My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Length: 448 pages
Release date: 6 March 2018
Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zelie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.
But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were targeted and 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 the enemy.
There’s been a lot of hype surrounding this book. And I don’t say this very often, but here goes–I think Children of Blood and Bone will live up to it. Not because it’s the best book I’ve ever read (it’s not) or because its author is a media personality with millions of followers (she doesn’t), but because it stands out for being startlingly bold and fresh amongst shelves of YA novels playing off similar motifs. This is Throne of Glass with a Nigerian twist, at least in the sense that it recaptures the magic I felt when I read Celaena Sardothien for the very first time.
The blurb doesn’t do the story justice. On one level, as you can see from reading the summary, Children of Blood and Bone is a fairly straightforward road trip quest story spiced up with enemies-to-lovers romance. However, I’d argue that that’s only half the story. We get some truly compelling moments of friendship girls forge with each other and the intrinsic tension between siblings who desire to protect their family.
“You don’t get it,” I look away. “You’ve never had to. You get to be the perfect kosidán everyone loves. Every day I have to be afraid.”
It helps that the book is narrated from three perspectives–Zélie, the “chosen one” on a mission to bring back magic, Amari, my favourite, the princess who rebels against her father, and Inan, the morally dubious crown prince caught between duty and morality. Each character develops in their own way over the course of the novel, and although it’s for the most part predictable, there is one arc that did not go the way I’d expected.
Everyone’s familiar with YA and MG novels adapting Greek, Roman, and to a lesser extent Celtic mythologies. This is my first experience with a story using Nigerian mythology, and it’s a welcome departure from the usual repertoire. I have to say, I really like the relatively recent trend of YA fantasy going worldwide–from Rebel of the Sands (Persian) to Flame in the Mist (Japanese) and now Adeyemi’s debut, diversity’s really helped keep things fresh. That’s not to rag on novels based on European folklore, but you can only read so many takes on the Fae or the classical pantheon before you find yourself wishing for something new. In Children of Blood and Bone, the many Yoruba terms and incantations can be a little hard to follow, but they add so much to the story that it would little more than a generic husk without them.
The magic system falls into that category of “above average”–it’s not totally satisfying insofar as a lot of it is just explained by “because the gods said so”, but it’s well thought through, makes sense logically, and brings in a few superpowers that go beyond what you normally find. For example, the protagonist Zélie is basically a necromancer. Now I don’t know about you, but I haven’t read many YA novels where the main character is a girl with the kickass ability of summoning the spirits of the dead. I haven’t read any books, period, where there’s a necromancer who doesn’t look/act like this:
I mean, there’s a time and place for edgy goth attire. But…eww.
The pacing is fine for most of the book, although it starts with an explosive first six chapters (as everyone who’s read the sampler can attest), then drags a little near the 30% mark before picking up again in the second half. My main issue with the story is the messy and inconclusive ending, which was obviously written to set up the sequel rather than as the end of a book in and of itself. The whole thing is so rushed and confusing that even after rereading the last few chapters slowly to make sure I hadn’t missed anything, I still couldn’t tell whether a certain character had actually died or not.
One major plot point is also resolved with a deus ex machina that frankly feels quite lazy and is something I’ve seen almost to the letter in a YA novel of 2017, in addition to 2 or 3 others where things go down quite similarly. That said, if Adeyemi capitalises on the explosive setup she’s given herself, Book Two is going to be a hell of a ride.
*Thanks to Macmillan Children’s Books and NetGalley for providing a review copy of this book! All opinions represented remain my own.*