Book Title: Children of Blood and Bone (Series, Legacy of Orisha #1) Author: Tomi Adeyemi Number of pages: 525
But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji 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.
Should this book be picked up? the tl;dr review:
– Incredibly well-paced making this read really quick despite its tome-like size; narrative follows three POVs
– Magic system is a bit wonky at times but otherwise the abilities themselves are penned with great imagery during action sequences
– West-African inspired fantasy re: Nigerian/Yoruba influences
– There is a romance and a ship but it does not really take center stage to the conflict
– I’d recommend Google Translate for some passages; inclusive of phrases and incantations that bring to life the mythos and mysticism of this world
The hype is pretty legit!
Disclaimer: I received an ARC of Children of Blood and Bone from Raincoast Books.
Children of Blood and Bone finds three heroes navigating through a magic-less Orisha, a West-African landscape once brimming with magic and now empty of its luster after the crown Monarchy rid homes of the Maji — magic capable Orishans. For Zélie Adebola, a diviner (magic-less Maji) with her Maji mother torn from her life, a chance encounter with runaway Princess Amari sets the course for Zélie to discover the truths of her ancestry and a mission to save magic before the end of the next solstice. But the Monarchy knows, and they are coming to keep Orishan maggots where they belong.
Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone is an epic fantasy adventure steeped in culture that hits the mark of being a new go-to recommendation of mine. The story is highlighted by the urgency of the time-based Plot A that chugged along with the underlying cat-and-mouse Plot B narrative. With characters facing high stakes and explosive action sequences that captivated me to no end–simply put–the promise of a evocative West African inspired tale centering around Nigerian/Yoruba mythos (…I think?) was extremely captivating and I dare say: the hype is warranted.
The magical/less world of Orisha is superbly drawn. From the inclusion of language (West African, Yoruba specifically–I think), food, creatures, celebrations, physical attributes and then some, Children of Blood and Bone oozes with culture and picturesque environments that was exciting to journey through.
But as Children is a fantasy book, a large portion of my analysis has to look at the magic system. That’s where things get a bit hazy. As much as I was enthralled by the various magic affinities (because elemental/spiritual magic is my fucking jam), maybe I was expecting too much of the framework and rules to be laid out in the first book. I get it: it’s difficult to express the technical nuances of magic when even the characters have a knowledge gap. But while there were info dumps of the historical lineage and beginnings of the magic (which is great), I felt there wasn’t enough context for me personally to support the deployment of abilities.
For example, the gist of Zélie’s powers [that I understood at least] is that she essentially has the power to recall spirits and use them at her disposal. The subtext in lore is that it’s her Clans’ duty to guide lost spirits toward alafia (“inner peace”) in exchange for temporary power. Three concerns:
One- there are situations where plenty of lost and grieved spirits who need assistance passing over could be roaming and other times in a random forest there ought to be considerably less. However, Zélie is more-often-than-not able to use her abilities. Now if you consider the limitation that her “ammo” is based on the spirits present, it’s mind boggling that unless history is established that spirits can wander freely (which I find it hard to digest since they’re weighed by their past) her ability should be limited to her environment…only it isn’t.
Two- part of her “job” per se is to assist in guiding lost spirits over to make peace. Fine. But Zélie doesn’t really show any interest in that. Granted, she’s mostly trying to survive…so I get it, but it would be nice to see the honoring and assisting lost spirits.
Three- clarity is lost on me as to how she controls the spirits. Zélie has made vocal commands but she doesn’t specifically say “you there, grieving spirit who died an unfortunate death!” before giving a command. With battles that involve multiple opponents, I’m just confused. Moreover, how do ethereal entities inflict physical damage? Maybe this was answered but I thought I had to throw it in.
Another concern I have deals with the artifacts being used to restore magic in Orisha. Basically, my understanding is that you gain heightened abilities if you’re in realtive proximity of these trinkets. Other times, however, the Diviners need to be in physical connection (re: holding it) to gain its imbued-and-transferable effect. In either instance, the radius of effect isn’t mentioned. And since we know that Maji were ‘wiped out’ and magic was deemed ceased to exist, wouldn’t it also be the case that you could uncover your abilities by chance of just accidentally being around the artifact — meaning you could very easily get caught and die? So…it could be known that Maji could still exist — especially true if such a trinket remains existing?
