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Monday, February 04, 2019

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Book Stats:  

Reading level: Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy
Hardcover: 525 pages
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Release date: March 6, 2018

Series:  Children of Orisha #1

Source: Library

Reviewed by: Kara

Order: Amazon | Book Depository

They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.
Now we rise.
Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.
But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.
Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.
Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers and her growing feelings for an enemy.

Since last year, I've heard a lot about this book, and I bet you have too. I heard Tomi speak last year at a fantasy conference panel, so I knew I had to pick it up. It has been lauded on many awards and recommended lists this year and breaks ground into new territory as a west African fantasy novel. It's a YALSA Morris Award finalist. I started reading it a few months ago, but it took me awhile to finish. If everyone else loved it, why was I not loving it too?

First, this is a very character-driven fantasy. There's a lot of dialogue, a lot of back-and-forth between characters that takes up probably 80% of the book. The entire premise of a magical west Africa and ten clans of magi all with their distinct brand of magic is definitely a great hook. I really wanted to read more about this! However, the background of the novel really didn't cover much history or even the setting. Rather than being well-grounded in a place you can feel, see, and realize through the page, there were whole portions where I felt like the characters were just rushing around and zapping themselves wherever the plot needed them to be next.

The lack of transition and fully-fleshed out setting was disappointing as I've never been to Africa but really wanted to see Africa through the details in description, not just a vague reference. It seemed like this novel weeded out all of the "boring" bits that typically happen with fantasy. (Note, fantasies aren't all actually long and "boring" ala Frank Herbert's Dune or The Lord of the Rings trilogy--which sometimes frustrates readers. See Leigh Bardugo's well-drawn descriptions in her Grishaverse.) The actions that happen are very direct and possess no subtleties, no layers of subplot, and when things do occur, it didn't paint a full picture.

This was probably my biggest complaint about the novel. Since there were not many details and descriptions, this left mostly dialogue and action which left me tired of the book and unconnected to the characters. For example, Amari is scarred by the murder of her handmaid Binta and there are constant references to how kind Binta was to Amari and how she feels about her, but the reader doesn't see this kindness and get attached to Binta. We only see it through Amari's narration, which makes it feel distant and hard to summon emotion to care what happens to her except that we're "supposed to" because of who and what she represents. Rather than this being the only instance, I also had a hard time believing everyone switches sides to see Zélie's point of view and how she's always on the "right" side. As the reader, sure, we're supposed to think Zélie is right in her pursuit for justice and freedom for her people, but the majority of the people she meets are supposed to be anti-magi, supporting the genocide of her people. Rather than them having a change of heart and an experience to change, they simply "see" how Zélie thinks, and suddenly they're on her side like Inan's back-and-forth conversion. For this matter, there's also the troubling insta-love with the prince. Why do they have to romance each other immediately?

I think this book, because of the roots of its creation in Black Lives Matter and racial violence and justice, was simply rushed to publication and did not take enough time to build up the characters and the world. I loved the ideas and creativity, but in fact, I would have preferred something like a subtle coming-of-age story. Such as, if the book started out with the three characters and described how each were raised - Zelie, Inan, and Amari. Then each started their adventure a few chapters later and slowly the reader discovers who they are and they come together to take on the full story as a team. Like the emotion it responds to, it's just too full of passion and rebounding and lacks the strength of connection to back it up. These mass scenes of violence--against families, children, parents-- happen but none of the characters really respond to it or process through it, they and the reader are left numb and vengeful. While the "bones" of this story are good and promising, the "blood" of the story just doesn't make it breathe and leap off the page.

What did you think? Let me know in the comments.

Kara is a teen librarian living in the southeastern US with her husband (who listens to books), young daughter (who sleeps with books), and dog (who tastes the books). She loves all sorts of books, but mostly YA, and will never catch up to all of the wonderful things to read.

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