Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
This is one of those books that you accidentally stay up until 3 am reading because you can’t put it down so I’m going to do my best to review it without too many spoilers.
Tomi Adeyemi has crafted an incredible work of Afro-centric science fiction the likes of which I have never encountered before. She weaves West African deities and traditions into an incredible story about magic weilding Magi and a world that has rejected magic out of fear of it’s limitless power. The King of Orisha, Saran, saw his first family killed by magic because his father sought to bring together kosidian (people who do not have magic) and Magi, and led an bloodlust Reaping of all those Magi whose powers had already manifested. Saran’s reaping seems to sever Orisha’s ties with the gods and leaves the land purged of magic. Our story begins many years after the reaping with Zélie, whose mother was a Reaper Magi who was killed by Saran’s soldiers. She carries the white hair that marks those with Magi potential, but her powers are not present.
Zélie is a fierce and competitive girl. She strives to be the best at everything she does, and yet she’s constantly plagued by feeling out of place. She makes a lot of mistakes that sometimes put the people she loves in danger, and she carries a lot of guilt and fear throughout the piece. After a near fatal incident, her father sends her and her brother Tzain to Lagos to sell some rare fish so that they can pay their taxes, and her world is changed forever when she is called to help a stranger escape from danger. That stranger turns out to be Amari, Princess of Orisha. From there, launches an incredible journey to restore magic to Orisha.
What I love about this book is that Adeyemi switches perspectives between Zélie, Amari, and Inan, the Prince of Orisha who is chasing them. In this way she is able to develop fully embodied, unique characters with their own motivations and internal motivators. We get a much fuller story because we get input from the major characters. We see how Princess Amari is drawn to the purpose of their journey to avenge the death of her friend and servant, Bintu, after she dies at Saran’s hands. She firmly believes in the power of magic and how the magi have been mercilessly wronged by her father. We also see how Inan is plagued when he suddenly discovers his own magic abilities — he is torn betwee his duty to keep Orisha “safe” from magic and the maji and the fact that to do so would be to kill off a part of himself. We follow each character as they grow into their strengths and overcome obstacles that finally bring them all face to face in one penultimate battle for the last chance that Zélie has to return magic to Orisha.
This book has a beautiful sense of place. What makes J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series so enrapturing is that this world is so well-crafted it feels like you can fall through the pages and find yourself in a Hobbit hole. Adeyemi does this well in Children of Blood and Bone also. I see in my mind’s eye the bustling market in Lagos, the desperation of the slaves in Gombe, and the sparkling of the water in Ilorin where Zélie is from. These details shore up my belief in the story that I am reading, and that’s why I found myself up in the middle of the night having to coax myself away from reading just one more chapter.
Rumor has it that the rights to make this book a film have already been purchased; if so, I cannot wait to see this kind of Afro-centric science fiction on the big screen. It’ll be like Black Panther, only better because I’ll have actually read the book that goes along with it! We need more books like this where we see Black girls and boys weilding magic, defying the odds, and going on fantastical adventures into realms unknown. Adeyemi wrote this children for the Black men, women, and children who won’t have an opportunity to imagine the world a better place because racist American institutions took it away from them. She writes in her Author’s Note:
“We are all children of blood and bone.
And just like Zélie and Amari, we have the power to change the evils in the world.
We’ve been knocked down for far too long.
Now let’s rise.” (pg. 527)
You should read this book (and give it to the children in your life to read!) because it opens your eyes to what Black imagination looks like. We should have the space to imagine ourselves in every way possible. Science fiction is not a genre reserved for people who do not look like us; I’ve never considered any of the faeries or wizards I’ve read about in my youth could have been Black like me. In Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi reminds us that we can be anything.
Have you read this book yet? Are you excited for the release of the sequel in 2019? (YES A SEQUEL!!!) Let’s chat in the comments below!