Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
I read it as a: hardback
Source: my own collection
Length: 525 pp
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co
Zelie is a maji, a class of people who could wield magic, before it had been taken away from them by the despotic king, Saran. Her brother Tzain has no magic but is unswervingly loyal to Zelie and her desire to overthrow Saran and restore magic to the kingdom of Orisha. Along with them on their journey is Amari, the runaway princess and younger daughter of Saran. They are all hunted by Inan, Saran’s son and heir, who has a dark secret of his own.
On its surface, Children of Blood and Bone is an epic fantasy about a young woman who goes on a quest to restore magic to her people, interwoven richly with West African mythology. Under the surface, it is a story of racial violence and oppression, gender violence, and political corruption. It is highly relevant social commentary couched as fantasy.
Throughout the novel, characters’ worldviews are challenged and changed based on their experiences. Many things in the story are horrific. There is rape and torture and callous degradation of living beings for entertainment and because others simply don’t see them as human. Some characters have kind hearts but fail to do much to help because they never thought about it. Others have good intentions but are led astray by conflicting or confused desires. Some of the strongest points are when Inan realizes that Zelie is afraid all the time because of things that his father has caused to happen to her, and that he never would have thought of her as a human being, let alone a good person, if he hadn’t had to spend time with her.
The world-building in the novel is lovely and rich. Drawing from African mythology, Adeyemi is able to create a world that is complex and beautiful and which may also feel very unique to readers who are unfamiliar with anything other than Western European mythology. I liked that the geography was based on actual places in Nigeria but for me, I don’t know that it necessarily added anything to the story. I’m entirely unfamiliar with Nigerian geography so it wouldn’t have mattered to me one way or another, but maybe it added a layer of meaning to readers who are more familiar with the region.
One thing I felt was a major problem is that the main characters – Zelie, Amari, and Tzain – had such similar voices that they were all but interchangeable. Each chapter was told from their own first person POV. Multiple 1st person POV is not my favorite way to narrate a book, and this was no exception. The chapters were titled with the character who was speaking, but even so, it sometimes took a minute to figure out who was speaking because the characters each needed to have stronger, more well defined personalities of their own. It seemed odd to me that these characters lacked a well defined personality since they each held such wildly different roles, but when they were speaking, there really was little to differentiate them, which was disappointing. Maybe more development will come in the next book, now that the world-building has been more or less established.
I am looking forward to the next book, especially after the way this one ended. I think everyone is pretty fucked. It should raise some very interesting and complicated questions in book two. I do still wish fantasy authors could write a self-contained, standalone novel, though. I get tired of series. Can no one write just one story anymore?