Book Review: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone – Tomi Adeyemi (Henry Holt, 2018)

In the land of Orïsha, magic is outlawed. King Saran is on a mission to destroy the maji, those with white hair who possess the powers of magic. He has done so by killing the adult maji and severing the connection between the people and the gods. There are three sacred objects left that might destroy any chance of re-connection and the king has just got his hands on the sacred scroll. Through a series of events, the king’s daughter Amari ends up stealing the scroll, fleeing the city of Lagos, and meeting a white-haired girl named Zélie.

Zélie’s mother was a Reaper, a maji killed by the king’s men. Zélie is hot-headed and brash, living now with her Baba and her brother Tzain. Zélie, Tzain, and Amari take off on a mission to save the scroll, outrun the prince who is chasing after them, and restore magic to Orïsha.

The story rotates between the perspectives of Zélie, Amari, and Inan, Saran’s son and Amari’s brother who chases after them. Zélie is undeniably the main character and we see her perspective the most. She is the one who turns out to be the best chance for reconnection to the gods and we follow her as she learns to grow and harness her magical abilities.

Amari is the shrinking wallflower, a shy and scared girl who has done an uncharacteristically bold thing by stealing the scroll and so cast aside her entire life. Her brother, desperate to please his father while being horrified at the violence he is forced to participate in, offers the other perspective. He shows the fear of magic held by those who either have never seen it used or don’t understand it. Here magic is a volatile force, difficult to wield even for those who have it.

The world building of the novel is really where Adeyemi shines. The characters themselves, while enjoyable, never really seem to grow much further than their stereotypes. But Adeyemi has created an entire world that is fascinating and easy to find yourself immersed in. I really appreciated reading a fantasy novel based on Nigerian and African mythology. We’ve probably all read fantasy inspired by Greek or Norse myths, or a book set in an alternate version of London. But Adeyemi brings to life an alternate Lagos and the settings of the characters’ adventures feels fresh and exciting.

She does well, also, at weaving in a clear but not overly preachy message. The maji are clearly different; their white hair makes them stand out and be seen as a threat to others, even those who might support them. While the violence done against them is fantastical, there are clear parallels to the violence done and being done to Black people across the world. In her Afterword, Adeyemi makes it clear this parallel is deliberate.

This is the first in the series so it does end on a cliffhanger and leaves the reader wanting to know what happens next. I hope that in the subsequent books we get to see more character building and surprising moments from the main characters. There is a lot of potential here and I’m not at all surprised that the books have been bestsellers already.

While this is definitely a YA book, I would say it’s most suitable for age 14+. This is primarily due to violence and gore, which there is quite a bit. After I finished reading the book, I passed it along to my niece, who just turned fifteen.

22 thoughts on “Book Review: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi”

    1. Yes, this is the first in a series. I’ve only read this one but my hunch is that you’d need to read them in order. There is definitely the feel here of building a world and the beginnings of a larger story. Unless the second novel spends a lot of time explaining things over again, I bet it would be a confusing read on its own.

    2. Ah, okay! It sounds like you can read the first novel and stop, though, if you want to. I appreciate series like that, though I’m sure it looks like the first book rocked in sales and the rest didn’t do as great.

    3. The story definitely ends on a bit of a cliffhanger but not one that leaves you feeling unsatisfied. A lot of the story is tied up within this but simply with space for the characters’ adventures to continue. Emily mentioned too that the second book doesn’t have as good reviews. I don’t believe #3 is out yet.

  1. Great review! I felt much the same about this one, appreciating the world and the details but finding the characters and their plot rather basic for YA fantasy. Which is fine, just repetitive for those already familiar with the tropes. I’m definitely planning to continue this series, but have seen mostly underwhelming reviews for book 2, so I think I’ll wait for book 3 and read them together at some point. I’m glad you enjoyed this one, and hope you’ll have good luck with the rest of the series if/when you continue!

    1. Thanks! I think I’m curious enough to keep reading the series but don’t feel in any extreme rush. I feel like the second book is often the weakest in a trilogy since that’s the one that is least likely to stand on its own.

  2. I’ve always been curious about this book. Although it doesn’t appeal to me directly, it’s received such rave reviews that I feel as though I should read it, just to see what all the fuss is about. I’m glad it’s worth it!

    1. I don’t know if I’ll finish the series but I did enjoy it. There are so many Eurocentric fantasy books that it was pretty exciting to read something entirely different and full of Black characters.

  3. This series has been on my TBR for so long!! I’m looking forward to reading it since I wanted to read more fantasy books by BIPOC authors and I’ve heard great things about this one.

    1. It’s a fun read! I really liked how it drew from African/Nigerian folklore which made it feel entirely different from so much other fantasy.

  4. My daughter just read this book, so I was curious to see what you thought of it! She and I have very different reading tastes, which fascinates me!

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