Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

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Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Tanja Jennings
Reviewed by Tanja Jennings
Summary: Tomi Adeyemi has produced a passionate, exciting and vivid celebration of her Nigerian heritage. She explores the mind-blowing powers of the Orisha (deities of the Yoruba) in this high octane, explosive and magical fantasy. This epic adventure featuring feisty protagonists fighting against brutal injustice will appeal to fans of tortured romance, cinematic prose and accomplished world-building.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 600 Date: March 2018
Publisher: Macmillan
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781509871353

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They killed my mother. They took our magic. They tried to bury us. Now we rise. These impassioned words belong to Zelie, the firecracker heroine of Tomi Adeyemi's stunning debut YA fantasy novel, Children of Blood and Bone. Already optioned for a movie it tells the story of the beleaguered Maji people persecuted for their supernatural powers. Once extolled as Diviners, imbued with godlike gifts and marked by their distinctive white hair and dark skin, the Maji have been the victims of genocide which has ripped away the magic of the survivors and cast them into the depths of despair. Considered a threat by the paler skinned ruling class, who fear the unknown, they have been labelled as 'maggots', oppressed, subjugated and classified as second class citizens (a universal theme which invites a comparison with the atrocities of today and the holocausts of the past). As Adeyemi explains, We live in a time where men, women, and children of colour are being dehumanized and oppressed and unjustly murdered. Though my book is an epic fantasy, it's directly tied to all of that pain. Indeed Adeyemi includes scenes reminiscent of the worst ravages of slavery to illustrate that horror and elicit empathy from the reader.

Told in the first person from multiple perspectives her novel takes the reader on a breathless and brutal odyssey as the fortunes of Zelie, Amari and Inan contentiously collide. Amari witnesses an event that makes her flee in terror with a precious treasure. The defiant Zelie seeks respite from a gruelling tax sanctioned by a cruel ruler while the conflicted Inan struggles to suppress his growing attraction to her, conceal his dangerous secret and stamp out any spark of magic for good. As circumstances spiral out of their control spirited Zelie, her resentful brother Tzain and the determined Amari find themselves on a perilous quest. They are accompanied by Nailah, a loyal lionaire, who is an indomitable feline with the added prehistoric features of jagged horns and fangs.

As a Nigerian-American this project was a labour of love for Adeyemi who works as a creative writing coach in California. On her website she speaks of her burning passion to tell a story about someone who is different and to force readers to fall in love with what is different from them. She also has a dream of a little girl being able to walk into the library and see a protagonist that actually looks like her. With her warrior character of Zelie she has accomplished this. Similar to Collins' Katniss in terms of tenacity, she is strong, brave and beautiful but not without vulnerability. Zelie's ocean village of Eloirin is like a spider caught in the web of the sea, sitting on eight legs of lumber all connected in the centre. This description enables the reader to visualise the fragility of Zelie's existence. Determined to protect all she holds dear she will fight to the last breath in her body to achieve justice but what if the greatest thing she has to fear is herself?

During her research, Adeyemi was excited to discover a rich seam of African mythology. This inspired her to inject a supernatural element into her novel by introducing the Orisha and connecting them to the fate of the Maji. She devised a clan structure based on the ten deities of Life and death (Oya), Mind, Spirit & Dreams (Ori), Water (Yemoja), Fire [(Sango), Air (Ayao), Iron & Earth (Ogun), Darkness & Light (Ochumure), Health & Disease (Babaluaye), Time (Orunmila) and Animals (Oxosi) who are ruled over by the Sky Mother Nana Buruku. One can draw a parallel with Egyptian creation myths, Hunter's Shadow, Wind, River and Thunder clans of (The Warrior Cats') series and Bardugo's Grisha (the orders of Corporalki, Etherealki and Materialki resembling Oya, Yemoja and Ogun who are also persecuted for their abilities) here. Significantly what places Zelie in jeopardy is not just her inexplicable pull towards an enemy but the awakening of her powers. As Lekan counsels her, Awakening magic is like adding a new sense. Your body needs time to adjust. She possesses the same gifts as her mother. Similar to Scott's (The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel) series, like Sophie, Zelie finds the ritual linking her to godlike powers draining.

Adeyemi fuses strong characterisation and deft plotting with settings rich in detail. The protagonists move from coastal to desert to jungle to city landscapes. Each is richly evoked with the sacred temple at Chandomble, the treacherous bridge, the nail biting gladiatorial marine battle at the forsaken outpost of Ibeji and the island of Jimeta being among the spectacular highlights. She also creates a dreamscape where two of her characters share sexually charged moments. For a flavour of Nigerian authenticity Adeyemi joyfully includes snippets of the Yoruba language and cultural references to special dishes like moi moi pie, jollof rice and shuku shuku during a feast scene. Her novel resonates with cinematic spectacle depicting the gods in a glorious rainbow of colours.

Who are Zu and Kwame? Who is Mama Agba? What are Ryders? Why does King Saran persecute the Maji? What can someone of the Ina clan do? Why is Kaea a threat? Who does Amari fall for? What significant role will the mysterious Roen play in Zelie's life? Why are the bone dagger, the scroll and the sunstone important? Should Zelie trust her heart or her head? What happens when the force of Oya is unleashed? Which clan does Zelie belong to? What is the difference between blood magic and ordinary magic? Will Zelie get what she wants? You will discover all these answers and more inside this epic read.

Children of Blood and Bone's dramatic denouement paves the way for book two of this engaging fantasy which has been optioned for a trilogy. I think it is a crossover and will appeal to adults as well as the YA market. If you can't wait and would like to examine Yoruba culture from a 19th Century perspective try the insightful historical novel A Different Sun: A Novel of Africa by Elaine Neil Orr. For a portrait of Nigeria check out The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma set in the 1990s or travel back to the 1960s with the compelling Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Written as a response to the Black Lives Matter Movement you might also like to read the searing, raw and visceral The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

If your preference is a thrilling mythological journey immerse yourself in The Alchemyst by Michael Scott. Alternatively if you want more intoxicating fantasy romance and impressive world-building on an epic scale dive into the beguiling Grishaverse starting with Shadow and Bone: The Grisha Trilogy Book 1 by Leigh Bardugo and continuing with Siege and Storm and Ruin and Rising which is inspired by Russian fairytales. If that whets your appetite also treat yourself to the wonderfully cinematic and brilliantly imaginative duology Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo set in the atmospheric Ketterdam.

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