Thursday, April 26, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orϊsha #1) by Tomi Adeyemi


You may have heard of this book. It has been heralded as the next Harry Potter. Adeyemi, a 23-year-old Nigerian-American first-time author and newcomer to the world of YA literature, received a seven-figure book advance and a movie deal for her debut fantasy novel – the first in a proposed trilogy. You may think to yourself, Seven figures? Could this book possibly be worth seven figures?? I am here to answer that question with a resounding “Yes!”

Children of Blood and Bone follows the story of Zélie Adebola, a strong, fearless young woman living in Orϊsha under the rule of a ruthless king. It is also the story of seemingly-docile Princess Amari who doubts her own inner strength and ability. And Amari’s brother, Prince Inan, who feels bound to family honor and duty to country.

The kingdom of Orϊsha used to hum with magic until King Saran ruthlessly destroyed it. Under his order, access to magic is cut off and the kingdom is purged of all the adult maji, leaving their children completely disempowered. Often referred to as “maggots,” their language and rituals are outlawed and those who have the potential to manifest magic—marked by their snow-white white hair and darker skin—are abused or enslaved. The Raid, as the purge of maji has come to be known, left Zélie without her beloved mother, who was hung from a tree in a fashion reminiscent of lynchings in the American south.

Zélie’s sense of loss and longing is palpable in Adeyemi’s writing, and will feel familiar to anyone who has lost a loved one.

I try not to think of her. But when I do, I think of rice. When Mama was around, the hut always smelled of jollof rice. I think about the way her dark skin glowed like the summer sun, the way her smile made Baba come alive. The way her white hair fuzzed and coiled, an untamed crown that breathed and thrived. I hear the myths that she would tell me at night. Tzain's laughter when they played agbon in the park. Baba's cries as the soldiers wrapped a chain around her neck. Her screams as they dragged her into the dark. The incantations that spewed from her mouth like lava. The magic of death that led her astray. I think about the way her corpse hung from that tree. I think about the king that took her away.
 
At the beginning of the book, Zélie stumbles upon a mystical artifact that may have the power to bring magic back. She has one shot – one chance in 100 years – and she is determined to strike out against King Saran and return magic to her oppressed people. With the help of her overprotective non-magical brother, Tzain, and a rogue princess, Amari – and on the run from a conflicted and dangerous Prince Inan, determined to earn the affection and respect of his cold-hearted father – she leaves home and begins a 500+-page adventure that kept me riveted from beginning to end.

This book is good. Really good, actually. It is well-written. The characters are great. It is fun. It is exciting. But beyond all of that, this book is important, and I’ll tell you why. Though every single character in the book is a person of color, I found myself imagining some of the characters as white people. The book is clearly set in an African-like imagined world and relies heavily on African terms and African myths. The characters even speak Yoruba, a real language spoken by the Yoruba people of Nigeria. Despite descriptions of clearly dark-skinned people, my brain still white-washed them. I’m not proud of this. I don’t like that I did this. I find it extremely distasteful, but my brain transposed white features onto people of color, nonetheless. And I think the reason I did this is because the books we read and the television we watch and the movies we view are all targeted toward a white-centric audience. It is ingrained in us from an early age that the heroes are white. (Black Panther aside [which was a phenomenal movie!], the new highly-hyped Marvel movie coming out this weekend is pretty dang white – and a little green if you count the Hulk.) Sure, you can argue that the media we digest today is much more diverse than it used to be – and that’s true – but we still have a long, loooooong way to go. And books like Children of Blood and Bone need to be published and consumed and enjoyed by all of us.

Children of Blood and Bone is a love story to African culture and people of color. The characters, despite being oppressed and denigrated their entire lives, are strong and resilient. Zélie and Amari, in particular, are stunning young women of extreme talent and ability. Both women start the book doubting themselves – unsure of who and what they are – and the reader watches them grow and mature and become forces with which to be reckoned. They take back dominion over their bodies and their futures. They become bad-ass women who change the world! Now that’s something I can definitely get behind!

In the author’s notes at the end of the book, Adeyemi says that this book was written at a time when “I kept turning on the news and seeing stories of unarmed black men, women, and children being shot by the police. I felt afraid and angry and helpless, but this book was the one thing that made me feel like I could do something about it.” She goes on to mention Jordan Edwards and Tamir Rice. Aiyana Stanley-Jones. Philando Castille. She ends her notes with the following call to action:

“We are all children of blood and bone.
And just like Zélie and Amari, we have the power to change the evils of the world.
We’ve been knocked down for far too long.
Now let’s rise.”

Children and Blood and Bone is a story about love. It is a family saga. A war story. An exciting adventure. A magical romp. A coming of age tale. A “BLACK LIVES MATTER-inspired fantasy novel.” The book seamlessly weaves West African mythology and spirituality with a newly created world that somehow manages to feel familiar to this Midwestern white chick.

Children of Blood and Bone is a call to action. One that you can’t help but feel compelled to answer.

And what about that stunning cover??

 

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