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.
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?!