What is this about?: This is a quest to return magic to the land of Orisha, and a fight against a monarchy that will do anything to prevent that from happening. But it is Zélie and Amari’s stories that are the heart of this book and it’s these two girls that make this a far more profound adventure.
What else is this about?: Zélie and Amari, who are two very different girls, working towards the same thing — Zélie because it is her chance to affect change for her people and Amari who wants to do the right thing… or maybe it would be more accurate to say, that she finally admits to herself what the right thing is.
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 review is about three months in the making, because I read and made notes about the book on New Year’s Day. I carried this along as a just-in-case read because on a family holiday I didn’t expect to have time to do much else, but as it turns out I did — I finished it in one day, with breaks for snacks only — which should tell you just how good this book is.
I mean, the pacing is flawless. This is an intricate plot, even as is it an expansive one, with detailed worldbuilding and history that is a necessary to the story. I am beginning to think that pacing might be why I could sit for hours and not even feel it.
Interestingly, my sister read this after I did, and we talked about how there are elements of this that she’s heard from refugees in the work she does — which makes it all the more powerful a read. This is a story of a genocide, of people struggling to live under a ruler and survive. You know this story — you’ve seen it in the news way too many times.
So what is this about?
Zélie is a maji, born of a Reaper mother who was able to animate or control the dead. In their world, well before the ruthless King Saran destroyed the maji, they had the power to control water or fire or even read minds. They are marked by white hair, and now that Saran has been in power, they are maggots, the lowest of the low in this world.
But magic can return in this world, and Saran cannot hide that fact when Amari, his daughter, finds out his secrets and sets the events in Children of Blood and Bone in motion.
And this is where it gets interesting for me, because by all accounts, Zel is the main character, the one mentioned in the blurb and the Chosen One (so to speak).
But, it is Amari that has my heart in this story because in the wise words of Albus Dumbledore: it takes great courage to stand up to your enemies, but even greater courage to stand up to your friends — and for me at least, more courage to stand up to a raging tyrant of a father and a vicious mother, both of whom you have been afraid of for all your life.
Amari, who mourns the death of her only friend in this viper’s nest she’s called home, steals a scroll from her father and begins to change the world… with Zel and Tzain, her brother.
Her evolution from where we meet her, persevering through the hate Zel throws at her and earning her trust, is breathtaking and relatable, and by the end I was completely besotted with this character.
Zel lives in fear — of being caught out training to fight, and to defend herself against Saran’s soldiers.
Of being caught out without enough money for taxes that keep her free of the stocks.
She lives in fear of what her presence could mean for her father, Baba and her brother.
So when Amari asks for her help and a chance to change her world, she jumps at it and she, Amari and her brother set off to bring magic back into their world, and to the maji.
She is fiercely focused on their journey, on bringing magic back to their world, which could change their society and the balance of power in so many ways. Amari represents everything that was taken from her, and perhaps that is why she hates her so in the beginning.
From there author Tomi Adeyemi sets about creating a luscious world filled with the vivid detail and the people who inhabit it — those who would make money off using the maggots they think nothing of, those who are suffering under Saran’s rule and those who want to fight back.
A friendship is borne
Their journey to bring magic back for good is how Adeyemi builds the relationship between Zel, Tzain and Amari, with the last being a buffer of sorts between Zel and Tzain. Adeyemi lets these three evolve and by the end of the book, I could see how the journey had shaped them and how they had evolved.
Zel has no patience for a princess who doesn’t really understand what her father has done to their world, until she stole a scroll, and Amari realises bit by bit what her family has wrought in this world. For all her father tried to keep her from these truths, she grows every more open to the outside world — she wants to earn Zel’s trust, she wants make a change in the world in honour of a deep personal loss. Amari may not think of her kingdom first, but she does think of her people above all else — which makes her, as I mentioned above, more of the standout character.
Romance: I don’t know what to make of it
There are actually two romances — one that I adored, and the other, with Zel and Inan, that I didn’t.
Adeyemi knows her characters, most especially her female characters for they are at the core of this story. They are fierce and badass — for Amari pursues this quest in honour of her friend, despite Zel’s hatred of her and everything she represents, and Zel is as focused on bringing magic back to her world and enduring Amari’s presence if need be.
As I mentioned there are two romances between the two different pairs of siblings we have: Amari and Tzain and Zel and Inan. Their relationships are contrasted and we learn how each grew up in the richest part of the land and the poorest, and how that does not mean anything when it comes to the type of people they are.
It is Amari and Tzain’s romance that is the second fiddle to Zel and Inan’s (apparently) but it is the far more organic, believable and spot of light in the darkness in this story. I believed these two would fall in love, while there was a bit of insta-attraction between Zel and Inan. And it really did not work for me.
Inan is supposed to be a complex character torn between his duty and his regard for Zel, but what mystified me is the utter hatred Zel showed Amari for much of the book, yet she forgave and fell in love with Inan pretty quickly, in my opinion anyway.
I felt that Zel had to change to make his inclusion and his character work — but mind you, given the strength and ferociousness in her, and her journey as a whole, I didn’t think she needed a romance of all things.
I mean, she’s maji, and she’s taken on the responsibility of bringing magic back to her people… why does she need a romance? Mind you the same could be same of Amari and her romance.
A girl can change the world without a romance. She can even be happy for her brother and his romance without needing to have one for herself .
Romances that are symmetrical are cute, but they’re not really needed.
To be honest, chapters featuring Tzain’s POV on Zel, their journey and always having to protect her made more sense than Inan. I suspect the whole good girl and bad boy thing might get amped up when the movie comes out, and I can’t help but feel it should be Amari and Zel tearing up the screen on their own.
That said, I still rated Children of Blood and Bone highly because it is a wonderfully good read.