“Imagine a fantasy world inspired by West African-culture, written as a reaction to the systemic violence against black Americans and you have Children of Blood and Bone, the first instalment in a planned fantasy trilogy written by 24-year-old Nigerian-American Tomi Adeyemi.” Kayti Burt
The novel opens with our bold and defiant female protagonist, Zélie’s, earnest plea, “PICK ME.” And this white haired divîner is indeed picked to help save the kingdom of Orïsha from the oppressive King and help bring back magic to the kingdom. Something she couldn’t have achieved without the help of the scarred Princess Amari and the loyalty of her handsome, put-upon brother Tzain.
The Guardian review pointed out that Adeyemi embraces the fantasy tropes with royalty, betrayal, power struggles and magic around every corner, but the west-African inspired setting and mythology with Yoruba spells makes this a unique take on the genre. In fact, with a black character list it has been called an Afrofuturist novel.
This blurb would not have captured this hardened fantasy doubter’s attention (yet to read Harry Potter) and at 544 pages for a Young Adult fiction novel I would have been intimidated. Yet I never noticed the length, perhaps it was because I read the novel on my Kindle, but I think it was the highly varied multiple perspective narrative from the impulsive and driven Zélie to the long-suffering and frustrated Tzain, the quietly determined Amari and the eternally conflicted Prince Inan. Add to this the effective pacing of epic battles that were both bloody and internalised continued to keep me gripped. I especially loved the drama and tension of the Ibeji amphitheatre arena scenes, which called to mind the Roman colosseum where such events did occur.
Yet, this is also a coming of age novel where we see the main characters develop and mature over the course of the adventures and become closer as a result. Constance Grady in Vox argued that the ‘reluctant friendship’ between Amari and Zélie seems rushed and a bit forced considering this is the beginning of a trilogy, however, without providing spoilers, in life people make snap reverse decisions about each other, especially when away from the security of home. To me the change indicated an earned reversal in opinions. Though it is the relationship between Tzain and Zélie that feels most true with their shared trauma, devotion to their Baba and their love for each other mixed up with guilt and frustration.
Adeyemi herself is drawing a great deal of attention, as it is noted in a number of articles how at 23 she successfully won a pitch war in 2016 and sold the movie rights to her unpublished manuscript for the highest recorded seven-figure deal and later Macmillion publishing picked it up for another seven figures. The Q& A and interview on Fallon didn’t hurt either, but despite this Adeyemi herself remains accessible and is a creative writing coach in San Diego providing free video advice and blogs on how to write a novel.
For those who are considering using the novel in class there are teaching resources provided by Macmillion and there is a published study guide available.
The Children of Blood and Bone deals with racism and oppression and is an allegory of the conflict and violence happening in the world. Adeyemi notes in her afterword that the novel was written at “a time where I kept turning on the news and seeing stories of unarmed black men, women, and children being shot by police. I felt angry and helpless, but this book was the one thing that made me feel like I could do something about it.” Zélie is also a strong well-rounded female warrior that is always affirming to come across.
The sequel will be called Children of Virtue and Vengeance, and it is tentatively predicted to be released on March 5th, 2019.