“Children of Blood and Bone” by Tomi Adeyemi — Fantasy meets Love Story

Picture of my copy of the novel; the cover artist is illustrator Rich Deas

The most recent book I have read, is Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, a Nigerian-American novelist. The novel is praised to be “The African Lord of the Rings” and is the first part of a planned trilogy. As I am a big fantasy fan, I was all in of course. And I was not disappointed.

The novel feels like a mix between love story and fantasy saga. The plot is set in a fictionalised version of Nigeria, the kingdom of Orïsha. This world is inhabited by two people: the non-magical kosidán and the divîners, who can transform into magical maji and are made up of ten clans. The protagonist of the story, Zélie, is the latter. Her people are distinguishable from the kosidán, because of their blinding white hair. The divîners live under oppression of the ruling kosidán and under the hateful reign of King Saran, who despises them. He believes that he lost his entire first family, because of an attack by the magical maji eleven years prior to the novel’s events. In revenge he had fought a war against the divîners, killed many maji and had taken away their way of transforming from divîner to maji — therefore almost ridding the world of magic altogether. Zélie’s mother, who was a powerful maji, was killed during what is called “the Raid”.

Zélie and her family of fishermen thus live in a world, where magic is loathed and any attempt of teaching or learning magic is punished. Nevertheless, there is a small group of children and teenagers being taught by the brave teacher, Mama Agba, to use their wands and incantations, to practice little magic spells. In the course of the novel these lessons will prove to have been vital for Zélie’s future development.

As King Saran forces the divîners to pay impossibly high taxes, Zélie finds herself on a mission to earn money selling a special fish at a Lagos market. As it turns out this will be the turning point in her life and the beginning of an incredibly dangerous, exciting and illuminating journey. It all starts with an unexpected encounter, which will take her on a quest to try to save magic from complete extinction and will in the process push her to develop unforeseen feelings.

This map of the fictional kingdom of Orïsha is printed on the inside of my copy’s cover; Map illustration copyright © Keith Thompson 2018

For this novel Adeyemi tapped into West African mythology and was inspired by popular fantasy stories such as Harry Potter, Black Panther or Avatar: The Last Airbender. Children of Blood and Bone presents a carefully crafted world where fact and fiction are melted together to create a synthesis. The magical language of the divîners is Yoruba, which is one of Nigeria’s actual official languages. At times, while reading the novel I felt it was lacking sufficient translation or explanation of the Yoruba incantations the characters use. As I do not understand the language I sometimes felt like I was missing out on something. In the second part of the trilogy, Children of Virtue and Vengeance, Adeyemi tackles this issue, which makes it an even smoother read. I actually read the book in just one single day, as I was completely hooked.

The writing process of the first book was a way for Adeyemi to deal with the pain she felt from the news of police brutality against black Americans and a way for her to create powerful figures who are able to defend themselves and save others. It was important for the author to write a story where black people could identify with powerful, beautiful black characters and find representation in a positive way. In an interview Adeyemi explains that she wants the book to be like a bridge — for black readers she wants to provide figures they can identify with and for readers of other ethnicities she would like it to be something that can inspire more understanding by offering the opportunity to connect with black characters.

Here is a quote from the Author’s Note that reflects Tomi Adeyemi’s motivation:

“Children of Blood and Bone was written during a time where I kept turning on the news and seeing stories of unarmed black men, women, and children being shot by the police. I felt afraid and angry and helpless, but this book was the one thing that made me feel like I could do something about it. I told myself that if just one person could read it and have their hearts or minds changed, then I would’ve done something meaningful against a problem that often feels so much bigger than myself.” (Tomi Adeyemi, Children of Blood and Bone, p. 526)

I hope I could make you excited to read the book and embark on a magical and exhilarating journey with the protagonists of the story.

Let me know what you think of the book if you have already read it and whether you are already excited to read the next part of the trilogy. I am certainly already waiting for the third part to come out.

Primary Literature:

ADEYEMI, Tomi. Children of Blood and Bone, London, Henry Holt and Company, 2018.

The cover artist is illustrator Rich Deas. Map illustration copyright © Keith Thompson 2018.

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