Children of Blood and Bone is a book as steeped with violence as the name suggests. Full of magic, gods, political conflict, mages, princesses and princes this West-African inspired fantasy story is going to hold your attention.
Zelie is a magi with no magic – a Diviner. Once, Diviners ran Orisha and were envied for their magic, but over centuries mistrust grew and the minority faced more and more discrimination from the general population. And then, suddenly, the magic disappeared and life for Diviners went from bad to horrible.
Zelie’s life has been defined by her status as a Diviner. Her family faces crippling taxes for her mere existence and if they cannot pay she will be thrown into a labour camp that she will never escape from. One day, while trading in the market she inadvertently helps the Princess of Orisha escape with a scroll that could change everything. It could bring the magic back.
Zelie, her brother Tzain, and Princess Amari must journey to uncover the secrets of Diviner power all while running from the crown prince Inan, who has secrets of his own.
Inan is a fascinating villain twisted by hatred for the Diviners, so much so that it has warped his sense of self. He is blinded by stereotypes and struggles to see magi as individuals, capable of their making their own decisions and as good or evil as anyone else.
Zelie has been shaped by the horrific things she has witnessed happen to Diviners, and the violent murder of her mother on the King’s orders. She believes that her people deserve better and that the only way they are going to be treated fairly is if they have their magic back. She bounces well off of Amari, who, while friendly to Diviners, knows very little about their everyday lives and has not realised how powerful she can be as Princess of Orisha. Though they don’t like each other at first their burgeoning friendship feels natural and could bloom into something quite powerful later in the series.
There is a romance subplot between Inan and Zelie which begins in a moment of pure instalove. And while its beginning doesn’t make much sense, it develops much more naturally the more they interact. For anyone who loves a romance where two characters are on either side of a conflict you are going to really like this book.
The one things that will strike you most about Children of Blood and Bone is how much Adeyemi was influenced by modern day racism and the systematic discrimination that minorities and the black community face on a daily basis. There is something eerily familiar about the way that Diviners are more likely to be incarcerated, are forced into slums by economic policy and the imagery of Diviners being dragged from their homes and lynched.
The comparison isn’t one to one though. Much like the criticism of properties like X-men, the general population’s fear of Diviners is undercut by the fact that a Diviner who wants to do harm can do a lot more of it than a normal human. But rather than shying away from that fact Adeyemi makes it a central conflict in the novel, particularly through Inan’s point of view.
Children of Blood and Bone doesn’t shy away from violent imagery and violent death. People die in this book. Characters you just met, characters you want to see succeed, characters that you actually want to die. It doesn’t feel gratuitous though, and instead raises the stakes. What Zelie and Amari are fighting for is much more powerful when you know that people are being killed by guards or are willing to die to see magic returned.
Adeyemi wrote a strong story with a lot of room for discussion. The characters are developed and have clear motivations, the magic system is interesting and reminds me of Brandon Sanderson’s Elantris, and the end of the story has a lot of weight. The rest of the series will be very different from this book as a result of our characters’ actions in this book. I would recommend checking out Children of Blood and Bone because I get the feeling that her storytelling abilities are only going to get better the more she writes.