Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Children of Blood and Bone (Tomi Adeyemi)

Children of Blood and Bone
The Legacy of Orisha trilogy, Book 1
Tomi Adeyemi
Henry Holt and Co.
Fiction, YA Fantasy
****+ (Good/Great)

DESCRIPTION: As a girl, Zelie Adeboya saw the magic of her people die - and witnessed her mother's brutal murder, as King Saran's warriors slaughter all maji over the age of thirteen. Though she has the white hair of a diviner, though she and her kind are branded "maggots" and treated like animals by the dark-haired populace of the kingdom of Orisha, she will never grow into her powers, never receive the blessing and wisdom of the ten gods and goddesses... never have the strength to throw Saran's boot from her people's back and blade from their necks.
Amari may be the daughter of a king, but she feels powerless as any slave, trapped between her mother's impossible expectations and her father's eternal disapproval. Her only friend is her diviner maid Binta - so when King Saran slaughters her in cold blood, Amari finally finds the strength to act. Binta was killed after Saran tested an artifact on her: an scroll, long thought destroyed, that can re-awaken maji powers in diviners. Amari steals the scroll and flees the palace... running straight into Zelie.
The gods may be silent, but they still have plans. Zelie and Amari may be the keys to returning magic to Orisha and ending Saran's cruel reign... but maji were feared even before Saran struck them down, and a people raised under brutal oppression might do things with their powers that would make even the gods tremble.

REVIEW: With roots deep in African mythos, global genocides, and the legacy of generational oppression, Children of Blood and Bone creates a unique, if dark, fantasy world. A rage burns through these pages, embodied not just in Zelie and the diviners but in Zelie's dark-haired brother Tzain, Amari's brother Prince Inan, the king, and others who have learned hatred and fear of the Other and will do anything - even maim and murder - to defend those they love from threats real or perceived. The legacy of Saran's Raid, the slaughter of mothers and fathers before the eyes of their children and the stripping of their birthright powers, creates a generation primed for rebellion, though that attack stemmed from earlier attacks by maji, a history of blood for blood and pain for pain, until everyone's lives are twisted and scarred by events buried so deep in the past none can recall the truth of them. Zelie in particular struggles with a lifetime of helplessness and anger, tested most sorely by her encounters with Inan, groomed to be a future king every bit as ruthless as Saran... but who finds himself torn when contact with the scroll wakes latent powers in himself, powers he was raised to reject as a devouring evil. Seeds that could become love in several characters, and moments that could lead to a better future for all, become twisted out of shape by the imperfect world they live in and the lives they've been forced to lead, not to mention the question of not only if the maji can be restored, but whether they should be - whether it would empower a downtrodden people to rise above their chains, or create another chapter of retribution and destruction.
It is, by necessity, a dark and often grisly tale, sometimes difficult to read for the rawness of emotions - a rawness that, unlike other titles, remains raw through the story, and isn't soothed away by victories (or set aside in defeats.) There is no "true love" moment that makes everything better, either; if anything, love only makes things more complicated and painful, leading some characters to even worse decisions than they might have otherwise made. In Zelie and Amari's world, even the gods can fail... but hope cannot be allowed to die. Ultimately, though a few almost-too-convenient plot moments and setbacks (and a slightly awkward, not-quite-cliffhanger ending) held it back a bit, Children of Blood and Bone ultimately becomes a very original, very powerful tale of persistence in the face of oppression, optimism in the face of ultimate defeat, and life in the face of certain death.

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