darling? GO. Really. Truly. As soon as you can. Of this I am absolutely sure: Do not reach the era of child-rearing and real jobs with a guitar case full of crushing regret for all the things you wished you’d done in your youth. I know too many people who didn’t do those things. They all ended up mingy, addled, shrink-wrapped versions of the people they intended to be.”

“Be about ten times more magnanimous than you believe yourself capable of being. Your life will be a hundred times better for it. This is good advice for anyone at any age, but particularly for those in their twenties. Because in your twenties you’re becoming who you’re going to be and so you might as well not be an asshole.”

“Stop worrying about whether you’re fat. You’re not fat. Or rather, you’re sometimes a little bit fat, but who gives a shit?”

Useless days

“Love her even if she doesn’t do what you hope she does once you point out that her paramour is a scumbag. Wish her the best without getting yourself emotionally tangled up in a situation that has nothing to do with you.”

“No is golden. No is the kind of power the good witch wields. It’s the way whole, healthy, emotionally evolved people manage to have relationships with jackasses while limiting the amount of jackass in their lives.”

You’re going to be all right. And you’re going to be all right not because you majored in English or didn’t and not because you plan to apply to law school or don’t, but because all right is almost always where we land, even if we fuck up entirely along the way.”

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Trigger warning: sexual violence, child abuse

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled existence. Except, sometimes, everything…

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I know there are still three months of it left, but I think I can say now with some confidence that Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman is going to be my favourite book of 2018. It’s not entirely surprising. Since it was published last year, Eleanor Oliphant has been a pretty Big Deal – number one Sunday Times bestseller, Costa Book Award-winner, Reese Witherspoon movie option. But, weirdly, none of that prepared me for quite how wonderful this tragic, strange, horrifying, funny and hopeful little book turned out to be.

You know that kid you went to school with that everyone bullied? The one nobody wanted to sit with at lunch, not even the nice kids? I’m talking about the kind of kid who, even when as a nice kid yourself, you tried to connect with them, made it really, really difficult for you? That’s Eleanor Oliphant. The perpetual outsider – sad to be alone but equally combative, to say the least, toward any potential friends.

I think that’s what made me like her so much.

Eleanor, at least before you get to know her a little, is not a likeable lady. Her co-workers are morons, her doctor inept and her social worker a complete waste of space – according to her. On the rare occasion she finds herself at the pub if she buys you a drink she expects her money back, in full, by the next morning at the latest. When she and her new co-worker, Raymond, see an elderly man collapse in the street, Eleanor is not particularly inclined to help him – though they do, an action that turns out to be the right decision for so many reasons.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is the story of a traumatised and disconnected person gradually finding her way out of the darkness. You know from very early on in the novel – the first few pages, so no spoilers I promise – that something truly terrible happened to Eleanor Oliphant when she was a child, so terrible that she has erased it from her memory. So terrible that during every annual visit, when her social worker offers her the opportunity to read her own file, she declines.

But Eleanor Oliphant is no victim. Her story is of the life-changing impact small acts of kindness can have on a person. Eleanor has been so closed off from the world, when people successfully connect with her and treat her with compassion, it shows her that connection and compassion are possibilities. Shen she comes to face her trauma – as she, and we all, must – she finds strength in her own survival of the kind of horror most people will, thankfully, never experience.

Eleanor is not the most likeable lady. She doesn’t read social cues well, she can be judgemental and even ungrateful at times. But she’s also very funny, utterly vulnerable and doing the hard work of piecing herself back together – which doesn’t feel adequate to describe the way she really creates herself, building a woman from the ground up.

Rising from the ashes.

Life is hard. The news is relentless. Personal lives are complicated. Sometimes you need a boost, and in Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman created a story of hope that brought me so much joy. I can’t recommend it enough.