Tomi Adeyemi’s debut novel, Children of Blood and Bone is a fantasy book of the times. I am not one to pick up books of that genre but when it is by an African author and female at that, how can I not?
Children of Blood and Bone is the first book of a possible trilogy. The novel is based in the mythical kingdom of Orisha, ideally a diverse home of differently gifted groups of individuals: the maji (those with magic), diviners (children who grow up to be maji) and kosidan (those with no potential to have magic). However, eleven years ago, the incumbent King, Saran, destroyed magic and killed all the maji, consequently disempowering a whole Orishan group. The story revolves around the possibility of bringing magic back to Orisha through the epic adventures of a series of characters’ in their first person narrations.
“The monster took magic away so that he could slaughter thousands. He took magic away so that the innocent couldn’t defend themselves!”
The main character undeniably is Zelie. She is a diviner who witnessed the slaughter of her maji mother during the Raid that eradicated magic. This incident weighs on her heart and has pretty much defined who she is. Her being is laced with anger, fear, vengeance and a fighting spirit. Zelie lives in fear of the oppressive regime of Saran, the fear of her father coming in harm’s way and the fear of disappointing her brother Tzain. Her blood boils with the desire for revenge against the death of her mother and other maji. The book begins in a training ring where Zelie and other girls are secretly being taught how to fight as a defense mechanism in preparation for any kind of aggression targeted towards their kind. It is during these first few pages that we see the fearlessness of the young girl and the conflict that consumes her soul.
“As long as we don’t have magic, they will never treat us with respect. They need to know we can hit them back.”
Soon after, we meet Amari, the princess of Orisha, daughter of King Saran. She escapes the palace after her maid and friend, Binta, a diviner, is killed by her father. The princess sets off the plot as she takes off with a tool that has the potential to bring magic back to the Kingdom. When she bumps into Zelie, their rocky quest in an attempt to bring back magic begins. At first, the relationship between the girls is strained as Zelie struggles with the idea of helping and teaming up with the very blood that shattered her whole life but this eventually evens out as Amari repeatedly reveals the side she is on.
The most controversial character and easily the antagonist, is the Prince Inan, Amari’s brother. Inan’s character is problematic as he continually shifts from one side of the divide to the next. In the beginning, his main mission is to find Zelie and Kill her and constantly reassures himself using the phrases: ‘Kill her. Kill magic’ and ‘Duty before self’. On the one hand, he pines over his father’s approval and therefore desires to take down Zelie and any other person striving to restore magic and on the other hand, he sees the pain that his family has caused others and yearns for a new Orisha with magic and peaceful coexistence.
Zelie, Amari and Tzain embark on a trip to bring back magic with Inan in hot pursuit. The plot is swollen with twists and turns throughout.
Children of Blood and Bone is a fantasy book that brings a mythical kingdom close home. It is a story that is out of this world, but also not really. The kind of oppression taking place in the book is alive in the current reality. Tomi concludes the book stating that she shed tears for the real life representation of the maji and diviners of Orisha. The casualties of police brutality. The victims of sexual harassment, of rape. She brings to light issues such as colourism and classism. In addition, the characters in the book are easily relatable. Zelie grapples with imposter syndrome as she doubts her capability to be the savior of the maji despite being chosen by the gods. Amari and Inan struggle with unlearning what has been fed into them since childhood.
Tomi Adeyemi, through this book has showcased her storytelling prowess and her ability to bring current realities into light without losing the direction and essence of a book. Apart from the shallow development of some of the characters such as Tzain and Mama Agba who would I have loved to get to know more of their perspectives and experiences, I loved the book. Children of Blood and Bone totally deserves all the hype it has received so far and I am excited to get into its sequel: Children of Virtue and Vengeance. Also, I cannot wait for the movie (yes, there is a movie in the offing!).