Unlike Black Panther’s afrofuturism which posits through the fictional country of Wakanda (“Wakanda Forever!”) what Africa might have been without colonization, Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone takes readers to the pre-industrial fantasy world of Orïsha to create a unique magic all its own. Set in a kingdom where magic has been suppressed violently and mature practitioners have been slaughtered, Adeyemi establishes a complex world for readers to inhabit. Orïsha divides itself between those who have inherited the ability to do magic—divîners—and those who have not—kosidán. Among those with magical abilities there are ten clans, each wielding a different skill set. Zélie, Children of Blood and Bone’s protagonist, is a Reaper who helps souls to cross over but can also command an army of the dead. Other kinds of magic can enter people’s minds to access thoughts while still others can create fire. After the discovery of an artifact that can restore a divîner’s magic a quest to return magic to all of Orïsha ensues. Adeyemi’s worldbuilding is very well done but what’s astounding is that there’s still so much territory left to explore in future novels.
Adeyemi unspools the narrative across three characters’ perspectives with virtually no events being narrated by more than one person. When the characters are operating in the same location the variety of these perspectives helps keep the pace moving nicely and shows the characters’ interiority. At times when the characters are separated physically the multi-perspective POV sometimes worked against itself (although I felt this more frequently in the novel’s first half than its second). Just as one POV would reach a climax the chapter would end and the next would feature a different narrator. All the momentum built up from the climax was left unused (for at least a chapter), leaving the reader metaphorically perched at the top of a rollercoaster only to have to wait for the downhill release where you get to waive your arms and shriek with delight. At other points, especially when the characters are at cross purposes, the multiple perspectives do work much more effectively to ratchet up the tension.
Similarly, one of the narrators is a dangerous character whose alliances shift throughout the novel and at certain points this antagonist’s perspective added to the suspense and complexity of the story. At other times, however, getting inside this character’s head made me feel as if I had almost too much information when it came to questions of loyalty, robbing some plot points of their suspense.
Now on to some of the elements I loved unabashedly:
- Adeyemi’s female characters, particularly Zélie and Amari, would be standouts in any novel. In Children of Blood and Bone, they not only drive the action forward (squeal of feminist joy) but also contain both strengths AND weaknesses. Adeyemi’s women are well balanced in terms of their attributes as well as their flaws. Even better, the quest plot provides ample opportunity for both women to sometimes fail and sometimes succeed along their journey, making them consistently compelling.
- The mythical lionaires (like lions but with horns and wings) that our heroes ride are my newest fictional creature obsession. Bye, porgs.
- Adeyemi writes movingly in her author’s note about writing in response to police violence and her novel provides a beautiful example of how literature, especially the fantasy genre, interacts with the “real world.” The visceral descriptions of the King’s guards’ attacks and the Raid in which the adult magi were effectively lynched aptly demonstrate parallels to the history of race in America and contemporary social justice debates without pulling readers out of the world of Orïsha Adeyemi so capably builds. Children of Blood and Bone, alongside last year’s The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, are great YA books that invite high schoolers (and adult readers like myself) into meaningful narratives that grapple with real-world events.
The next book in Adeyemi’s Legacy of Orïsha series, Children of Virtue and Vengeance, is slated for a March 2019 release and a movie adaptation of Children of Blood and Bone is in the works!