Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orisha, #1)
By: Tomi Adeyemi
Publisher: Henry Holt Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: March 6, 2018
Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut, perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo and Sabaa Tahir.
Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zelie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.
But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.
Now, Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.
Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers—and her growing feelings for the enemy.
This has pretty easily been one of the most anticipated releases of 2018. I’ve been hearing about this book since at least YALLfest, when Tomi Adeyemi made an appearance as a then-unpublished author to sign ARCs and such. After Black Panther, in all of its glory, came out, readers started comparing Children of Blood and Bone to Black Panther, and saying that a movie might draw parallels to Marvel’s Wakandan world. And since its release the hype has been amazing. After all of this, I was honestly a little skeptical as to whether the book would measure up–the first few chapters were good, but not as impressive as I was expecting, given the hype. But before I knew it, the world of Orisha had drawn me in.
The story centers around Zélie, one of the maji–people who were once able to do magic, but now in the absence of magic have been relegated to the edges of society, cursed at and labeled ‘maggots’. Their white hair and dark skin is a signifier. As the first chapter immediately shows, they’re hated by society–but Zélie is still determined to keep her head held high. We meet her as she’s in a fighting class.
Zélie is one of the main reasons I started to fall for this book. She’s fierce, stubborn and unwilling to give up or bow down. But at the same time, she’s hurt and frightened underneath this veneer–the memory of her mother’s brutal murder is shown both in her own mind as a reason to fight, but also used by her brother as a reason for her to keep her head down. She’s impulsive, but also willing to do the right thing, and she’s torn between being protective of her family and unwilling to play by the rules they set for her.
Of course, Zélie’s impulsive desire to do right gets her in trouble time and time again–first when she leaves her sick father to take her fighting class, then when she decides to go sell a fish he caught herself, to earn enough money to pay the harsh taxes imposed on the family by the government. While in the city, Zélie ends up accidentally helping a thief–who turns out to be the royal princess, wielding a scroll that she claims can bring magic back to the land. After some deliberation Zélie, her brother Tzain and Amari all decide to journey to the place where a sacred temple once stood, to try and see if they truly can bring magic back to the world. They’re pursued by Amari’s brother Inan, who’s torn between his love for his sister and his duty to his father.
Amari is in many ways Zélie’s opposite–lighter-skinned, pampered, having never left the palace or even seen the world outside. But from the first page, her compassion is shown to be able to transform into resolve. Both have older brothers, but feel very differently towards them. Although Zélie is deeply distrustful of her, Amari proves over the course of the book that she’s capable of rising to the given challenge. And, as we’re shown, simply because she’s lived in the palace doesn’t mean that Amari has been free of abuse and oppression, she’s simply experienced it differently.
One of the things about this book that really stood out to me is the ways it depicts a group of people who are oppressed–not necessarily enslaved, although the work camp prisons for majis who can’t pay the tax are essentially slavery–simply beaten down and treated as a lesser group of humans because of their physical indicators (like dark skin). Although we repeatedly see Zélie put on a brave front, like when she faces down a guard in chapter one, there’s one scene where she confesses that her entire world is made of fear. She’s deeply aware that one misstep could bean a brutal death like her mother’s, and every microaggression, every call of ‘maggot’, is a reminder of how many people would like to see her dead. It’s powerful in a way I can’t explain.
But the plot is also powerful, and fun in a way that only a fantasy adventure book can be–Zélie and her crew travel across the continent of Orisha, from mountain temple to desert waste to jungle camp, exploring the world as they explore magic and the possibilities of it. There’s a clear way that the magic works, connected to religion, which I liked. And it also presents an interesting dilemma, an indication of a world which was already divided on magic even before the king did his best to destroy it and all of its users. All of the different threads added complexity and nuance to a book that would already have been at the top of my fantasy to-read pile.
I’m sure there’s a lot more to add–this book is going to need at least one more read-through to really get everything that’s happening, all of the different details and threads. But I might save that read-through for when CBB #2 comes out–according to the Goddess Tomi Adeyemi herself, it’s in the works and should be delivered into my eagerly grasping hands sometime next year.
Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.