“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” (Adeyami 2018, p. 519).
ll I can really say is “Wow.” This book was absolutely phenomenal, and blew me away with the richness of its world and characters. I find it extremely difficult to believe that this is Tomi Adeyemi’s debut novel, as she writes with the skill and precision of master fantasy authors like Tolkien or George R. R. Martin. And, like the best authors of fantasy, Adeyemi is adept at writing realistic characters and situations that feel like they belong in our world, despite involving other-worldly elements. She breathes vibrant life into her characters, making you feel the raw emotions of each one no matter whose point of view is being shown. Children of Blood and Bone is a truly masterful work of fantasy, and one that I could barely put down from start to finish.
Children of Blood and Bone focuses on the story of young Zelie Adebola, a diviner hated and feared for the magic that runs in her veins. Before her mother was killed in a ruthless raid against maji (those possessing magical abilities), she was a Reaper who could command departed souls and ease the journeys of those as they passed from one world to the next. Now, however, magic is gone, and those who might have become maji are now reviled and hated by the ruling class. One fateful night, Zelie is given the chance to bring magic back to the land of Orisha when a powerful scroll is stolen by the rogue princess Amari. Though Amari has grown up learning to fear magic, she senses the wrongness of her father’s doings, joining Zelie in her quest to restore magic to those most oppressed. The two team up with Zelie’s brother Tzain for the journey, but are hunted every step of the way by Amari’s brother Inan. Filled with romance, adventure, suspense, and betrayal, Children of Blood and Bone is a reminder that we are all human beings deserving of compassion and mercy.
I’m not even sure where to begin with this book, so I’m going to jump in with what was perhaps my favorite part: Super. Strong. Female. Heroines. And I’m not just talking about the characters who act like Katniss, either. I’m talking about two characters who are perhaps polar opposites, but both strong and powerful in their own ways. Zelie is fierce, hot-headed, brave, and strong, while still having moments of genuine fear and fragility along the way. Amari, though a princess from a life of privilege, leads with her compassion and moral compass. Though she can fight when necessary, it is her gentle nature that brings true value to the team of heroes. I loved seeing the friendship between Amari and Zelie develop, as they worked well together to balance one another out as a team. As I always say in my reviews, I appreciate strong friendships between female characters as much as I do strong characters themselves, as it shows that women can be more than just rivals for a man’s affection.
Even characters like the elderly Mama Agba and Binta, who play such small roles, end up impacting the story in major ways. I loved this, as it proved that there are many different ways for a woman to be strong. Women don’t have to be indestructible to be strong, feminist characters: they can just as easily be fierce by showing fierce compassion and embracing their femininity. Though I love “kick-ass” heroines, sometimes it’s nice to see that there is more than one way to be strong. Emotional intelligence is every bit as important as having street smarts or knowing how to fight.
Another thing I enjoyed about this story is the way it portrayed evil. No one character is entirely good or entirely bad. Though Inan has been raised to believe magic is the source of all evil, he comes to understand Zelie’s pain and learns to see the other side of his father’s actions. Even the king, who is ruthless and tyrannical, is only acting out of fear and his own devastating loss; he was not borne evil, but conditioned to act the way he does. Meanwhile, Tzain is too wrapped up in old hatred to see that hearts can change, making it more difficult for piece to form between the four main characters in the story. As I mentioned above, this is crucial in fantasy, as the reader can easily get lost in the mystical elements without strong characters to root the story in reality. Magic might not be real, but the struggles and heartbreaks faced by these characters is.
I didn’t realize it until reading the Author’s Note at the end of the novel, but Children of Blood and Bone was inspired by the real-life deaths of children like Jordan Edwards, Tamir Rice, and Aiyana Stanley-Jones. As Adeyemi herself writes, “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.”
Though fictional, the pain and suffering Zelie (and many other characters in the book) is rooted in the real-life suffering of those who have faced police brutality first-hand. Though this message is obvious after reading Adeyemi’s words, the book never feels like it’s preaching a message or pushing an agenda. Characters like Inan are not portrayed as being entirely bad, and the “good guys” do not always make the right choices either. Because the reader is privy to the thoughts of multiple characters, we are able to see the conflict from both sides. This was an incredibly unique way to tell the story, allowing readers to come to their own conclusions about what is right and what is wrong. The message is certainly there, but it is a gentle one, seeking to soothe rather than stir further hatred over a tense subject. I admired this, and appreciated the novel all the more for the sensitive way in which it handled this subject.
As with the message, the characters in this story were incredible as well, each motivated by their own intricate histories and life experiences. For Amari, seeing the brutal murder of her childhood friend and handmaiden Binta spurs her into action, driving each of her decisions throughout the book. For Zelie, it is the death of her mother and the desire to fight back against those oppressing her that spurs her on. Tzain is motivated by a desire to protect his sister, while Inan is desperate to please a father who has never outwardly shown any pride in his children. Though you might not always agree with the choices of the characters, you feelwhat they’re going through, and understand their fear and pain. More than anything, this book presents fear and hatred as being the ultimate evil, propelling otherwise kind souls into being ruthless killers. More than ever, it is this message that we as a society need to hear, as it is only by listening to one another that we will be able to achieve any peace.
While I don’t know much about African mythology or folklore, I have also heard that this story draws from many of those elements, making it a fun learning experience for me as an outsider to this culture. Because there is no glossary in the back of the book (perhaps my only gripe), I found myself Googling many of the terms so that I could picture the clothing the characters were wearing, the weapons they were carrying, and the buildings they lived and worked in. I love learning about new cultures, and every page in this book provided me with a new piece of knowledge to absorb. Adeyemi has created a rich world with fascinating creatures and interesting rules. I found myself wanting to ride a lionaire, or experience the thrill of ashe as described by those in possession of magic. The world is extremely immersive, and one that any fantasy buff would be ecstatic to experience. Above all, the mythological elements left me wanting to know more, and I learned many words I’d never heard or seen throughout the course of this book, for which I was excited and grateful.
I would recommend this book to anyone who loves fantasy, whether that person is a teen or an adult. Even for those who don’t like fantasy, this book is rich enough that almost anyone would be able to find something to love about the story. From the immersive world to the believable relationships and characters, Children of Blood and Bonepaints a portrait of love and loss, bravery and oppression. It’s a worthy addition to anyone’s YA library, and I feel extremely lucky to have gotten the chance to review it for ROYAL (Reviewers of Young Adult Literature). It was a magical journey I won’t be forgetting any time soon.
I have always loved fantasy, and I love it even more when it is sending a subtle but important message, infusing the fantastical story with real-world problems and emotions. In my humble opinion, good fantasy needs to be rooted in reality, helping us to examine ourselves as both individuals and as members of a greater society. While good fiction entertains, great fiction asks us to search inside ourselves for the answers to bigger questions, making us think about the world around us as we are taken on a journey through mythical lands. Children of Blood and Bone does this beautifully, and I can’t wait to see where this series goes in the future.
Adeyemi, Tomi (2018). Children of blood and bone. New York: Henry Holt and Company.