Children of Blood and Bone Review
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi: My Review
Rating: 4/5 stars
I teach you to be warriors in the garden so you will never be gardeners in the war.
Children of Blood and Bone is completely deserving of every ounce of praise it has been receiving. This was the most compelling YA fantasy I've read in such a long time and although it took me longer than average to read - always the case when it comes to high-fantasies for me - I enjoyed every second with these characters. Tomi Adeyemi herself is such an incredible woman and inspiring figure in the book community, ensuring with this book that young black readers feel their identities and culture validated in literature.
The book is set in the fictional land of Orisha and told in three alternating perspectives: Zelie, a maji without magic; Amari, a rouge princess who Zelie reluctantly saves from the kings' men; and Amari's brother Inan who is sent to chase down Zelie and his sister. Without going into a lot of detail on the synopsis, at its core this is a fast-paced adventure to restore magic to a kingdom that has been without it for eleven years, and to complete a ritual before the approaching solstice is over and magic is lost forever.
I've fallen completely in love with the world that Adeyemi has created. Infused with rich west African mythology, every part of Orisha felt so vivid in my mind. In particular, though, I became obsessed with the magic system. At the start, I was quite confused and intimidated by the many different clans and goddesses and couldn't for the life of me work out what blood magic was or how it worked. And, on reflection, I think this could have had a lot to do with the fact that magic disappeared many years before the book starts, and all we really get in the beginning is flashbacks from the protagonists as they remembered what it was like to have magic, so at times I felt like I wasn't entirely in sync with everything. But actually, when I worked it out, I realised that the concept of the magic system was fairly simple yet everything I could have wanted. Basically, when a maji is born with white hair, it is a sign that they have been touched by the gods, and they are called diviners. Before magic disappeared (read the book to find out why), when a diviner turned thirteen they would develop the kind of power they had from whatever God had touched them. The powers range from healing, to taming animals, to wielding light, to making fire, to controlling time and people's minds and dreams and it was just utterly fascinating.
Another thing that I loved was there is SO MUCH action - endless chase scenes, epic battles with swords and staffs and bows and magic (the best part), unexpected twists and turns... it was such a journey, one that had me on the edge of my seat at many points. But what really sets Children of Blood and Bone apart from other action-packed YA fantasies is the way Adeyemi draws many parallels with our own world, writing a book steeped in racially-charged violence as a kind of allegory for what black people experience, from systematic racism to prison systems and so much more. She also touches on how people perceive darker-skinned individuals in comparison to lighter-skinned individuals. In the world of Orisha, royals want to look as light as possible and yet young Zelie, with the darkest skin living in poverty, could be the most powerful person in the kingdom but she is viewed as nothing more than a racial slur. So as well as being an incredibly fun read, I feel like this book will raise so much awareness that is desperately needed.
And the characters were (almost) perfect. Zelie was an exceptional main protagonist - for me she was the perfect balance between a fierce warrior filled with courage and ambition, but also preserving that element of innocence and vulnerability that made her so lovable and real. Amari was my absolute favourite, and I loved watching her character progression throughout the story. She starts out as very meek and afraid and privileged, but when she is surrounded by a group of people entirely different from her she really grows into herself and a new side to her emerges. I also really loved her relationship both with Tzain (no spoilers but it was adorable), and Zelie - the friendship that eventually grows between them is so unlikely but so sweet.
So now we get on to why I didn't give Children of Blood and Bone 5 stars, and it can be summed up in one word: Inan. Now don't get me wrong - I didn't hate him by any means, and it was really cool to get the antagonists perspective for once. But I found his characterization just very confusing at times. He's a very intense, layered character to begin with but as the story progressed there were moments where his feelings and reactions didn't really correspond at all to what they'd been a few chapters ago and yet there's no explanation for this change of heart. Oh, and speaking of changes of heart - THE ROMANCE BETWEEN ZELIE AND INAN MADE NO SENSE TO ME. I rarely ever say this about romances in YA, but this one in my opinion just felt like it was thrown in for the sake of it. One moment she's really mad at him for wiping out her entire village and they're intensely sword-fighting, and then the next they're in love?! It was just a bit odd and I'm sad about it but I'm hoping that I'll grow to like them more as a couple in the next book.
Overall, with a completely non-white cast of characters and thoughtful considerations of class, prejudice and skin colour, Children of Blood and Bone was such a joy to read and I can't wait to spend more time in this world with these characters in the sequel.