Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi (Henry Holt 978-1-250-17097-2, $18.99, 448pp, hc) March 2018.
Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone was released with a deafening boom in March, arriving on the heels of a near-seven figure film deal on top of the seven-figure publishing contract for the trilogy. This is big book in every way: big story, big paycheck and, at nearly 400 pages, it’s a physically big doorstop. Lots of folks have reviewed this book, most of them bringing their own baggage along for the ride. They love the diversity and politics or think it’s all exaggerated; they think the story is utterly original or a retread of common themes; they think Adeyemi is the next big thing or grossly overrated. I leave it to readers to find all of the opposing views on their own; I read Children of Blood and Bone looking for a solid adventure to sink my teeth into, and that’s exactly what it gave me, so no complaints here.
Adeyemi has created a world that was once filled with magic; the impact of that time, and how it pitted those with and without magical abilities against each other, pervades the current period. The three protagonists, all teenagers, were each born in the time of magic but grew up after it disappeared, due to the machinations of the brutal King Saran. The maji adults, whose magic gave them abilities to control water, fire, the dead, etc., were murdered by Saran and the children, whose abilities had yet to manifest, were allowed to live but under a caste-like system that keeps them socially and economically controlled. Orïsha is ruled by the lighter-skinned noble class (who use makeup to lighten their skin even more), and the magic-less maji children, who are marked by white hair, are treated as “maggots.” Zélie saw her maji mother murdered by the king’s troops and her hair marks her now as a perpetual target of harassment. She trains in secret with other teens, so they can one day rise up, although no one know how or when that might happen. (This is all far more complicated and interesting than anyone can condense into a single paragraph.) Then an artifact surfaces and Zélie’s future breaks wide open.
The narrative unfolds with three shifting points of view: Zélie and two royal siblings, Amari and Inan. There is a lot of plot to bring the three of them together and a lot of angst as loyalties shift. I’ll dispense with a spoiler right now and acknowledge that Zélie is a “Chosen One,” which is probably the most clichéd aspect of the novel. But even though this Buffy (or Harry or Katniss or….) fulfills her authorial duties just as readers will expect (the predictable stages of chosen-ness are all here, from “I can’t do it” to “I’m not worthy” to “Watch me embrace it and kick ass”) she is a very appealing protagonist and the worldbuilding gives her so much to work with, that just watching Zélie try to figure things out is pure readerly fun. You know where she’s going to get, and even who she is probably going to end up with, but that’s okay. Zélie, Amari and Inan (plus Zélie’s brother Tzain) are a very complex angsty Scooby gang and King Saran is a monster of massive proportions and there is a lot of blood spilled on the way to remaking Orïsha and the plot just keeps relentlessly pounding along until frankly, you will be somewhat exhausted but that is what we all demand from an epic like Children of Blood and Bone. Adeyemi got the book deal because she knows how to give her readers what they want and is capable of doing it. The cliff-hanger ending arrives right on schedule and now it’s just up to the waiting for Children of Virtue and Vengeance, due May 2019. Take our money, Tomi Adeyemi; you’ve earned it.
Colleen Mondor, Contributing Editor, is a writer, historian, and reviewer who co-owns an aircraft leasing company with her husband. She is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” and reviews regularly for the ALA’s Booklist. Currently at work on a book about the 1932 Mt. McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition, she and her family reside in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. More info can be found on her website: www.colleenmondor.com.
This review and more like it in the November 2018 issue of Locus.
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