I fell in love with young adult fantasy novels after reading J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. I didn’t think I would enjoy journeying into a world of magic, charms, and strange characters. Then I began to stay up late frantically flipping the pages of the novels to complete the books in the series to satisfy my curious mind. When I came across Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games Trilogy, my reaction was no different.
So, when my Book Club decided we would read Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone (The Legacy of Orïsha #1), I was thrilled to explore something new. Children of Blood and Bone is the first volume in a projected trilogy of Afrofuturist young adult fantasy novels, and a new genre to which I had not previously explored. Inspired by West African (Yoruba) culture and mythology, Adeyemi tells the story of how magic once existed in a mythical land called Orïsha. In an attempt to rid the land of magic and gain power over the people, a ruthless king ordered the deaths of the maji who wielded this magic, including the mother of the lead character, Zélie Adebola. In the current situation, Zélie, alongside the king’s rogue daughter, Princess Amari, now has the chance to bring back magic and strike the monarchy. She encounters several obstacles, including the determined young prince, Inan, whose goal is to fulfill his father’s dream of eradicating magic for good.
Though not the first of its kind, Children of Blood and Bone comes at an opportune time in young adult literature, where there exists a demand for a stronger representation of diverse subject matter and authors. Also, drawing on Adeyemi’s personal desire to alleviate some of the world’s anguish following the events surrounding the start of the Black Lives Matter Movement in the United States of America, the Nigerian American author sought to explore such pertinent issues through Children of Blood and Bone. She weaves together a beautiful story highlighting problems of prejudice and inequality, power and control, and faith and tradition in a way that is relevant to the world today.
Reading this book as an African, I felt strongly that in many ways, Adeyemi successfully taps into a world that resonates with mine. She describes Orïsha as marked by a caste system consisting of three different groups of people (the maji – those who perform magic; the divîners – those who have the potential to perform magic; and the kosidán – those who cannot perform magic). Anyone with magical abilities is deemed dangerous and inferior to the kosidán and is exploited, abused, and denied their rights, including their right to speak Yoruba, thus, cutting them off their tradition. They are called ‘maggots,’ are dehumanized and treated like animals. Such disdain by the kosidán toward the maji and divîners fosters mistrust and fuels a state of constant fear.
Additionally, the systemized prejudice results in substantial economic inequality in Orïsha as the divîners are required to pay high taxes or suffer severe punishment if they are unable to do so. Discrimination and oppression in various forms are ever-present in our world, and their consequences make it difficult to achieve peace. Often driven by fear, therefore, resulting in even greater fear, it becomes challenging for a just society to exist so long as prejudice forms the foundation.
In a society where there is barely much to hold on to, the Orïshans hold firmly to their faith. Their faith connects them to the past and gives them a semblance of hope. In my Ghanaian society, for example, faith plays a significant role in helping people to deal with life’s challenges. While it may not be enough to explain every hardship, it connects and unites believers to form communities that enable them to cope with their situation. As told in the novel, faith connects the Orïshans to their tradition, helping them to feel that not all is lost.
Adeyemi also successfully addresses issues related to feminism, colorism, and self-identity. Two out of the three main characters in Children of Blood and Bone are young women who exhibit different traits that aid them in their quest to achieve their goals. Zélie is bold, assertive, and willing to fight for what she believes in. Amari is calm, quiet and determined to make things right for once in her life. Other women, including the friendly and wise Mama Agba, support the development of the story by leading Zélie and Amari along different paths toward bringing magic back with their wisdom, courage, and intellect.
The non-kosidáns are portrayed as having darker skin in comparison to the lighter-skinned nobles, and their skin gets darker while their hair grows curlier once their magic is awakened. I found this particularly empowering, especially for the young black reader who will read Children of Blood and Bone. To know that there is beauty in being ourselves is essential for the young black person who may be in the process of figuring out his or her own identity. It is refreshing to witness the portrayal of black people in Children of Blood and Bone. It serves as a powerful way to enable us to connect deeply with our identity as we tell our stories to depict who we are.
Indeed, Children of Blood and Bone is a genuinely good book that successfully celebrates and highlights black people through its characterization. Adeyemi’s choice of language is simple, beautiful, and engaging as she journeys with us through a captivating story of adventure and romance in a way that makes the read worthwhile and exciting. There is much to learn from the themes she unearths through Children of Blood and Bone. I sincerely hope that anyone who reads it will take a moment to observe and absorb the meaning behind the struggles and successes of the novel’s characters. I enjoyed reading every bit of it, and I’m excited to see what the next book in the trilogy, Children of Virtue & Vengeance (Legacy of Orïsha #2), has to offer.