When should you read this book? Anytime you need to escape from the universe.
Children of Blood and Bone occupies a weird hinterland between adult and young adult fiction, and it seems unfair to it to try and wedge it into either category.
It tells the story of Zélie, a young girl living in a land called Orïsha where magic once existed. Magic was ripped from the world by King Saran, a despot who rules with an iron fist and subjugates those who would try to bring it back.
As a divîner, Zélie would have grown into a maji and been able to wield her own magical powers as an adult, but the connection between the world and the realm of the gods, who bestow magic upon humanity, has been severed.
Yet within the palace a rebellion grows in the form of Amari, Saran’s daughter and princess of Orïsha.
When her best friend falls victim to her father’s regime, she escapes the palace with an artefact that just might be able to restore the link between humans and gods, bringing magic back to divîners like Zélie. A chance encounter in a marketplace draws the two girls together and sets them on a journey to bring magic back to Orïsha.
But hot on Amari’s heels is her brother, Inan. Desperate to prove his worth to his father, he will do anything to stop the two girls and make sure magic is lost for good.
That’s quite a long description of what goes on, but hey – it’s quite a hefty book.
A magical world
Possibly the best thing about this novel is the way Adeyemi describes Orïsha. If you’re looking for a bit of escapism from dreary city life – as I was – you can’t do much better than these glorious descriptions of vast, humid jungles, barren deserts and hut-lined villages, shrouded in magic.
There are lots of details to enjoy here, which is why it’s so easy to be sucked into the story. There are connections to real-world Africa, from the comforting smell of joloff rice to the traditional dress described. The creatures that inhabit Orïsha are based on real life, but with a special twist. Panthers, for example, become panthenaires – huge cats which can be saddled and are ridden by the royal guard.
A matter of perspective
There is something a little odd about the structure of this book, in that there are four protagonists (Zélie, her brother Tzain, Amari, and Inan) but the narration is handled by only three of them.
We hop between Zélie, Amari and Inan (poor old Tzain doesn’t get a look in – perhaps in future books?).
This frequent change of perspective, which switches from chapter to chapter, is never jarring, and actually adds to the satisfying complexity of the story.
This must be one of the fastest paced novels I have read in a good long while. Somebody, surely, must have optioned this for a film – it would make a brilliant blockbuster.
There are plenty of action sequences, and Adeyemi is especially adept at capturing the rip-roaring speed of these without losing any of the detail. I was practically out of breath after reading some of them.
The protagonists are all young adults. This is true. But I’d be hesitant to chuck Children of Blood and Bone into the YA fiction category. It definitely does have some elements of that, but I found it to be a bit more complex than other YA books.
For instance, a theme of the novel is power and responsibility.
Adeyemi refuses to simplify the story into ‘goodies and baddies’, with Inan’s character largely responsible for this moral blurring. As much as you may dislike him, his belief that it would be wrong to bring magic back to the world seems valid and comes from a desire to protect his people.
There is one point where he surveys the devastation magic can cause and concludes that it is simply too dangerous to hand a weapon of such power over to the general population.
Despite me rooting furiously for Zélie and team as they try to bring magic back, it was hard not to see Inan’s point as well.
It’s a satisfying moral point to chew over during the (brief) lulls between action scenes.
Overall I thought Children of Blood and Bone was an exciting, absorbing read with incredible attention to detail and emotional resonance.
When I pick up a fantasy novel it’s generally because I’m looking for something that isn’t too heavy, that will suck me into the story, have me rooting for the characters and give me a bit of an escape.
Children of Blood and Bone definitely delivers on all those fronts, and I will be picking up the sequel as soon as it’s out.
Have you guys read Children of Blood and Bone? What did you think?
Next up, The White Book by Han King – the first in my Man Booker series!