Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi is our current Den of Geek Book Club pick. Head over to Goodreads to join in the discussion.
Imagine a fantasy world inspired by West African-culture, written as a reaction to the systemic violence against black Americans and you have Children of Blood and Bone, the first installment in a planned fantasy trilogy written by 24-year-old Nigerian-American Tomi Adeyemi.
You may have encountered Adeyemi already if you spend anytime kicking around the parts of the internet that highlight things that bring joy rather than misery. The video of Adeyemi seeing her book in print for the first time went viral, and was even shared by Stephen King. This book means a lot to Adeyemi and, if its current number one spot on the NYT’s Young Adult Best Sellers list is anything to go by, it means a lot to readers, too.
Children of Blood and Bone is a sprawling, 525-page epic set in the world of Orïsha, a land that once shone with magic until the cruel King Saran cut the ties between the magic of the gods and the magic of the maji. Now, there are only divîners, people with latent magical abilities, physically represented by white hair that sets them noticeably apart from the rest of Orïsha’s population.
Seventeen-year-old Zélie is a divîner, though she has only ever gotten trouble for the ways in which that makes her different. She had to watch her mother die in the maji genocide committed by Saran when she was only a child. Now, she lives with her father and brother, Tzain, in the seaside village of Ilorin. The family lives with love, but their lives are consistently made financially and emotionally difficult by the taxes levied against divîners like Zélie in a not-so-subtle, but entirely effective parallel to the systemic oppressions that people of color and other visible minorities routinely endure in our real world.
But this isn’t just Zélie’s story. It also belongs to Princess Amari and Prince Inan, who, along with Zélie, share the alternating points-of-view. Both Amari and Inan have complicated relationships with their father, Saran, their kingdom, and their own power. Amari has never fully fit in within her family or her role as a princess. When she witnesses her father committing yet another act of horror, she steals the magic scroll that holds the power to transforming divîners into maji and flees the castle. Amari and Zélie’s fate almost immediately intersect, launching the most rewarding and nuanced relationship of the entire book.
The third point-of-view character, Prince Inan, is the most conflicted when it comes to his path forward. Raised to prioritize duty over self, Inan is a product of his upbringing, but he has a good heart and a love for his sister that pushes back against the person his father tells him he must be. When Inan is sent in pursuit of Zélie, Amari, and the scroll, Inan has some tough choices to make, ones that will impact the future of Orïsha and his very soul. The decisions he ends up making are not entirely predictable, drive the plot, and serve for the most morally-complex thematic explorations of the novel.
While the romance in The Children of Blood and Bone is a bit too underdeveloped to truly engage, the sibling relationships in the novel are particularly strong. This is the story of two sets of siblings living in this world. How does gender affect the otherwise relatively comparable ways Amari and Inan and Zélie and Tzain experience, engage with, and are treated by the world? How do ties of family intersect with and sometimes complicate the duties we have to our community and selves? There are many fascinating questions posed and explored through the theme of siblinghood.
Another cathartic, topical theme explored in Children of Blood and Bone is how trauma affects us all—both on the personal and collective level. Orïsha is a land that has been forever changed by Saran’s systemic genocide of the maji. It continues to affect the society, creating hierachies of privilege, power, and oppression that don’t make anyone particularly happy. It’s not hard to make the comparions to our own country’s history of racially-based violence and oppression that continues today.
As previously touched upon, this is a world filled with almost entirely black characters that builds much of its narrative texture from West African traditions and culture. For those who enjoy the Afrofuturist world of Black Panther or the speculative fiction ground in Nigerian culture of recent Den of Geek Book Club novella Binti, then this is a series worth checking out. If you have never delved into the rich Afrofuturist tradition within speculative fiction, Children of Blood and Bone is a great place to start.
With two more planned installments on the way and Fox 2000 poised to adapt Children of Blood and Bone into a movie, this isn’t the last you’ve heard of Orïsha and Adeyemi—and, for that, we should all be thankful.