CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE by TOMI ADEYEMI (Legacy of Orisha #1) (2018)
A REVIEW by ALEXA DUNCAN
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi is massive. Literally and figuratively. Clocking in at 530+ pages, Children of Blood and Bone breaks the “debut novel” standard in more ways than one. Its length is extraordinary, its journey to publication is extraordinary, its subject matter is extraordinary, and its author is extraordinary. Indeed, CoBaB is not the YA novel you’re expecting. It certainly wasn’t what I expected. Here’s why…
CoBaB follows three main characters: Zelie, Inan, and Amari. These three characters couldn’t be more different. In this fantasy version of West Africa—called Orisha—magic has been destroyed by the oppressive monarchy, of which Inan and Amari are members, prince and princess respectively. Their father, the king of Orisha, hates magic and spearheaded the slaughter of every magic user (called maji) in the country many years prior to the events of the novel. Zelie’s mother was one such maji and among those killed. Zelie now lives with her brother, Tzain, and their father in their meager hut. Inan and Amari, meanwhile, live a life of luxury in the royal palace. That is, until everything changes when an ancient scroll is discovered, imbued with the power to give latent maji their gifts back.
After the scroll is unearthed, Zelie, Amari, and Inan’s plotlines begin to converge. Amari sympathizes with the maji, much to the chagrin of her tyrannical father, and steals the scroll from him after he’s killed her maji best friend. Inan, her brother, is then tasked with getting her and the scroll back. He doesn’t expect Amari to join forces with Zelie and Tzain, however, and the three of them go on an epic quest to try and gather three ancient artifacts in an attempt to bring magic back to the world of Orisha.
Now that the plot summary is over, let’s get onto how I felt about the book.
CoBaB received a ridiculous amount of hype from its publisher prior to its release. Not undeservedly, of course, because Adeyemi’s journey to publication is remarkable. Publishing is still very much a field dominated by white people and for Adeyemi, a Black woman, to receive such a massive deal for her work (think six figures) is great. CoBaB distinguishes itself from the YA fantasy pack by being set in a non-Western world (fictional Africa) without any white people involved. It introduces readers to mythology and magic the likes of which most of us have never read about. However, I think the hype might have gotten to me, because I didn’t like this as much as I wanted to.
CoBaB isn’t a bad book. The setting is interesting and it’s always nice reading from different cultural perspectives. It’s not bad, it just wasn’t as mindblowing as the hype led me to believe. If you’ve seen Avatar: The Last Airbender, you’ve read this book. The plot beats–different kinds of magic, an oppressive kingdom, police states–and even the characters are all familiar. Zelie is headstrong and brave. Her brother, Tzain, is responsible and kind. Amari is demure and naïve, while Inan can’t decide whose side he wants to be on. All in all, Amari and Tzain ended up becoming my favorite characters because they grew throughout the book, whereas Zelie remained relatively static. Additionally, there’s a part in the middle of the book that really threw me for a loop in regards to Inan’s character. The entire time he’s convinced he has to kill Zelie because she has been divined by the gods to lead the maji back to power, but the moment he and Zelie spar, he changes his mind and decides to help her. The sudden flip didn’t make much sense and took away from my enjoyment of the story.
Nevertheless, I still enjoyed my experience with Children of Blood and Bone. What it lacks in characterization it makes up for in a fast-paced plot and interesting worldbuilding. There are a lot of parallels between the world Zelie and company inhabit to the world we live in now, such as police brutality and the loss of culture to oppressive regimes. This book is an incredible achievement for Adeyemi, at just twenty-three years old, and I’m looking forward to seeing what she does in the future.