book review: children of blood and bone

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, 448 pp.
Published March 6, 2018

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

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were targeted and 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 the enemy.

Children of Blood and Bone is that rare novel which surpasses even the most enthusiastic marketing. What Tomi Adeyemi has created in the kingdom of Orïsha deserves consideration as peer to another fantasy juggernaut: the wizarding world of Harry Potter. Beneath its fantastical surface, Blood and Bone touches on contemporary topics like discrimination and oppression with a deft touch. The power differential between divîners and kosidán immediately reminded me of one of the Rwandan genocide's underlying causes, although one hardly requires an understanding of world history to recognize the chilling absurdity of racial prejudice. There's a depth of thought to this world-building that requires multiple readings: partly because I raced through my first read, partly because my personal life experience undoubtedly has gaps of understanding.

Adeyemi's debut isn't clunky philosophy wrapped up in YA trappings, though. Story and message fuse seamlessly, made more powerful by the other's presence. Every decision works in service to them both, propelling Zélie, her brother Tzain, royal siblings Amari and Inan, as well as the reader towards a greater understanding of the political and mystical forces at work. This is essentially a non-stop novel; if you're ever able to put this book down at a set time or stopping point please teach me the secrets of your self-control. The plot threatens to flag at one point near the middle, but swiftly picks up a breakneck pace once again. Children of Blood and Bone is quite long (my review copy boasts a page count of 600) yet the narrative never wanders; the thick spine also allows Adeyemi to spin out a wealth of mythology without having to resort to an awkward info dump.

Three point-of-view characters carry us through the story: Zélie, the divîner with a chance to reawaken her powers and those of other potential maji; Amari, a runaway princess determined to change the course of her father's kingdom; and Inan, her brother and heir to the throne, caught between a lifetime of hateful teachings and the daily reality of an oppressive regime. Zélie delights from the beginning, headstrong but young, inexperienced. She grows alongside Amari, an unintentional travelling companion. A life of privilege means that command comes more naturally to the princess, though she must find courage outside a previously sheltered life. Both girls boast an admirable strength of character; how their vastly different upbringings influence the expression of those ideals has pointed relevance to the real world.

Of the three alternating POVs, Inan wound up as my least favorite. For a character with such emphatic convictions at the start of the story, he vacillates quite a lot towards the middle and end of the book. While I found his internal conflict fitting and, for the most part, compelling, I think a gradual shift from one stance to another would have worked better compared to the abrupt back-and-forth. However, with Children of Blood and Bone ending on a massive cliffhanger, it's the fate of Inan that has me most anxious for a sequel.

(Side note: is anyone else mildly obsessed with Roën? I don't know if it's the Jack Sparrow vibes—minus the JD creep factor—or what, but I want to see much more of this guy in the sequel!)

If I had one complaint it would be that at this early stage the burgeoning romances—practically a YA prerequisite—feel a little forced. None of these characters need to fall in love in order for the overall plot to work, but their feelings don't get in the way of the story as a whole and I'm not opposed to seeing how they continue to develop in future installments.

It is undeniable that Adeyemi has the beginnings of a smash hit series on her hands in Children of Blood and Bone. With a setting and characters that refresh the YA fantasy genre, it transcends simple entertainment and opens the way for greater conversations among readers. Just as Harry Potter enticed an entire generation into reading and, for many, provided an introduction to the difficult subjects we confront when growing up, Children of Blood and Bone provides the perfect balance of thrills and modern-day significance to cement itself as a new classic.


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