Review: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Updated: Aug 15, 2020
"Children of Virtue and Vengeance," by Tomi Adeyemi.
Henry Holt and Co.
Children of Blood and Bone is Tomi Adeyemi’s first published novel winning multiple recognised awards following a magical journey embarked by spirited and determined, Zélie, who lives in Ilorin, Nigeria. Zélie decides enough is enough one day as she loaths King Saran who is responsible for her mother’s brutal death. There was once a time when Orïsha was filled with powerful people called the maji who held magical powers gifted by the Gods but the King and his people were against such power. As Zélie grows older, her resentment for the people responsible for the deaths of innocent villagers grows and decides to seek revenge.
Beyond the silver dreads on Zélie’s head and her heroic lionaire, there is a fundamental message provided by Adeyemi – the oppression on the minority. The maji are innocent, they are vulnerable and live in fear. Zélie’s mission is to seek change as she encounters Princess Amari who is against her father’s crimes. The heroines represent female empowerment in a Black dystopian world where two worlds combine as one to fight for their lives. Adeyemi stems away from stereotyped injustices portrayed in fiction where the slavery narrative has been overworked and places her characters in a magical world. Her characters speak Yoruba, a Nigerian language and are displayed as enchanting and unique as they hold special powers. The text serves as a form of escapism from harsh realities of life whilst simultaneously representing the modern Black experience.
Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality, Adeyemi writes about her experiences as an African-American where guards abuse their power and the innocent die. Describing it as a “politically-driven fantasy,” Zélie’s and her mother’s experience is what many have gone through and whilst messages are emotional and discomforting to some, the world of Orïsha is a magical world that uplifts the author’s culture. Zélie lives in a world with fellow Black brothers and sisters who face their own battles and struggles. An example of this is the conflict between dark and light skin where darker skinned characters are called “maggots” by the fair skinned community. Amari spends her days outside where the sun tans her skin and her complexion becomes darker than the ideal of royal members. Attempts of bleaching is used to make Amari more beautiful as she narrates:
“… the smell of vinegar becomes so strong I can already feel the searing on my skin.” – page 36
Whilst Amari lacks beauty according to her mother’s standards in Lagos, Zélie faces abuse in Ilorin as Mama Agba does not have money to pay taxes. The words Zélie uses to narrate is a familiar story that can be seen in headlines on newspapers:
“In an instant the guard slams me to the ground facedown, knocking the breath from my throat.” – page 11
Or Baba’s drowning scene is a reminder of George Floyd who struggled for the last eight minutes of his life:
“Six minutes. That’s how long Baba thrashed out at sea. How long he fought against the current, how long his lungs ached for air.” – page 25-6
Besides the reimagining of oppressive pasts, Children of Blood and Bone is a coming of age novel written in first person from the perspective of multiple characters where a princess explores the outside world and a prince discovers his true purpose. A romance, fantasy, mystery, adventure… Adeyemi creates a story with elements that every reader will enjoy with themes of betrayal, oppression and poverty with its Harry Potter-esque magic and Black Panther-like cast.
The untold Disney story is an allegory for what is happening in today’s world as the magical journey continues in her trilogy. Her second book, Children of Virtue and Vengeance, has been released and films are in the making so follow the journey of defeat, escape your own reality and dive into the world of Orïsha.
If you enjoy Children of Blood and Bone or want to explore more political novels, I’m sure you will love these just as much:
Kindred by Olivia E. Butler
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin