3P Reviews, Fantasy Series

The Cost of Violence – Children of Blood and Bone

Quote from the book: With a sharp flick, Mama removes her own compacted staff and smacks it against the floor. “Your opponents carry swords. Why do I train you in the art of the staff?” Our voices echo the mantra Mama Agba has made us repeat time and time again. “It avoids rather than hurts, it hurts rather than maims, it maims rather than kills—the staff does not destroy.” “I teach you to be warriors in the garden so you will never be gardeners in the war. I give you the strength to fight, but you all must learn the strength of restraint.” Mama turns to me, shoulders pinned back. “You must protect those who can’t defend themselves. That is the way of the staff.”

About a month or two back, I was shopping for groceries at my local supermarket when I passed in front of the small book stand they have at the back of the store, then paused when I noticed Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone nestled amongst the John Grisham and Robert Pattinson reprints. I had read the book before, so I knew it was part of the growing movement of own voices series written to deal with themes of oppression and persecution through the lens of fantasy. As the grocery store is not exactly a hub of literary exploration, I was pleasantly surprised to find this book there. It’s just one of many illustrations of how popular this novel is.

I won’t likely be able to add much to the conversation with my review, but I’ve seen a lot more advertising power behind this book than I have heard clear consensus on it from readers. Some love it. A few have quite the opposite reaction. Either way, it’s a complex thing to untangle, so I hope I might be able to provide a hand to those trying to figure out where this book sits with them. It’s certainly a book any new fantasy writer ought to know, even if it isn’t for everyone.

I don’t mean to imply that the book is something so unique that it will challenge your understanding of the genre; in some ways, it is for fantasy what Black Panther is for superhero films, and that can be a strength or a weakness depending on what you are looking for. It is not Black Leopard, Red Wolf nor The Fifth Season, but it shares a mind with books like those in some important ways, and regardless of where it sits in the ever-growing pantheon of own voices fantasy giants, it tells a story that we ought to think about.

 

3P Reviews Series: Children of Blood and Bone

Spoilers: All the spoilers.

Audience Assumptions: I have no idea. I think I’m assuming you’ve never read the book, or just recently read the book and need someone to agree with you that it’s flawed. Anyway, that’s what you’re getting here.

Content Warnings: Mention of racism, police brutality, genocide, murder, and domestic abuse

 

Part One: Return of the Reaper

Quote from the book: All at once, the flames lining the walls go out, just like Tzain’s makeshift torch, but in an instant they re-ignite with new life, blanketing every inch of stone with light. “Oh.” “My.” “Gods!” We marvel as we enter the dome, decorated with a mural so magnificent, I can hardly speak. Each meter of stone is covered in vibrant paints, illustrating the ten gods, the maji clans, everything in-between. It’s so much more than the crude pictures of the gods that used to exist before the raid – the occasional hidden painting, the rare woven tapestry, only brought out under the cover of darkness. Those were flickering rays of light; this mural is like staring at the face of the sun. “What is this?” Amari breathes, spinning to take in the sights all at once. Lekan motions us over and I pull Amari along, steadying her when she stumbles. He presses his hands into the stone before answering. “The origin of the gods.” His golden eyes spark, and bright energy escapes his palm, feeding into the wall. As the light travels along the paint, the art glows and the figures slowly come to life.

The story of Children of Blood and Bone is in many ways a straightforward adventure: a group of teenagers in a fantastical version of Nigeria discover a scroll that can be used to restore magic to the world. They set off to complete the ritual detailed on the scroll, aiming to assemble it and two other magical objects, all while being pursued by a dictatorial prince who wants to see them and the scroll destroyed.

Of course, the basic plot (what I like to call the A Plot) is only the tip of the iceberg; the meat of the story lies in the characters and the world they wander through.

Zélie is the ostensible protagonist, though the book alternates between her viewpoint and those of two other characters. Zélie is a divîner, an ethnic group within the land of Orïsha who were once known for their magical powers which connected them to ancient gods. In recent years, the divîners have become feared by the ruling kosidán class, whose leaders sought to eradicate the divîners. When Zélie was a child, soldiers came to the divîner villages on the orders of King Saran, and killed all of the magically-gifted maji, including Zélie’s mother. Magic disappeared overnight, and since then, no more maji have come into their powers.

Still persecuted by discriminatory taxes meant to keep divîners from reclaiming power, Zélie tries to make life work for her father and her brother, Tzain, while secretly training to fight with one of the village elders. Her life is suddenly and drastically changed when, on a trip to the market, she bumps into a runaway noble girl who begs Zélie’s help escaping from some guards. Zélie begrudgingly sneaks the girl back home, discovering in the process that the girl has stolen a scroll that re-awakens a maji’s powers. Now gifted with the wisps of her mother’s abilities, Zélie becomes eager to complete the ritual and restore the full magical potential to all of her people.

She, her brother, and this girl, Amari, set off on an uncertain quest only they can complete. Amari is a kosidán, and what’s more, the princess of Orïsha. While sympathetic to the maji as her servant friend was among them and was executed because of it, Amari herself has lived the life of an aristocrat. She hardly knows how to manage life amongst the commonfolk, much less understands the persecution Zélie and her family have faced.

In hot pursuit behind them is Prince Inan, Amari’s brother, who along with his well-armed guard aims to retrieve and destroy the scroll to prevent magic from returning. His own journey through the book is complicated by his slow realization that in touching the scroll, he has awakened the magical potential in himself and also become a maji. Should his men or his father find out, he knows he will be executed. Ashamed and frightened, Inan pursues Zélie with ferocity, blaming her for his misfortune.

Over the course of the story, the protagonists come to better understand each other, see how the tyranny of the crown has turned once-thriving towns into slums and prison states, and come closer to the ancient source of magic. Zélie becomes a fully-fledged Reaper, like her mother, granted power over life and death, while Inan starts to use his own new psychic powers to track her. They confront each other often in dreams thanks to the latter’s power, slowly coming to understand each other until they realize a romantic connection has formed between them. Eventually Inan gets wrapped up in the protagonists’ group as he grows distant from his magic-fearing father. By the end of the story, all of them are tentatively working together.

However, this is the first of a trilogy, and its conclusion is not destined for a happy ending. In the final hour, King Saran comes out to finish the job his son could not, and presented with the authority that has ruled him his entire life, Inan buckles and switches sides once more. Though the protagonists have all of the items they need to complete the ritual, in the heat of the moment, Inan uses his magic to trick Zélie into destroying the scroll. Proud to have, in his eyes, saved the kingdom, Inan nonetheless meets a grim fate when his father cuts him down for using magic. Zélie is wracked with guilt for letting her anger damn their quest, and she fights with all of the strength she can muster, but in the end, she falters. A last-ditch attempt sees her perform her own sort of ritual, one which connects her and all of the others in her land to their deep past, their gods, and magic, but in a way that leaves the future unclear.

The novel ends on a cliffhanger leading into the sequel, so it’s important to keep in mind when assessing this story that technically it’s incomplete. I would consider this entry to tell enough of a full story that, although its ending is bleak up until the last few lines, it does feel like it builds to an ending. As the first in a trilogy, there’s a distinct risk that later entries may rescind or retcon important plot elements from this book that retroactively dampen their effect. Or we could run into the Hunger Games problem of repetition with later entries. I haven’t read the second book yet, and the third isn’t out, but I would venture a guess to say that this series was originally written as one big long rough draft initially. We’ve all been there. And to be honest, I would take this book as a stand alone in a heartbeat if my other option was the likes of Dragon Keeper.

 


Part Two: Red-Tailed Sailfish, Horned Lions, and Gladiatorial Ship Battles

Quote from the book: I walk to the back of the hut and open our small iron icebox. In a bath of chilled seawater lies the red-tailed sailfish we wrangled yesterday, its glistening scales promising a delicious taste. A rare find in the Warri Sea, it’s much too valuable for us to eat.

The parts of this book that stand out to me, as in many epic fantasies, are the details worked into the worldbuilding. Magic systems, mythical creatures, and surreal locations are all touchstones of the genre, and no self-respecting fantasy series would be complete without tactile descriptions of the food on people’s plates or the insignias on their armor.

Children of Blood and Bone has a particularly well-realized landscape that sits right in a Goldilocks Zone of fantasy worlds, at least for me. It is big and varied enough that I can readily imagine two more books of similar length existing in the same setting, but the world is also self-contained in a way that ensures the author doesn’t get preoccupied with showing or hinting about half a dozen other countries irrelevant to the main story. That’s a difficult balance to achieve, but it’s well worth the effort; in many ways, this book’s lifeblood is the world it weaves.

There’s something similarly elegant in the story’s prose, which is crisp and to the point. Descriptions are condensed into rich little tastes that do an excellent job of presenting an impression of the environment without bogging down the pacing of the story. I’ve learned recently that some people don’t see images in their mind when they hear descriptions, and so I’m not sure how a story with relatively sparse descriptions would suit them. For me, all I need is a few words to guide the image in my mind of an environment, so a story that chooses a vibrant assemblage of descriptions without feeling the need to stop and stare at every flower (Mr. Tolkien…) is just about perfect. The story readily creates the feel of a non-industrial world spread between farms and fishing villages, where the forests are temperate and the primary beasts of burden are enormous horned cats. I do sometimes find the story’s terminology for its unique elements underwhelming (the cats being called lionaires, cheetanaires, etc., and the terms for divîners and maji being a bit too close to their English equivalents for my taste), but these complaints diminish as you settle into the story. Awkward names for fantasy concepts are often just a part of the genre you have to accept sooner or later.

The aesthetic and atmosphere of the book are easily its strongest points and feed into its plot and characters. However, the plot and characters are rather a bit little more hit-or-miss than the overall aesthetic, as they feel like the most derivative elements of the novel.

Zélie is a highly effective YA protagonist, being well-realized from an early point but also more nuanced of a character than her initial impression implies. She is assertive and quick to anger, able to keep a level head in stressful situations, but also vulnerable to taunts. Her rash actions often cause problems for her and her companions, but there’s an empathetic core to them that belies Zélie’s softer side. She raised her giant lion, Nyla, from a cub and is fiercely protective of her, and she has a deeply spiritual connection to her culture and her mother. She feels the need to maintain the facade of a warrior in part because she knows that the kosidán ruling class will use any crack in her armor to pull the very blood from her body and leave her a brittle husk. Especially after her magic manifests, she feels a greater sense of obligation to those around her. She is a Reaper, able to revive souls as zombies, but also help the dead to the spirit world and ensure they pass peacefully. The duality of her power is a solid reflection of her depth of character.

Amari and Inan, the other point-of-view characters, leave something to be desired. Neither of them is badly constructed and they each get rewarding character moments, but they aren’t often used very effectively, and the subtext of the book makes their roles within it clumsy at best. Of the three point-of-view characters, Amari strikes me as the least necessary. I certainly think she fits in within the main group, but as she’s usually traveling with Zélie and Tzain, her perspective often seems redundant, and I’m not entirely sure the first person perspective offers anything we couldn’t get from listen to Amari through Zélie’s point-of-view. When Inan joins the protagonists, the cultural gap he presents is functionally identical to Amari’s, and their perspectives are very similar as well. I would honestly have been much more interested to hear from Tzain, as he’s a marginalized character within this world and lacks the connection Zélie had to their mother. Amari proves her worth after spending some time with the protagonists, skilled with a sword and motivated by her dead friend, but that itself is kind of the problem, I think.

Okay, so backing up a bit, hi, I’m White*, my voice on the subject of race matters not at all, especially when set against the words of a Black woman. I can describe what strikes me as off in this book, but that can only go as far as the limits of my understanding of narrative, and as there are plenty of people whose experiences are outside of my own, I will necessarily miss many of the reasons behind a given author’s artistic choices, especially if they come from a marginalized community. I try to stay informed, but there are somethings you just can’t learn from an outsider’s perspective, and it’s the responsibility of privileged voices to understand that and know when to defer to others.

With this in mind:

Amari is not White, as there are no White characters in this story’s world, but the she and the other kosidán characters are nonetheless of a class that subjugates and draws a lot of parallels to wealthy White and light-skinned people in places like the US. This is intentional; author Tomi Adeyemi explicitly states in her author’s notes that she was inspired to write this book in response to the police violence that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement a few years ago. The theme of brutal authoritarian oppression of a disenfranchised community distinguished racially is woven throughout the story, and in the interplay between our fictional characters, Zélie and her brother are the subjects of oppression, Inan is the oppressor, and Amari is an ally. Specifically, she is an ally who has only recently started to understand the extent of the oppression she is complicit in, and has a lot of ingrained lessons to unlearn.

Amari is rich and has lived her whole life not having to worry about much. She is best friends with her servant, Binta, but fails to recognize the unequal power dynamic in their friendship, meaning Binta suffers for Amari’s mistakes and seems to mean a lot more to Amari than the other way around. Binta dies, and Amari sees the cruelty of her father in full view, prompting her to risk her life to help restore magic to the world.

The thing that concerns me about her arc is that it has a strong whiff of “the good rich/White person” about it. While demonstrates her willingness to genuinely put her life on the line to help others, I think that giving undue attention to her internal thoughts centers her in the story more than is warranted, and in some ways acts against the aim of the book. I can’t help but see Amari as the vector for White or other privileged audience members who aren’t used to seeing stories where people like them are the villain, and so require a character to show that “not all rich/Whites” are like that. Having a good role model is important, but I do question how productive it is in the long run, especially when Amari doesn’t seem to fully accept that even if she’s participating, this is not her fight and her friends owe her nothing. She claims that she’ll vie for the crown to rule the country better than her father, but I’m still unsure I’ve seen reason to believe that when put in a position of power, she won’t go down a similar path.

Inan’s characterization suffers from a different but loosely related problem: he’s the love interest. (Technically the story sets up Tzain and Amari as a pair as well, but that gets less attention.) A big component of Inan’s character arc is that he’s the redeemed villain, and what’s more, very into Zélie once he starts to empathize with her. I am usually not big on YA romance, and this book hasn’t really done much to change that. It all escalates very abruptly, with Inan having a strange attraction to Zélie when he sees her in his dreams for the first half of the book, and then almost the minute he decides he doesn’t feel right killing maji, his and Zélie’s perspectives both start commenting on how sexy they think the other is. Though the second half of the book is much slower paced than the first, Inan and Zélie’s relationship grows into a full-on romance within a few chapters and doesn’t change much until the end. And they are very horny the whole way through it. It’s a bit infuriating, to be honest, as someone who finds this sort of thing painful even when it’s a few lines long. What’s more, and it feels weird to say this, but aside from being a long romance subplot, it’s also just not a very good execution of this particular trope. I feel like the appeal in the villain-to-lover trope is in the slow buildup, with characters initially sparring and trying to ignore their feelings until they flourish into something meaningful and the characters finally drop their guard around each other so that their love can blossom properly. Obviously I’m not particularly well-versed in this area and YA has its own requirements as younger readers may be eager to cut to the action, but a big part of this trope is built around tantalizing possibilities and subsequent drama. Children of Blood and Bone‘s romance is light in the lead-in, and drama-free once it hits.

There are other problems with Inan, exacerbated by his role as love interest.

His setup is nothing new: the brooding royal with all of the power in the world but no one to love, and the impoverished village girl who initially fears or fights him, but whom he slowly opens up to because they both feel trapped in their own ways. It’s in An Ember in the Ashes, it’s in the latest Star Wars films, and it’s even in Avatar: The Last Airbender to some degree if you’re a fan of the Zutara ship (personally… I was unaware this was even a thing until a few months ago). Peruse fanfic and roleplaying forums for even a few minutes and you’ll realize how many people are into this sort of relationship, at least in fiction.

Now, people finding these sorts of relationships entertaining is not always a bad thing. Context matters a lot, as does the fictional barrier; we can find stories exhilarating in fiction that would elicit a very different response were we to see or witness them in real life. This sort of uneven power dynamic with a Byronic hero and a damsel in distress is not likely to be particularly healthy in real relationships, but it makes for a compelling story because it’s primed for drama. It’s always going to have baggage associated, but that doesn’t mean those who find it enjoyable are bad people.

That said, it’s disheartening to see it used so often, especially in popular fiction that is likely to reach a wide audience, especially teenage readers who may be just starting to explore relationships in real life. I can’t say if the trope is actively harmful on its own, but I think it sets the wrong sort of expectation when it creates an association between a potentially dangerous situation and romantic fulfillment. It also tends to tap cracks in the agency of young women who do not find this sort of trope fulfilling, as it re-states the message many children are told from childhood that a boy or man who is annoying or acting violently toward a woman just cares about her deeply. That message propagates through the cultural consciousness, and feeds a host of worse tropes, even if the author never intended it.

However, Children of Blood and Bone includes Inan not just as a sexy antagonist whom the hero can fall head over heels for. Him falling for Zélie is supposed to be exciting to the audience, as is often the case with YA romance, but the book does not leave this power dynamic unexamined. Perhaps more important than the fact that Inan is Zélie’s love interest is the fact that he isn’t; it doesn’t last. As sincere love may be, hatred runs deep and can turn victory into a disaster for everyone.

 

Part Three: Staff in One Hand, Umbrella in the Other

Quote from the book: A hushed hysteria erupts through the crowd, questions mounting as it spreads. But with time, the source of the horns makes itself clear; the legion of royal guards charges through the new wreckage of the gate and marches to the top of the hill overlooking the valley. They light up the black sky with red torch flames, blazing against the night. Some soldiers position their arrows, others bear their sharpened blades. The most terrifying among them hold back a pack of wild panthenaires. The menacing beasts chomp and foam at their bits, desperate for a chase.

In the 1976 novel Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, four Black children navigate life in the South during the Jim Crow era, learning often difficult lessons along the way. One of these lessons comes when their parents warn them against growing too close to a friendly local White boy, Jeremy, who keeps awkwardly trying to spend time with them.

The children don’t understand why their parents won’t let them play with Jeremy, who’s never done anything wrong to them, yet they actively invite a Black neighbor boy, T.J., into their lives even though none of the children get along with him. T.J. is often selfish and foolhardy, and exactly the sort of person who would make a terrible friend. When the children decry how absurd their parents ruling is, their mother explains to them that at least they know who T.J. is, and he’s still bound by Black customs whether he wants to or not. Jeremy may be nice now, and maybe he’ll stay that way when he grows up, but his father is racist, and as a White child, he is similarly bound to the culture that raised him. When push comes to shove, the family knows it’s easier for T.J. to stand with them than it is for Jeremy. People tend to revert to their base instincts when under pressure, and those instincts are deeply rooted for people raised in a highly segregated society.

This isn’t a good thing, but it’s crucial for the kids to learn. Their world is not the same one their parents grew up in, but it carries the same scars. It’s probably not good advice to let cruel people you share one thing in common with kick you around, and both the parents and children know this. But they live in a world where mean friends and family members are truly the least of their worries; what’s more, these kids are going to find that out one way or another.

I maintain that betrayal is one of the harshest experiences we can go through. Aspects of betrayal are there in a breakup, in a rejection letter, in a celebrity who doubles-down on their transphobic regurgitites, and that’s before we get into the experiences that have more than just aspects of betrayal. Trust is an act of deep vulnerability, so to have that vulnerability violated hurts. It has to; betrayal can be life-threatening, so our brains need to remember it in vivid detail to prevent it from happening again.

Inan’s turn back into a villain is a simple thing, but I think that it’s easy to overlook for its importance in the story. It’s not a pleasant plot point by any means, and I wouldn’t be surprised if most readers despise it regardless of how they like the book. It’s abrupt, vicious, and perhaps hits a bit too close to home for some readers. Either you liked Inan before this point and are frustrated that he would do something so abhorrent and inept, or you didn’t like Inan before and this just reaffirms why. Yet, in the context of him as a member of the ruling class in the story, that he goes back on his word, and does so while justifying his actions to himself, speaks to a larger issue. It shows us exactly the thing Cassie’s mother warns her about in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.

Stories like Avatar and Star Wars redeem their villains wholesale. Zuko, once good, stays good; Kylo Ren, once good, stays good. The characters may initially turn up offers to join the protagonists, but once they see the error of their old ways and get integrated into the main group, they never go back on it. The stories tie the morality of the characters to their affiliations within the world, ensuring that even when the stories play with moral ambiguity, there’s rarely any question about whether the characters are actually being helpful. Their pasts don’t make them say or do unintentionally harmful things, because once they want to be on the good guys’ side, for the most part, they just are.

Children of Blood and Bone follows the same path initially, but where it differs is crucial to how this story illustrates its own morality. Once Inan sees the pain Zélie and her brother have lived through, he becomes conflicted about his role in it. He and Amari both seek to stop the oppression and genocide they have been complicit in, and Inan comes to love Zélie as a person. However, he simultaneously sympathizes with his father, despite his father’s cruelty, and wants to take a middle-ground path of destroying magic without physically harming the divîners. He figures that his father’s actions are motivated by fear of the maji, so if he can cut off their connection to magic, he can work to make them equal to the kosidán. He fails to understand the religious significance of magic to the divîners; he wants to make the divîners the same as the kosidán by replacing their culture with kosidán culture, which is harmful on its own. His own fear of magic and his father’s indoctrination still rule Inan’s thought process, so much that he’s willing to manipulate Zélie to destroy the scroll. He cares about her as a love interest, and he doesn’t like bloodshed, but he’s willing to compromise his morals for the sake of what he thinks are necessary evils. In the end, he’s not much different from his father.

And what does it get him? Nothing. Inan’s father kills him because once he learns Inan is a maji, his father considers it his necessary evil to destroy his own son. His father never really cared about stopping magic; that was just an excuse to allow him to inflict pain. Racism is not logic to be reasoned with, but parasitism. It allows a person to claim power by stealing it from others, and incentivizes its own perpetuation. Racists don’t like to give up that power, not because they need it, but because it’s a lot easier to take than it is to relinquish. And they can get caught up in their own web along with their prey; wealthy suburbanites don’t mind militarized police roaming poor neighborhoods, but what happens when police start firing tear gas and “rubber” bullets in their back yards? Those who prey on others tend to be more interested in the act than the victim; people who are already disadvantaged just happen to be convenient targets for them.

And stopping it isn’t merely a matter of rooting out the few individuals responsible. The phrase is “a rotten apple spoils the bunch” — like I said, racism is self-perpetuating, like a disease. It manifests as vast interconnected systems, so removing one element is like trying to douse a fire with an eye dropper. While in Children of Blood and Bone, King Saran is seen to be a major element responsible for the way divîners are mistreated, he’s not the only one complicit, and his doctrines are not so easily erased. We see throughout the book other kosidán enacting their own cruelties with impunity, from the guards in the desert who overcharge for water, to Inan’s royal guard who turn on him when they find out he’s a maji, to guards of various cities extorting and attacking divîners any opportunity they get.

Inan’s turn at the end cuts to the heart of why I wanted to write a review of this series in the first place. I’ll be honest, this is far from my favorite book. I kind of feel obligated to praise it because it helps pave the way for better books in the same vain, and also because I’m White and can’t possibly offer a proper insight into where its weaker elements outweigh its merits. I can point out the problems in their broadest strokes, but I can’t make a judgement on how they affect vulnerable people. It’s not my call to make.

But I do keep asking myself, is this ultimately a book I want to recommend to others? I’ve reviewed worse media, and defended worse media too. I’ve read Children of Blood and Bone twice now, which is a feat for me because I almost never read a book more than once, but I wanted to understand it. Where does this book fit into the cultural consciousness? Who is it for, at the end of the day? Is it even worth doing a review?

I thought for a long time it might not be. I have since changed my mind, and the reason is simple: it’s one review. This is not the only Afrofuturist or Afrofuturist-adjacent book I’ll ever read, nor is it the only one I’ll ever talk about. I do worry that some White readers may try to use this book to represent the entire genre, but honestly, given the flood of own voices works becoming mainstream and the public’s very obvious desire for more of it (it’s almost like… raging racists aren’t the only ones who buy books or something), I do have some hope that my worries won’t fully reflect reality.

