Fiction Friday is a series where I talk about what I’ve been reading. Short Stories (and sometimes Novellas) are featured as in-between posts and the first Friday of the month will feature a new novel review. Today, I review Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Fiction Friday: Children of Blood and Bone Review
Today’s novel review is Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. You can find it here. This book is one for the ages folks. Some books I’ve read have these dark moments filled with lost hope, but most of them, have periods of calm and relief. Moments where the story can chill for five seconds before resuming the big battle. Not this one. This one’s a gut punch that takes you to the darkest parts of humans. And it’s a YA book, no less.
The story is an epic fantasy story teeming with African culture. A single group of people without any other race or culture. Sometimes, that’s all we need. If you enjoyed Black Panther and how important it is, this one is even more so. This could not come at a better time. I feel that African representation, true African representation, is just beginning, and it’ll bloom if stories like these keep pushing forward.
Before we begin, I will mention that although I don’t do this often, if at all, I will discuss the final scene, so there will be SPOILERS. I will warn ahead of time before we get there, so just a warning. Don’t yell at me because you decided not to. And yes, it’s important enough for me to talk about because I have to give some context.
So with that, let’s begin.
This is the land of Orisha. A world teeming with magic, African Mythology and a culture unlike anything in fantasy. However, magic is dead because the link between the gods and diviners are gone, and now these magic users are hunted and killed like wild animals because of who they are. Among them, a young girl named Zélie has a run in with King Saran’s men and sets off a chain reaction that sends her on a journey to restore magic to the people of Orisha with the help of her brother, and two members of Orishan royalty.
This story is beyond brilliant. It’s a powerful tale of a young girl’s struggles through an oppressive regime and fighting to survive to save her own people. This is what I look for in a fantasy world. It reminds me of Rise of the Red Harbinger a bit in that it’s a mythological fantasy world, but very little goes right for our heroine. In fact, very little seemed to be going right until the end.
I did feel the situation was a little too dire, though. There were moments of optimism, but the fact that everything she did tore those she loved apart made her situation literally life or death. It has that dark fantasy vibe to it that you don’t see often in YA fiction. Especially since Zélie uses blood magic, which I’ll get into in a moment. The story is powerful and gripping and I couldn’t stop reading it. It was really good. A few minor quirks, including one I’ll get into in a moment, but overall, this was a solid story.
Zélie is our heroine. She trains using a staff and lives with her brother, father and pet tiger-creature-thing. She’s got a lot of spunk in her and she’s not one to back down. She’s one of the more interesting heroines I’ve seen and mainly because she uses blood magic or something of that kind. I’ve seen many stories where blood magic and necromancy are reserved solely for the villains. Some characters see those kinds of powers as defacing the dead. It’s rare to see them be used by the hero, let alone one that’s as noble and pure as Zélie here. It’s a unique spin on this kind of power and not one you see often. Usually, it’s fire, but seeing blood magic used so positively and in favor of our hero is one I’d love to see often.
That said, she does get a little crude at times. She has a complete animosity towards Amari, the princess, and understandably so, seeing how King Saran treats them and how she nearly got Zélie killed. The two end up getting along in the end, but I felt the siblings are very dysfunctional as a family, but Zélie can get a little too overbearing sometimes and it’s more her own fault than anyone else.
I still liked the character overall. She’s the kind of proud and confident hero we need in fiction. When it works, it works beautifully and the kind of example we need in this world.
On the other end of the spectrum is Tzain, Zélie’s brother. The immediate reaction towards him is that for a brother, he’s one of the most heartless I’ve seen. Initially, he came across as stern and the voice of reason for Zélie, but throughout the book, he became so hateful towards his own sister, that I honestly thought for a brief moment that he’d sell his sister out to the Orishan kingdom out of spite.
Numerous times in the story, he’s shown not much stern love, but sheer animosity. It’s strange to see a sibling so harsh towards his own sister. At one point, he abandons her out of rage. Usually, when I see siblings, they exist on one of two spectrums. Either pure evil or annoying, yet caring. He falls a little closer to the latter than the former, but I was in awe at a brother that kept her in line, yet cared so little for her.
My theory was that her being a diviner, and being so important, yet gets herself in constant danger that it becomes a mess for Tzain. Yet I felt he should at least back her up in a number of situations and not let herself get killed. I honestly wondered if Zélie was truly wrong in these situations.
It honestly reminds me of my own brother a bit. Not so much a caring, but a person who would tease me and make my life miserable. Perhaps he’s based on something similar in the author’s life, but I have no way of knowing that for sure.
I honestly don’t know what to make of him, but I felt he was a little cruel towards Zélie and the others. More of a hothead than his sister, if that were possible.
Minor things (Plus my thoughts on the ending)
I do have minor comments about this story. First, the lore is great. I love stories that go to other cultures. I enjoy a lot of Japanese culture and Greek mythology at times, but I’ve grown a little interested in African culture between this and Black Panther. I’ll get to that in a moment, but as far as the world, it’s unmistakably Fantasy. It’s adventurous, engaging, a great magic system and a loveable cast of characters (even if a few can get too much).
Again, there were plenty of moments of hopelessness, but a few moments of happiness. Tzain and Amari dancing in a festival for diviners was a touching moment of character development and I would have liked to have seen more of that. Seeing those two finally get along was huge and made me smile.
