Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
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Published by Henry Holt, part of Macmillan Publishing Group
Released: March 6, 2018
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They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.
Now we rise.
What It Is
This high fantasy novel based on West African mythology follows the story of Zelie Adebola as she tries to bring magic back for her people, the magi, or Diviners. She travels alongside her brother, Tzain, and a new friend, the princess Amari.
The land of Orisha was once full of magic. When Magi came of age, they learned to control a particular type of magic, such as life and death (Reapers), health and disease (healers and cancers), iron and earth (grounders and welders) and mind, spirit, and dreams (connectors), among many others.
One day all of the magic disappeared, and the lives of the Magi became one of terror and repression. King Saran has a personal vendetta toward the Magi, and everything changed the day of his Raid.
Many magi were murdered on that day. Magic was effectively erased. Zelie watched her own mother dragged out of their home and hung in a tree. Diviners now live in fear, walking on eggshells around the king’s soldiers. They are easily spotted by their stark white hair, making them easy targets for harassment and extortion.
One day, soldiers threaten Zelie’s family, demanding a tax much too high for them to pay. Zelie comes up with the idea of selling a prize fish her father had caught, and she and Tzain take off towards the palace despite the dangers. Everything seems to go according to plan: Zelie ends up getting much more than she was expecting for the fish, and she’s safely on her way out of the gates when a terrified girl grabs her by the arm, asking for help escaping the soldiers.
Little does Zelie know that she’s helping the King’s daughter, Princess Amari. Amari has taken one of the three necessary objects that could bring magic back, an ancient scroll. As Zelie, Amari, and Tzain flee for their lives, Amari’s brother, Inan, chases after them.
Despite making it all the way back to their village, their safety is short-lived, as Inan and his soldiers follow them to the village. Zelie, Tzain, and Amari escape into the forest, on a journey to save magic before the solstice, the last chance to give magic back to the people of Orisha.
“As it fades, I see the truth – in plain sight, yet hidden all along. We are all children of blood and bone. All instruments of vengeance and virtue. This truth holds me close, rocking me like a child in a mother’s arms. It binds me in its love as death swallows me in its grasp.”
The journey they undertake is a long and dangerous one, and full of much tragedy. The story is told through multiple narratives, passing seamlessly between Zelie, Amari, and Inan.
Tomi Adeyemi’s debut novel is easily one of the best books I’ve read in years. Saying I loved it is an understatement – when I read the last sentence my jaw literally dropped and I needed more. There’s already a sequel (and a movie) in the works, but I don’t know how I’m going to make it that long.
More than anything, this novel is about strength. So many of the characters, despite their flaws, are strong-willed and brave. Whereas most novels portray strength as a one-dimensional attribute, Adeyemi writes about real strength; a strength that is hard, sacrificial, and requires practice.
“Like a bee to honey, my eyes find the akofena first, the crossed blades, the swords of war. Strength cannot always roar, she said that day. Valor does not always shine. My eyes drift to the akoma beside the swords next, the heart of patience and tolerance.”
One of my favorite things about this novel was the magic system. Individual magi control a single aspect of magic, each with their own deity. Our main character, Zelie, is a reaper, a member of the Iku Clan, and her particular deity is Oya. Zulaikha, or Zu, is a healer, a member of the Iwosan clan, whose diety is Babaluaye. It’s refreshing to see a system of magic where it’s broken down in that way, allowing for a wide variety of unique characters.
The way the book was written was also something I really enjoyed. Each chapter is told from the perspective of either Zelie, Amari, or Inan, though the narrative itself is continuous. I love reading each character’s thoughts, and each of them is so well-developed. They each have distinct flaws, tastes, and strengths. There are two perspectives that I would have loved to have seen alongside theirs, both Tzain and King Saran.
Tzain is Zelie’s brother and her protector. He clearly loves his family but is also quite frustrated at Zelie’s actions (particularly at her choice of love interest later in the story). I think it would have been really interested to understand his thoughts throughout their journey.
Although King Saran is a character that is very easy to despise, a part of me wishes that his own narrative had been woven into the story. I’m always intrigued by the thoughts and motivations of villains.
There’s also a note from the author at the end of the book, about Adeyemi’s motivations for writing the book.
“Children of Blood and Bone was written during a time where I kept turning on the news and seeing stories of unarmed black men, women, and children being shot by the police. I felt afraid and angry and helpless, but this book was the one thing that made me feel like I could do something about it. I told myself that if just one person could read it and have their hearts or minds changed, then I would’ve done something meaningful against a problem that often feels so much bigger than myself.”
Since finishing the book, I’ve been looking more into Tomi Adeyemi, and she seems genuinely amazing. Here’s a great, short interview with her on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon:
About the Author:
Tomi Adeyemi graduated from Harvard with an honors degree in English literature, and aside from being a New York Times bestselling author, is also a writing coach.
5 out of 5 stars, easily. I want to recommend this book to absolutely everybody. My boyfriend is probably incredibly tired of hearing about it, and I’ve told pretty much everyone that sits around me at work that they should get a copy.
Buy this book. It’s the kind of book that you read many times throughout the years. I finished it two days ago, and I’m so starved for more that I’m having to force myself to read other books rather than just rereading this one.