Children of Blood and Bone

Children of Blood and Bone was written by Tomi Adeyemi and first published in 2018. It is a West African-inspired fantasy novel which focuses on three teenagers on a mission to bring magic back to the world. The novel forms the first part of the Legacy of Orïsha series, though at the time of writing no further instalments have been announced.

At one time, the maji were revered. They served as a connection between the powerless kosidán and the pantheon of deities that granted them the gift of magic. Everything changed on the day that magic left the world. King Saran was quick to seize control of the situations. As maji destroyed his family, he took his revenge by wiping out all of the adult maji, leaving only their children – ones who had never known the feel of magic – to live out their lives as second-class citizens.

Zélie was one such child. She once yearned to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a Reaper – a maji with power over the dead. Yet now her mother has been lynched and her father struggles to pay his ever increasing taxes. In a bid to help him, Zélie and her brother Tzain head to market to trade fish. It is there that they encounter Amari – the daughter of the King – who carries with her a strange scroll. Amari has grown tired of her father’s tyranny and stolen the one item that could have the power to bring magic back.

With scroll in hand, the three head off on a mission that will take them to the far reaches of the country. If they are successful, magic will be restored to the world and the maji will finally have a chance to overthrow their oppressors. However, it will not be easy. Lead by Amari’s brother Inan, the King’s army hounds their every step. Inan will stop at nothing to destroy the scroll and anyone carrying it, because he hides a deadly secret of his own…

As you might have noticed, I have reviewed a lot of fantasy novels on this blog. Because of this, it’s rare that I find one that really stands out. While there are obviously some exceptions, a lot of the fantasy novels on the market are predominantly Western. Even if they’re not grounded in reality, you find a lot of cities modelled off London or Paris, or a lot of Medieval worlds filled with knights and wizards and dragons. Perhaps this is why Children of Blood and Bone was so quick to draw me in. After reading only a few chapters, I found it virtually impossible to put down.

The setting of the novel is massively original. It set in the fictional world of Orïsha, which is clearly intended to invoke the feeling, legends and traditions of West Africa. This setting alone was enough to set it apart from all other fantasy novels that I have reviewed on this blog. Although I’ve reviewed books with a Far Eastern (Rebel of the Sands) and Japanese (Flame in the Mist) aesthetic, this was the first African fantasy that I have ever read. It also meant that every character in was a person of colour, which is an incredibly rare thing to find in young adult literature.

The world building was pretty great. I liked the way that magic was presented as both something that was spiritual and physical. Although magic was maintained in the world by faith and communication with the gods, it was also something that needed to be exercised. Even the strongest of maji needed to keep using their power to grow strong, so Zélie’s awakened Reaper powers are initially rather unimpressive at first.

Yet most interesting to me was the story’s deeper meaning. If you strip it of its fantasy elements, the message of Children of Blood and Bone is surprisingly poignant. It presented a world where a minority group has been down-trodden for years. The maji in the novel have been rendered powerless – stripped of their right to defend themselves due to backlash against the criminal acts of a few. This is certainly something that resonates with the politics of today. However, even though the maji in this story are the victims, the novel does do a great job of showing that there are a good and bad people on each side. Both the maji and the kosidán in this story prove to be capable of performing acts of selflessness and brutality. It’s clear that peace between them will never be easy as there are a lot of shades of grey in this story, as the two races have entered a vicious cycle of violence against each other.

In terms of structure, the novel flows incredibly well. While 525 pages is incredibly long for a debut young adult novel, the story never dragged and was exciting enough to keep my attention throughout. The narrative was entirely in third person from the perspective of three different characters – Zélie, Amari and Inan. While I’m not usually a fan of books with more than two narrators, I did feel as though it worked in this instance. The chapters are short and nicely capture the characters’ different world views, from Amari’s sense of wonder to Zélie’s thirst for revenge.

While I did love every moment of reading this story, there were a couple of small issues that I did find. Firstly, the font size of the print edition was incredibly small. This wasn’t really a problem for me but if you do have any kind of visual impairment, you might want to buy this as an eBook instead. The novel also ended on a particularly bad cliff-hanger, breaking off on a very abrupt moment that left a lot hanging for the sequel. As I’ve said many times, I just don’t like cliff-hangers like this. It just felt as though I’d read half a story, and now I have to wait a year or more to find out what happens next.

However, my biggest issue was that the plot of this novel took a lot from Avatar: The Last Airbender. I don’t think I’m wrong in saying this, as the author has been quite vocal about her love of this animation. If you’ve never seen Avatar, it’s very worth checking out as it’s one of those animations that is complex enough for even adults to enjoy. However, Children of Blood and Bone directly borrowed a lot of the things that made Avatar great. While I wouldn’t say that it takes enough to feel like a rip-off, I was painfully aware that a number of characters, concepts and plot points bore more than a passing resemblance to counterparts in the cartoon.

I also had a few issues when it came to the characters. To begin with the positive, I did fall in love with the core cast. The characters of Children of Blood and Bone were incredibly complicated, and did learn and develop through their experiences as the novel progressed. Zélie learned not to see the world in black and white, Amari found her courage and Inan was forced to choose between his duty to his father, or to the people that he would one day rule. However, I did find that all of the characters could be wildly indecisive. I appreciate that they were in a terrible situation, but Inan in particular would flip back and forth between wanted to destroy magic and protect it at the drop of a hat.

There were also a couple of romantic subplots in the story that felt really shoehorned in. After taking half of the book to learn to trust Amari, Zélie managed to both forgive and develop feelings for Inan within a couple of chapters. The relationship between Amari and Tzain also felt a bit forced. They exchanged smiles a couple of times but then seemed to become a couple out of nowhere. Neither of these relationships felt natural at all. It was almost as though they had been added to the story because there is some belief that all young adult novels need to contain romance. While the seeds for these could have been sown in this book, I felt that the fruit could have been saved for a future instalment.

Anyhow, this review is getting really long. On the whole, Children of Blood and Bone is a really promising start to the series and, although it is not perfect, I would definitely recommend it to all fans of fantasy novels. The story is engrossing, the worldbuilding is original and the cast are magnificently diverse. I am really excited to see what adventures the sequel will hold for Zélie and her friends.

Children of Blood and Bone can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. nastygalbookreviews
    Apr 13, 2018 @ 18:47:00

    Fantastic review! I felt the same regarding all similarities with Avatar the last Airbender.

    Reply

  2. Trackback: The Sobeks 2018 – Part 1 | Arkham Reviews

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