Children of Blood and Bone
(Legacy of Orďsha Book 1)
by Tomi Adeyemi
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
This is the first novel from Tomi Adeyemi, and the first in a proposed trilogy, the collective title being Legacy of Orďsha. I used that for the URL to this page, even though I may not read the later volumes, but if I do I won't need to change it later. Children of Blood and Bone was published in March of this year, debuting at #1 on the New York Times best-seller list for Young Adult titles. I'll be sixty-eight in less than a month, obviously not in the target audience, but that shouldn't matter if the book is good enough. I've enjoyed a few other recent YA titles, and this has received mostly positive reviews. It is well written in several particulars, both in the action sequences as well as character development. It's full of passion and compassion, but also fear and anxiety, trust and betrayal, with all of those applying to every character at one time or another. Unfortunately, other elements were too clichéd to be completely satisfying.
Orďsha is a fictional country patterned after Nigeria. Several modern day Nigerian cities are mentioned, such as Lagos, Ibedan, Ilorin, Warri, Jimeta, although for some the placement on a map in the front of the book doesn't match their current locations. The Orisha (alternately orichá or orixá) are dieties worshipped in Nigeria and other West African lands, as well as in Latin America due to the slave trade and later African diaspora. The number of dieties varies by region, but here there are ten. The main character is Zélie Adebola, a seventeen year old divîner girl. Her mother had been a maji, one who could channel the magic of Orisha, but her father was kosidán, the more populous group in the nation. Zélie could have been maji if the magic had not been killed eleven years before. Maji and the non-magic kosidán had once lived together in peace, even inter-marrying, but that changed when a group of maji rebelled and killed the king. Their motivations were not adequately explained, but we learn about it mostly from the kosidán side. New King Saran vowed to avenge the deaths of his father, wife, and children, ordering the Raid which killed all divîners over the age of thirteen. He spared the children since it was believed none could access their magic heritage until puberty. Even then, the King felt he was safe since their three sacred artifacts had been destroyed, or at least so he thought.
The time line doesn't seem to line up, since the king's children, Inan and Amari, are close to Zélie in age, so perhaps I missed that they are not his biological children, or else there was a longer period of time between the death of the previous king and the Raid. There is a rumor at court that at least Inan might have a different father. Several comments about skin color indicates a hierarchy within the kosidán, lighter skin tones being the preference, and most divîners have very dark skin. There is also a slur term for the divîners, maggot, which may have come about due to their white-on-dark hair, as well as maggot being a detested creature. Zélie had been six at the time of the Raid, when her mother was killed and her father beaten so badly he was shattered both physically and mentally. They had been living in Ibedan at the time, but the memories of the Raid drove them to seek a new home. They settled on the floating city of Iloran, fishing for food and to trade for other goods. Taxes keep going up, Zélie fearing she will be pressed into the stocks (slave labor) for non-payment. Luckily, their latest catch was a beautiful, large sailfish, which she thinks she can trade in Lagos for enough coin to settle their debt. She is able to sell it for even more than she expected, but the rest of her day does not go smoothly. I won't go into details, but in helping a girl escape royal guards she plunges into an adventure which may alter the land of Orďsha forever.
As I said above, most of the action sequences are well crafted, and the characters well-drawn and uniquely different. Scenes between the action are at times glossed over, movement between locations not as detailed, with distances either not as far as implied, or obstacles of landscape too easily surmounted. Discoveries come quickly, escapes too easily, and even when they know the time to complete their mission is impossibly close, instead of continuing the journey they take a break with another group of divîners, which of course leads to tragedy. Another weakness is the romantic pairings, with anger or resentment changing to attraction too quickly, when logic would suggest the opposite tack. These are only faults of execution, not of the underlying message, which is to cherish your heritage but not to let it blind you to the needs and wants of others. To be empathetic.
The author says the Black Lives Matter movement inspired at least part of the story, that being the subjugation and oppression of the divîners. Another factor is probably how skin tone is still a hot-topic issue within the Black community. Is Adeyemi trying to draw a parallel between the killing of the maji and the modern day killing of unarmed Black men, women, and children? If so, that's a slippery slope. The implication by police and 'stand your ground' advocates is that Blacks are inherently more dangerous, and must be policed differently. Several of the divîners-turned-maji exhibit dangerous powers, which causes even Zélie to fear the consequences of them unleashed, to question her plans and motives. It is easy to see why the King feared the maji and wanted to rid his country of them completely. Can Zélie control her powers and those of her fellow maji? Is it possible to work toward a truce between the two factions? We won't know until the second book.
UPDATE: Children of Blood and Bone won the Andre Norton Award for Best Young Adult Novel, and is a finalist for the Lodestar, Locus, and Kitschie awards.
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