Review: ‘Children of Blood and Bone’ by Tomi Adeyemi
Nigerian author Tomi Adeyemi’s debut novel ‘Children of Blood and Bone’ is the first instalment to her young adult fantasy series ‘Legacies of Orisha’ set in a mythical Nigeria. In this imaginative tail of Afro-futurism the tumultuous social climate is characterised by the divide between the magi, a people of magical descent recognisable by their white hair, and the nobles. They are troubled by the myths of the foreign European nations that have been entirely destroyed by sorcery. The story is set years after the King has mysteriously cracked the enigma of how to eradicate magic at its source. After this finding he orders a massacre of all the people with the ability to cast spells (that is all adult magi), preventing the orphaned children of the magi from learning how to unlock their magical gifts. Years after these children, known as ‘diviners’ or ‘maggots’ by their enemies, are persecuted by the Kings guards and taxed heavily.
The main story commences when warrior villagers: teenage Zelie and her elder brother Tzain travel from their native town of Ilorin to the city in order to trade enough goods to help them keep up with their ever-increasing taxes. However, their lives are flipped upside down when princess Amari flees from the royal palace, and a riot in the capital ensues. Henceforth, the group begin a chain of tragic and thrilling events in a quest to restore justice to the state.
The task of reorganising the entire fabric of society is not taken lightly. One of the novel’s most impressive moments is the lecture given to the prince about the truth behind his trusted intuitions. In a spout of passion Zelie bravely remarks “Your people, your guards – they’re nothing more than killers, rapists, and thieves. The only difference between them and criminals is the uniforms they wear… Fool yourself all you want little prince, but don’t feign innocence with me. I won’t let your father get away with what he has done. I won’t let your ignorance silence my pain’.
Interestingly, the testing exchange between the two, is reminiscent of a wider debate underway in the media today. But this overarching emphasis on a miscarriage of justice is no coincidence. Adeyemi states in her author’s note at the end of the book that ‘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’.
Adeyemi goes on to describe the traumatic sense of helplessness she experienced from the violent altercations that were reoccurring between the police and African Americans, and that this prompted her to write the novel. She urges her readers to remember how they mourned the deaths of some of her most gallant characters. Adeyemi asks that we use that pain to prevent ourselves from becoming immune to the videos of police brutality broadcast on the news, so that the memory of children like twelve year old Tamir Rice and seven year old Aiyana Stanley-Jones can live on.
It is worth noting that amidst the endless obstacles and adventures that manifest in the path of these brave characters, a large part of their metaphorical journey is in the rediscovering of the forbidden history of their nation. This calls for an eschewing of the thoughts and taboos passed down from the noble classes. The holy ancestral grounds they visit help Zelie to abandon the dominant ideology of atheism spread by the King, and to reunite herself with the spirituality of the Gods and Goddesses unique to each school of magic. All spells must be recited in Yoruba, a language now prohibited by the king. As expected, the task of remembering her history and her native tongue delivers Zelie with a power unparalleled to no other.
Adeyemi has already confirmed that the release date of her second book ‘Children of Virture and Vengeance’ will be on March 5th 2019.