Now for magic, the idea of dark magic being used by the hero who isn’t an anti-hero is a bonus. It’s rare to see something like that. Not sure if it’s related to African culture in some way (like honoring the dead) but again, it’s usually when a character possesses shadow or blood magic, they’re either an anti-hero or evil. Seeing a pure character wield this magic is both creative and refreshing and it’s executed perfectly.
Another note is that this is in not just first person POV, but first person MULTI POV. I’ve seen some books with two POV characters in first person, but again, rare to see this executed so well. YA tends to lend itself well to first person (Depends if I decide to make one first person. I’m more of a cinematic guy myself), but it wasn’t that bad. It helps that the chapter titles tell whose POV this is, otherwise I’d have a hard time following. This is one of those “I’m amazed, but not impressed” things where it’s nice to see it done well, but felt this could have been more suited towards third person. The view from each of the characters gives a little more relation to the three main POV characters, Zélie, Amari, and Inan (who is Amari’s brother). I kinda liked it, but again, personal taste here, I’d rather this be third person if we’re doing multi-POV.
I do want to talk about the ending. This is the part where I ask those who don’t want to see it, turn away, but I won’t give anything major, just the final scene. You probably see it coming beforehand, but I need to discuss it.
I’ll give you a glimpse into the final few lines in the book. The lines that close it out.
A flash of the sacred temple surges through my mind, and I brace myself for the question I’m too terrified to ask. I lock onto Tzain’s dark brown eyes; failure will sting the least from his lips.
“Did we do it? Is magic back?”
He stills. His silence sinks my heart in my chest. After all that. After Inan. After Baba.
“It didn’t work?” I force out, but Amari shakes her head. She holds up a bleeding hand, and in the darkness it swirls with vibrant blue light. A white streak crackles like lightning in her black hair.
For a moment, I don’t know what to make of the sight.
Then my blood chills to ice.
My immediate thought was…that’s it? This big epic battle and all this ambiguity? Once I read that my mind went berserk. What happens to Orisha? Does Amari become queen? Is magic truly back? And what does it mean by “my blood chills to ice.”
It ends up raising far more questions than it resolves. I honestly felt a little cheated knowing that the true closure remains in ambiguity. I mean, it’s a great story, the characters, the world, and the mythology are all well made, but seeing all of that build up and suspense and we get a quick ending, I want to see their life after the fact. It ended too quickly and felt even rushed.
From the looks of it, magic does come back, but it ends so swiftly that I want to know if there’s truly closure for them. And what does it mean by “Then my blood chills to ice?” That line isn’t clear enough for me and I don’t understand what happened at the end.
The chapter before it was glorious, but I won’t spoil that moment. It’s one to be seen, but I truly didn’t know how to process this. Even reading it again, I’m still not sure what fate our heroes have at the end and it doesn’t clear up enough.
It does seem like I’m being hard on this book after calling it such a good story, but overall, it was. It has plenty of great moments, the writing is fantastic and swift and everything is a stake here. Don’t let the above paragraphs dissuade you. I still recommend it.
Looking at the past few months or so, it’s been a notable victory for African culture in modern media. Between this book and Black Panther, we’re seeing a spike in interest in a culture not commonly shown in the US. It’s too early to say if this truly is the big change, but things are looking up. Seeing other cultures and by people familiar with the background is what keeps our world moving forward.
This is how diversity works. It doesn’t have to be “how many different genders, ethnicities and races can we put into one movie together.” Nothing wrong with that and it’s equally as important. But really, it’s seeing other countries, other backgrounds and have people from all walks of life. There’s nothing wrong with the usual white male protagonist saving the day, but seeing others be just as amazing and so well executed is a welcome sight.
And really, it’s something this world needs. These stories made me interested in a culture that I would never have imagined myself getting into. It’s given a wide audience a look at a world, a culture in their natural habitat. It shows a different take on our own world. This is what needs to happen and it’s how diversity works. Cool and interesting characters that you’d root for, regardless of who they are. And really, that’s what it should be. It’s what’s needed and things will only get better if stories like this emerge and get pushed forward for all to see. Promote it, talk about it, and most of all, embrace it.
I might have been a little hard, but I did enjoy this story overall and would even say it’s another one up there on my “best I’ve read” list. The ending could have been fleshed out more, but if this does get a sequel, I’ll read it. This is one worth looking at and more stories like this, in such wonderful quality need to exist, must be promoted and should be embraced, even if you feel differently about it. It doesn’t have to be fantastic, but it must be given the chance it deserves.
It can only go up from here.
Next month is an interesting one. The author alone made me want to read it and it may or may not involve a sword-wielding vampire hunter. So stay tuned for that.
That’s all for today. Take care, and remember, the inn is always open.
If you have any suggestions for future topics and reviews, hit me up on mysocial media channels and let me know your thoughts. I always read the feedback, even if I don’t respond. Your feedback is what keeps me going, so thank you for supporting me.
As a reminder, my website-exclusive short story, My Cat Is A Monster, is now live. My first paid short story, Do Not Stare Into The Eyes of a Kitsune, debuts June 5th, 2018. Keep an eye on my blog for more updates and my social media channels for news and excerpts from the upcoming story.