Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone is a book that reminds me why I love reading. I was glued to my seat for all 523 pages, and while I’m glad that the sequel is already out and I can continue right along with the story, I’m also furious with myself for letting such a gem get so low on my TBR.
The premise of Children of Blood and Bone is that eleven years earlier, the kingdom of Orïsha was stripped of its magic. Without magic, the ten maji clans were powerless, and the King Saran conducted what the people of the country call “The Raid.” Our protagonist, Zélie has clear and haunting memories of her mother, a Reaper and a powerful maji of life and death, being taken away in chains and hung, like all of the maji, despite the loss of their powers. Only the divîners, who were children under 13 that had not yet come into their power, like the six-year-old Zélie, were spared.
When the story starts, Zélie is training in secret to learn how to defend herself, despite the fact that there is little to no hope for the return of magic. She lives with her father and her brother, Tzain, who are both kosidán, and lack the distinctive white hair that marks a divîner/maji. Meanwhile, our other protagonists are Inan, the beloved, somewhat rigid, Crowned Prince of Orïsha and Captain of the Royal Guard, who is desperate to prove himself; and Amari, the unhappy and sheltered Princess of Orïsha, whose only friend and close companion is her handmaiden, a divîner named Binta. Through a series of chaotic and spoiler-filled events, Amari flees from the palace with the key to restoring magic to the kingdom, and embarks on a quest with Zélie and Tzain to unleash the powers of all the divîners in Orïsha so that there will be maji in the kingdom once again, Inan hot on their tails.
The story only gets even more chaotic and action-packed from there, and while many parts of this book are utterly heartbreaking, there was ultimately an undercurrent of hope throughout the book that I unabashedly admire. Through all the pain and suffering and turmoil that Zélie goes through throughout Children of Blood and Bone even as she feels utterly and truly defeated, she keeps pushing and pushing on, bearing seemingly insurmountable weight with wavering faith, yes, but nevertheless it holds strong and she holds strong.
Children of Blood and Bone has an interesting narrative advantage over many other books I read, via the fact that its writing style mimics one of my favorites. The story is told in the first person, but the focus character shifts from chapter to chapter. There are sometimes multiple chapters in a row from one perspective, or a chapter divide for the sake of a perspective switch with no scene change, but because there is no strong narrative voice distinction from the characters, it felt like a third person narrative despite actually being in the first person. The fact that there is no strong voice distinction is definitely a drawback for some — I know this from discussing the book with others — but because I tend to dislike first person and I would have found three distinct voices hard to grapple with in a book I didn’t mind, and I thought that the plot was strong enough to carry any weaknesses in the writing style.
I wondered a bit, after finishing the book why we only ever saw things from Inan, Amari, and Zélie’s perspectives, and never got insight into Tzain’s mind, but then I realized that for all that he was there for the entire journey and very much an integral part of the story, he throughout the text feels like a secondary character. While he’s important to the text, I don’t think that much more would have been added, and I think that the book could have seemed a bit over stuffed, with a fourth narrative intertwined.
I was a bit surprised at the fact that Amari and Tzain were being pushed together as a couple, because for all that there is a closeness there, I really can’t see for myself what they have together as a romantic pair. I think that if anything, Amari and Zélie have more potential for a romantic bond, though the narrative pushes for more of a romance between Inan and Zélie. All the same, I think that the strongest bond that develops is between Amari and Zélie, and based on how Amari internalizes her emotions toward Binta, there are some definite queer vibes in that respect, and I would love to see an exploration in later books of bisexuality in either or both characters. Overall I did think the romance was a little forced — similar to the way that gnats irritate me on a beach day — but it wasn’t overwhelming and didn’t wholly destroy the narrative, so I tolerated it as an annoying detail of an otherwise enjoyable experience.
I hadn’t read Children of Virtue and Vengeance when I completed the first draft of this review, but I had by the time I did my rounds of edits, and my review was slightly adjusted, but not by much. My review of the second book (which, spoiler devoid of nuance, is also pretty good) will be going up next week. In the meantime, I highly recommend Children of Blood and Bone.