Book Review: Children of Blood and Bone
If you're a regular reader, you know that I'm not a big YA reader for simple reasons of time and money. Since I purchase most of my books, and most YA fantasy books are shorter than adult fantasy books, and I read quite fast, it's not usually a good investment for me. I made an exception for Children of Blood and Bone, however, because a) there was a lot of hype around this book, b) I've made a commitment to read more diverse books this year and c) it's also quite long.
Children of Blood and Bone is the story of Zélie, who was born to be a maji and wield the power of the gods. But years ago, the king of Orïsha ordered the deaths of all adult maji, including Zélie's mother, and severed the maji's connection with the gods to deprive them of their powers. Zélie has grown up in a world that hates her for her birth and discriminates against those like her. But when a pair of powerful artifacts are rediscovered, hope returns to Orïsha. Zélie and her friends set out to complete a ritual to bring back magic, even as the king's son hunts them down.
Orïsha is a vibrant, well-imagined world, particularly in how it portrays the uses of power and abuse. Inspired by African mythology, it feels lived in, with a history and a religion and a culture all its own. There are a few cut corners here and there, a few things glossed over or left out, but overall Adeyomi has done a remarkable job of building the setting for this novel.
And the novel is truly dependent on that setting. Children of Blood and Bone's themes of oppression and otherness would not work without the little displays we get early on: the way diviner girls are abused even in the first chapter, the way the king (and his son) slaughters them without a second thought. That pressure builds and builds throughout the novel, until it finally bursts forth in Zélie as she expresses her constant, never-ending fear. And she's right - she shouldn't have to be afraid.
Beyond just that, the magic feels fresh and exciting. In fantasy these days, it's hard to pull off a magic system that doesn't feel like a rehash of something else, but Adeyomi manages it as Zélie comes into her powers as a Reaper. Reapers are necromancers, of a sort, but by summoning the trapped spirits of the dead and giving them a task to complete, Reapers usher spirits properly into the afterlife. And this is only one of the different types of maji in Children of Blood and Bone.
Speaking of our main character, let's chat about Zélie. She's a stubborn, determined young lady, and she's a pleasure to read. She's impossible to deter, even in the book's "darkest moment," and she has a great deal of compassion for her people. The book's most moving moments revolve around her emotional growth as she comes into her powers and struggles with the burden of being the person chosen to bring magic back. She also struggles with her fear and the abuse she and her family have suffered at the king's hands.
The other characters are an interesting bunch. I really enjoyed Amari--she has a journey that parallels Zélie's nicely, as she goes from being a spoiled, naive princess to a fearsome warrior. She recognizes the wrong her father has done, and as the story goes on, she finds the courage to stand up for herself despite the abuse she suffered at his hands.
I struggled a bit more with Inan and Tzain. I like Inan's nebulous position as somewhere between villain and hero, and I like the conflict he suffers, torn between his father's abusive wishes and his newly developed magic. I was less a fan of the relationship between Inan and Zélie; it comes a little out of nowhere. In the space of just a few days they go from deadly enemies to ready to have sex.
The plot is a bit trope-y in places (there's a gladiator arena for...reasons), but it strikes the perfect balance between quiet emotional moments, expository history, and heart-pumping action. The book is long, but it never feels too long, and it justifies its length.
Overall, I really enjoyed Children of Blood and Bone. It's a refreshing setting with a fantastic heroine, and the ending will leave you impatient for more. I can't wait to see where Adeyomi takes Zélie in the second book.