You Might Like This Book If You…
- Enjoy fantasy
- Enjoy YA fiction that explores current events & identity
- Are curious about a fantasy with a non-Western mythological foundation
- Love Avatar: The Last Airbender
The kingdom of Orisha is composed of two races of people: Maji, people with white hair who have the potential to access a wide range of magical powers, and Kosidans, people without magic. Years ago, the king of Orisha ordered the killing of all Maji, leaving only their children, who had not yet matured into their powers. He then went on to break their connection with the source of their powers so that the young could never hold magic.
Since then, the cultural climate of Orisha shifted to one in which Kosidans regard Maji as lowly scum, denying them opportunities and abusing them as much as possible. The story revolves around four young Orishans. Amari, the princess and daughter of the murderer-king, discovers a way to restore magic. Horrified by her father’s cruelty, Amari runs away to do what she believes is right. She meets Zelie, a young warrior woman and Maji, and her brother Tzain. The three embark on a journey to reconnect the people to magic, all before deadlines set by solstices and before Amari’s brother Inan can capture them.
In this novel, Tomi Adeyemi explores the theme of racial oppression through a magical lens. In her closing notes, she writes, “Children of Blood and Bone was written during a time where I kept turning on the news and seeing stories of unarmed black men, women, and children being shot by the police. I felt afraid and angry and helpless, but this book was the one thing that made me feel like I could do something about it.” This book is a testament to the power that stories have to help us process our emotions and find a place to heal.
I enjoyed this book, but not as much as I thought I would. I blame bad reviews for that. Everyone kept saying this was like Harry Potter — it’s not. I kept searching the pages for a wizarding school, a Dumbledore, magical creatures and ghosts… and there’s none of that. This book should not be compared to Harry Potter.
If I must compare it to anything, it’s like Avatar: The Last Airbender. Similarities between the two include: a journey story with deadlines set by solstices, a fantasy with a non-western mythological foundation, a trio on a mission, a tortured prince chasing said trio, an evil dad-king, and an emphasis on spirituality over magic. But the story also stands on its own. It’s powerful and unique, and although it’s similar to Avatar, it doesn’t feel derivative.
My only criticism of the story itself is regarding its pacing. It’s pretty fast-paced for a fantasy. This may work in its favor; I think a lot of people are drawn away from fantasy because it can be so slow. But it’s in the long journeys that we get to know the characters and we see the rag-tag team turn into a family. Not only that, but we get to see the magic of the world that the writer built. Adeyemi gives us characters and a world that feels real… but I think there could have been more.
In addition, the cross-country travel seems to happen at an unnatural and inconsistent pace. The map shows vast distances between nations, but the characters get across those distances in a matter of days or hours–whatever is convenient to the story. Again, this is one of those things that would bother fantasy fans, but probably is a welcome tweaking of the genre for everyone else.
Despite my nitpicky criticisms, I believe this is an extraordinary book. I love what it opens up. Adeyemi imagines a whole new fantasy world with the use of West African folklore. It is so refreshing to read a new mythos. The book also allows for an imaginative look into the topics of racial oppression. It is a way for fantasy lovers to find connections to the real world, and for fantasy newbies to get a taste of the magic of the genre.
As a high school teacher, I think this is just the right balance of imagination and relevance that my students need. I wish my school district would add this to our approved class reads! Until then, I’ll just continue giving passionate book talks about it and encouraging my students to read it during their independent reading time. I cannot wait for the sequel, Children of Virtue and Vengeance, to come out in June! If you haven’t read CBB, find it on Amazon here!
Let me know your thoughts on Children of Blood and Bone! I’m also looking for other fantasy books that have non-western mythology, so leave a comment if you know a good one.