Written by Tomi Adeyemi
Reviewed by Renee Hills
This YA fantasy tells the story of Zelie’s quest to retrieve magic for her people and to rid them of the king’s ruthless and implacable dominion over the Maji or as they are contemptuously described – the maggots.
The book’s title and cover design shout occult and magic and the text does not disappoint. The opening pages list the ten Maji Clans, each with their own god and special power. However, the cruel King Saran has suppressed magic in the West African land of Orisha. He ordered the killing of all the adult Maji eleven years earlier, including the beloved mother of chief protagonist Zelie. The memory of her mother’s shocking death is seared in Zelie’s mind and is a frequent (perhaps too frequent) motif and motivator for her actions throughout the novel.
The story is told in first person from the point of view of three characters: Zelie, the headstrong teen, training to fight and recover the magic; Amari, princess and daughter to King Saran, and her brother Crown Prince Iman. The fourth major character Tzain, is Zelie’s brother. His story is revealed through the eyes of his sister and Amari. The girls’ characters are developed authentically, especially Amari who will no doubt shine in this novel’s sequel. Her brother Iman is not so believable – perhaps his apparent change of heart to an understanding of the Maji’s point of view is merely a device to allow him and Zelie to explore their romantic passion. Significantly, all major characters are people of colour.
From the opening pages there is violence and discrimination against the Maji. Zelie’s beautiful, floating village of Illora is burned to the ground. Innocent children are brutally murdered. Adeymi writes in a note at the end of the book that although it’s a fantasy, ‘all the pain, fear, sorrow, and loss in this book is real.’ As a person of colour, she has written her heartbreak over racism in the US into the relentless force of cruelty and bigotry against the Maji.
The brief moments of beauty and peace in the novel usually set in idyllic natural environments, or sacred temples, or the magical festivities of Calabrar, a camp of Majis, are inevitable shattered with violence and death by the king’s forces. I wearied of the bloodshed and senseless destruction of innocence and beauty, although I understand the author’s intent. I also wished that there was more focus on problem solving, rather than the endless retaliatory conflict. Perhaps this theme will be developed in subsequent books of the trilogy after this novel’s cliff-hanger ending.
Within these parameters, the novel is a wide-ranging, action-driven, engaging read. Once immersed in Zelie’s world, I found it difficult to put the book down and I wanted her quest to be successful. This is my first contemporary YA fantasy, so I can’t compare to others, but I found it refreshing to have females of colour as such powerful protagonists. Children of Blood and Bone is an impressive debut novel, from a vibrant, 24-year-old author. It is currently very popular and is being made into a movie.
PanMacmillan Australia 2018 Paperback 352 pages $16.99 ISBN 9781250170972