This is a fairly mediocre book; better, I think, than haters will give it credit for, but I can very much see why someone might have such a visceral negative reaction besides being pre-disposed to dislike it. Half of the story focuses on not one but two clumsy teen romance subplots, at least two of the point-of-view characters are a bit yikes, the worldbuilding varies from rich and elaborate to extremely bare-bones, and the overall plot itself is pretty basic. I wouldn’t personally consider any of these elements bad enough to make me put down the book entirely (trust me, I have read a lot of bad YA fantasy over the years), but they cumulatively put Children of Blood and Bone in the same realm as Star Wars and The Hunger Games for me — fine, but not something I would actively seek out.

Of course, this is the debut novel of a young author, and although her runaway success is noteworthy, we do Tomi Adeyemi and the Black population worldwide a disservice to assume that she is or should be the sole voice speaking for over a billion people. I’ve read some reviews by Nigerian readers who were disappointed to see her misrepresent aspects of the country, and it’s certainly fair to say that as a Nigerian-American, her perspective would differ greatly from someone who has lived in the region their whole life, as it would from African Americans who don’t have close relatives on the continent, or those who have a connection to other regions. Africa’s huge, and there are a lot of voices there and elsewhere around the world who have historically been unable to share their stories with the rest of the world. There are going to be sub-par works in any genre, but if you restrict the number of entries, it’s hardly different than if you grabbed the handful of newest or most popular books of any genre and decided that’s all the genre was. Children of Blood and Bone should open the floodgates for fantasy written by underrepresented voices, not be held up as a token to make White readers feel good about themselves for reading a book with Black characters in it.

Will it do that? Honestly, I don’t know. I do know that it’s a smaller step forward than I think some readers would like to see, but it is a step forward nonetheless. It reminds me a lot of The Hate U Give, which I enjoyed and think ought to be taught in schools as an introduction to the Black Lives Matter movement and police shootings, but which doesn’t always live up to the expectations of people who are already a part of the conversation. Traci Thomas of The Stacks podcast mentioned in an SSR Podcast she guest starred on that she felt The Hate U Give was written with a White audience in mind, and was less about delving into the depth of the issues than presenting a reason for people to care in the first place — something a lot of Black readers like her were already well-acquainted with. I could see someone arguing the same of Children of Blood and Bone. That’s an important consideration for anyone picking up either of these books, especially if they have high expectations for them.

All the same, I don’t think the weaknesses of these books can discount the positive outcome of giving children of all backgrounds access to more diverse protagonists in the fiction they read, especially outside of school. Indeed, part of the reason Children of Blood and Bone tends to feel more derivative of mainstream White American fiction than many Afrofuturist novels is that the author grew up with and was inspired by series like Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Hunger Games, and Harry Potter. When all you’ve got around you growing up are similar stories about one kind of person, that’s going to make its way into your work. Hopefully this book will inspire others to push further. Maybe even the next books in the series will do that.

As a final note, I wanted to leave links to some reviews of this book by a few non-White reviewers, as they can articulate many of the points I cannot and their insights into the significance of the worldbuilding in the series is worth a read:

Rise Up! Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone

http://africaaccessreview.org/2018/11/children-of-blood-and-bone/

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/04/children-of-blood-and-bone-tomi-adeyemi/554060/

 

 

Series Breakdown Rating:

Characters and Character Development: 5
Aesthetics and Style: 7
Creativity: 6
Overall Plot: 5
Depth: 7
Sum: 30/50

 

*I recently learned that many Black people prefer Black be capitalized to recognize their legitimacy as an ethnic group, so I aim to correct my capitalization in my older reviews and use this format standard from now on. I am a bit less clear on whether “white” should also be capitalized when referring to its cultural concept, as “whiteness” is not something that deserves the same respect, but my understanding is that Black publishers and news outlets request all ethnic group names be capitalized, including Black, Brown, and White. Therefore, that’s also going to be my standard moving forward unless I learn otherwise in the future.

 

Quotes:

  • description of the gods in the cave
  • Ships
  • Amari and Binta

 

 

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