Adeyemi, Tomi. Children of Blood and Bone. Henry Holt and Company, 2018.
If you’re at all active in the Young Adult book community, you’ve likely heard the buzz surrounding Tomi Adeyemi’s debut novel Children of Blood and Bone. Some of this buzz surrounds Adeyemi herself—a Nigerian-American Harvard grad who landed a movie deal for her forthcoming series. When my copy arrived in the mail, I was anxious to read and evaluate the novel.
In Zelie’s world, citizens were once divided into two factions: those who wielded magic (known as maji or diviners) and those who did not. Zelie’s mother was a powerful maji who could command spirit armies to do her bidding; however, she is eventually killed in a maji raid orchestrated by the cruel King Saran. With magic eradicated and Zelie’s mother only a memory, Zelie’s days are spent with her broken father and older brother, Tzain. The family catches and sells fish to survive.
While in the marketplace peddling her fish, Zelie is accosted by a panicked stranger. This stranger is fleeing from the king’s guards, and she’s adman ant on needing Zelie’s assistance. Later, the identity of the stranger is revealed—she is Princess Amari, the daughter of King Saran. She doesn’t share her father’s views on magic, though, and in fact claims to know a way to return magic to the kingdom. Can Zelie trust Amari? Will the magic that existed in Zelie’s childhood ever return?
Adeyemi’s world is carefully crafted and intricate; there’s truly no facet she hasn’t thought out. Even the animals are reimagined and renamed as hybrids—lionnaires, for example. I also loved that the female characters in Children of Blood and Bone are multifaceted. Zelie is tough and guarded but quickly falls in love; Amari is fearful and delicate but can act with violence when necessary. The book’s ending, too, is a true cliffhanger and made me eagerly anticipate the next book in the series.
I sometimes felt that Zelie and Inan’s relationship moved unrealistically fast. Like other large fantasy novels, keeping up with the many names, locations, special powers, particular deities, etc. grew to be a bit of a challenge.
Despite its length, Children of Blood and Bone is extremely teachable, particularly because of Adeyemi’s author note at the book’s end. She reveals that the book was inspired by sad instances of police brutality, and that various heart wrenching losses in the book mirror actual losses in the real world. Children of Blood and Bone, then, would be the perfect book for a unit on allegory or text-to-self and text-to-world connections.