Review: Children of Blood and Bone
I think there are a lot of readers these days that are “coming to an awareness” of the fact that there are considerably more books written by people that belong to neither the male half nor the white portion of the world’s population. Whether they’ve come to that realization by dint of the more vocal portion of the reader/authorship populace, or just because of their own level of self-awareness, I think that it’s by-and-large a good thing. At least, if they decide to do anything about it. I’ve always been one to share my opinion that I’m a staunch supporter of this widening of our story-source base. At the same time, however, I do my best to never pull any punches expressly because of who the author of a book is or what they’ve decided to write about. If a story is good, I’ll crow about it. If I feel like it let me down, I’m going to say so. And why. I am trying to review these things, after all, right?
This book is the first of my concerted efforts to make sure that the books I choose to read are “diverse” enough. Prior to this point, I just plainly never paid attention. I read what I was given. Granted, there were definitely times when I steered away from cliched-sounding YA or those that looked like they were going to be primarily romantic in nature, but that was about the extent of my filtering. The decision to diversify my reading choices will by no means keep me from passing by a book that just doesn’t sound interesting, regardless of who wrote the thing. It will, however, encourage me to make sure that I’m looking for options that will widen my view of what is currently being written in today’s publication sphere. I know there are going to be some of our readers that will groan at this, and some that crow. I hope to be able to both disappoint and please all of you in turns and become better overall as a result. Wish me luck.
CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE (Amazon) is author, Tomi Adeyemi’s, first published novel, and (according to Wikipedia) only her second novel ever written. From her author’s note, included at the beginning of the audiobook I listened to, her drive to write this story came from her frustration and helplessness at seeing a large amount of violence perpetrated against young, black Americans. I can applaud her efforts to do that. You do what you can, where you can, when you see something that you think needs to be fixed. Granted, people might see things differently given their varying perspectives, but doing something is generally viewed as being better than doing nothing.
The story in CHILDREN evolves in the Africa-inspired land of Orisha. A land ruled by a king that found a way to end the feud between the noble elites (the kosidan) and those that wielded the magic of the land (the maji). That pathway involved the extermination first of the connection between the maji and their source of power, and then of the maji themselves. In the present, the king’s guards wield a violent and brutal power over those beneath them. Scattered throughout the population are silver-haired diviners — those that would have eventually evolved into maji, had the connection between the magic of the land and its people still held any efficacy. Unsurprisingly, the king will do anything to retain his position of strength. This motivation, however, does not necessarily apply to his children.
Three point-of-view characters share the pages of the story. The bulk of the plot is driven by Zelie Adebola, a young girl whose mother, a maji, was killed in the initial wave of violence perpetrated by the new king. She, her brother Tzain, and their father, live together in a small fishing village, where they eke by a meager existence, and are frequently beset upon by the king’s guards. Early in the story, the oppression of the guards and their taxes is building to the point that Zelie and her family will no longer be able to avoid indentured servitude. By happenstance, they catch a rare fish, and Zelie determines to take it to market, sell it for a bundle, and then be financially set for the next year or so. While at market, she run into Princess Amari (in disguise, and the second POV character). The girl is in distress — there are guards after her — and despite Zelie’s better judgement (but obviously in line with the author’s will) she helps the girl and ultimately has to flee the city. Amari has fled the palace after seeing her best friend, Binti, killed by her father the king. The girl was forced to touch a magical scroll that revealed her as a diviner and subsequently turned her into a maji. In retribution, Amari steals the scroll and flees the palace with it. Soon after, Amari’s brother, Prince Inan (the third POV), is sent with a retinue of guards to quietly retrieve it.
A well-written but ultimately unsatisyfying story of a young girl seeking revenge and renewal through the magic that was once part of her heritage.
While quite well-written, the evolution of the plot felt very juvenile, and was easily one of the weakest aspects of the book. There were several times where it was laid out almost like a video game. Moving from one scene to the next. Escape the guards. Find the visionary old woman. Search out the hidden peoples. Defeat the boss. Wander through the wilderness. Find the old hermit. Cut-scene about wordlbuilding. I couldn’t help but make these comparisons over and over again, the further I made it into the story. It could be suggested that the simplicity of the story was warranted because it’s a story about young people, but it felt even younger still to me. In my mind, the simple plot lines can easily be attributed to the fact that this is only the author’s first published book. Plotting is definitely something that can be learned though. The world-building was definitely complex and layered enough. There was lots of detail that made the world feel whole, and even summarizing the events of the story would take some good amount of time.
The characterization of Zelie was quite good. The author took nearly every opportunity to help us see who she was and what she was doing, giving her a unique voice that helped me to understand what all was going on inside of her. There were a few times where I became somewhat annoyed at the decisions she was making. Those times would invariably be prefaced with a statement akin to, “she didn’t know why she was making this choice, but…” Characterization of the other two POVs was pretty sparse. This was especially apparent when the prince, Inan, makes a massive change in his behavior that didn’t feel justified at all, but did help the plot considerably. As in, none of the people he was chasing died as a result. There’s also a second moment, late in the story, where a large host of people makes a very surprising and honestly ridiculous decision to hang out and have a party instead of pushing on to their goal, when they know perfectly well that they’re being chased by a whole host of the king’s guards. It’s unfortunate that “relatively small” pieces to the story like these can make such a large negative impact on the overall story. It’s events like these though that knock the reader out of the story. It destroys their suspension of disbelief, and that can be a fairly egregious sin in my book. Do it too many times, and readers will just plain give up on you.
Despite these flaws and nearly deciding to bail on the read, I pushed through to the end, but found the characters saved by a deus ex machina and then ended almost immediately after very large changes to two of the characters that weren’t handled or explained at all. Initially, it made me think that the characters of both Amari and Inan were unnecessary to the plot, as neither of their stories significantly enhanced the plot or came to any sort of satisfying conclusion. I’m still of the opinion that the story could have been much tighter and better told if Amari had been removed as a POV character though.
Despite a decent premise, good world-building, and an engaging voice in Zelie, CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE was ultimately disappointing for me due to mediocre storytelling, a lack of consistent characterization, and too many poor choices made as the tale drew to a close.
- Recommended Age: 15+
- Language: Moderate level
- Violence: Relatively low level of gore, but there's a lot of death (a very few overly violent), and a couple references to rape and the threat thereof
- Sex: A decent amount of sexual tension and physical lead up between the several characters of interest, there's nothing to get too hot and bothered over