Title: Children of Blood and Bone
Author: Tomi Adeyemi
Published: March 6, 2018
Genre: Fantasy, Magical Realism
Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orisha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.
But everything changed once magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, the maki 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 Orisha, where snow leopanaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest threat may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers — and her growing feelings for an enemy.
My Biggest Takeaways: The Black Experience & Liberation Politics
Children of Blood and Bone is the debut novel by Nigerian-American author Tomi Adeyemi (I gotta show love to a fellow Naija 🇳🇬 🇳🇬 🇳🇬). I was completely unaware that this book was a VERY BIG DEAL when it first released in early 2018. I was intrigued to read it, not necessarily because it was a NYT bestseller or because it had gotten critical acclaim, but because I was simply interested in reading speculative fiction written by a Nigerian, set in Nigeria — although being a bestseller and garnering acclaim does add a little to the intrigue.
Children of Blood and Bone is long, but very encapsulating. There’s a lot of interconnected themes, but the defining aspect of the novel, at least for me, was Adeyemi’s effective world-building and how the structure of Orisha starkly parallels the real world. In Orisha, the diviners are deliberately ostracized and pushed towards the margins of society. Most of them live in poverty, due to discrimination which causes wealth inequality between them and the kosidan (the non-magic people). Darker skin, which is typically an attribute of the diviners, is looked down upon by the generally lighter-skinned kosidan. The diviners are lied to about their history and their inherent self-worth. They are heavily-policed and disproportionately incarcerated. Large diviner gatherings attract unnecessary attention from the authorities. And when one of them speaks up, there is great effort to shut them down.
Does all this sound familiar? Sounds a lot like a lot of institutional racism and classism, doesn’t it? Well, that’s because the framework of the novel and the world in which Zélie lives is based on the condition that many Black populations around the world face today, according to Adeyemi herself.
Adeyemi also seems to present a political angle in this novel. Inan and Zélie’s both have different approaches to dealing with Orisha’s system of oppression. Zélie believes that the way the world presently works is unacceptable and that the current system needs to be upended entirely; Inan, however, seems to envision the possibility of coexistence between the diviners and kosidan, and that he and Amari can spearhead this change. In this way, Zélie and Inan’s divergent politics mirror some of the conversations that take place in Black circles about the most effective way of obtaining liberation. I thought Adeyemi’s inclusion of this dynamic was very neat.
Aside from the ending, which felt a little rushed, the only part of the story that I can say I disliked was the romance arc between Zélie and Inan, simply because I didn’t find the timing believable. Most of the novel takes place within a span of 15 days, and their romance sparks within even less time; considering the years of hatred that Zélie harbored towards the royal family, and considering how strongly Inan was indoctrinated into hating diviners, it doesn’t seem believable that both would disarm so quickly and drastically within the span of only a couple of days.
With that being said, the good far outweighs the bad. The setting is well-crafted and the themes are incredibly relevant. Tomi Adeyemi’s debut is a good one.
Rating: 🦁 🦁 🦁 (3 lionaires out of 5)
Did you read this novel? If so, did you enjoy it? What elements of the story resonated with you the most?