I’m really just nitpicking at this point because the lush environments rich with West African life still was captivating to imagine.
Adeyemi’s writing is sublime. Her craft floats off the page, rife with excellent pacing which allows this 600-page behemoth (re: I read the ARC) to feel much shorter than it is. The descriptions take prose to the edge of being overwrought as the delivery and imagination is shines with beauty but does not bloat scenes with sugary finesse (this is a great thing). Further, there are comedic passes and “oh shit” moments that worked very well with the story’s progression, giving opportunity for there to be a time-and-place for certain moments to pop with friendly banter or explode with tense action.
Children is narrated in three POVs: Zélie, Amari, and Inan. What I appreciated most is that often times you would have two-or-more perspectives in a single scene so you would see different shades of the same picture when the focus shifts.
However (of course there’s a but), there is some disconnect in how some scenes were delivered:
For example, and without spoiling too much, we witness a quiet and sheltered Princess Amari essentially carry the inciting incident in her pocket as she leaves her home. The problem is this scene jumps hours/days and she essentially “teleports” to where Zélie is. Maybe the ARC I read had a missing chapter or maybe it was just not written in. I simply found difficulty in believing that King Saran, for his ubiquitous presence in anti-Maji and being an oppressor etc., would not have competent safeguards in place to disallow high court individuals just waltz in/out easy peasy (let alone the damn princess…his daughter). Not to say Amari couldn’t escape but we wouldn’t know because that scene is never explored.
There are continuity issues in storytelling that suspended my belief. For one, there’s a scene where they have to haggle for supplies. While Zélie considers the worth of her loot with multiple merchants to see what she can barter, it’s when a character offers something of significant value and the a merchant immediately offers his entire bank (basically). The problem is that Zélie is with them…and yet doesn’t consider to assist in trying to up-sell the item(s) .when she could have. Call me petty but it’s the little inconsistencies that get me riled up!
There are also these dream sequences shared between two characters that just didn’t work for me from a world building standpoint. While it’s great and sexy to showcase a more naturally occurring (unforced) use of magic through connecting with someone via dreams/nocturnal emissions…consistently finding a specific person to connect with spanning miles of distance isn’t really explored. It just ‘happens’.
I’ll be very upfront and say that the best thing about this book is the stakes involved in each character. They’re real. Good and bad people die. It is a romp of a roller coaster ride that had me vocalizing “oh shit” to the eventual fates of many. Case in point: it is a blessing that the fragility of life is handled under the microscope of character’s motivation.
Alternatively, there are characters (or just one character) who held so much opportunity to do something in line with their wavering thoughts and opinions that just had me screaming for them to do it each time they fell back into indecision. I get it, difficult decisions are difficult; especially when it concerns family. But man is this character wishy washy as hell.
The character and relationship development in this book is established quite well, with Amari showcasing the greatest and most fleshed out change from Princess to Lionaire. Inversely, on paper, Inan showed the greatest depth of compassion when he saddled up with Zélie but was also stifled by his non-action and/or poor decision making that led him astray more often than not. Zélie’s brother was also a nice addition to this story despite not having a POV.
Speaking to the romance…I kind of want to say that it does not take over the conflict…at all? Something’s there for sure but it doesn’t make Zélie and company stray off the path of their true motivations for the current story arc. Which is great.
Children of Blood and Bone is a remarkable debut Nigerian fantasy that lives up to the hype of being a must-read of 2018/now. Though not without faults, the craft of storytelling — from choice of prose/diction, to pacing, to humor and action — is some of the best I’ve seen in a debut YA Fantasy.
But as a whole, my best comparison as to the world and magic is simply: Black Panther…but with Avatar: The Last Airbender vibes (or even Grishaverse, if you want to go that route).
If you’ve made it to the end, you should know I’m giving away a finished copy of Children of Blood and Bone via Twitter (courtesy of Raincoast Books. Open to Canadian residents only). Follow the tour for more giveaway opportunities!