by Vivian Nneka Nwajiaku
There was a time when Orïsha was a magical place. Somewhat like the nations in the Avatar, there are about ten clans with amazing abilities including the ikú clan comprising reapers who conjure spirits of the dead, the omi clan of tiders who control water, the iná clan of burners who ignite fires, the aiye clan of grounders and welders who are basically earth and iron benders, and so on—except the nations call bending an art whereas the clans refer to their abilities as magical. One fateful night, magic disappears, and the King Saran kills off the maji (Orïshans with the ability to do magic) leaving only the diviners (young maji who aren’t of age to perform magic). Zélie is one of the several diviners, the night her reaper mother was killed forever etched in her memory. And she has been chosen by the gods, along with her brother and the Princess of Orïsha—both Kosidan (Orïshans without the ability to do magic)—to return magic to Orïsha and consequently save the maji who have been grossly mistreated and dehumanized. Obviously, the journey cannot be easy.
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi is a Young Adult fantasy, a genre it very well fits. It is the first book in the Legacy of Orïsha trilogy. It shares some similarities with other fantasies which is very understandable. It might be important to mention here that the comparison drawn with The Avatar or any other fantasy in this commentary is really just to point out how exciting the book is and is not in any way meant to question the originality of the book. In fact, it is my opinion that the book is very original.
The book combines fact and fiction. For example, unlike Elvish or even Orïshan, Yoruba is a non-mythical language (although it has not been banned in the real world as in the book); the Yoruba people really do love fried plantain and jollof rice (heck, a character was thinking of jollof in the middle of a battle); and almost all the places mentioned in the book exist although they are placed differently on the real map.
One aspect of the book that I found very interesting is the character conflict. The story is written from three first-person points of view—Zélie, Amari and Inan. Contrary to what one would expect, especially if you’ve somehow been told who the Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley of the Legacy of Orïsha are, the third narrator Inan is a lot like Zuko. In other words, he is not a protagonist but he can’t easily be pegged as the antagonist. He’s definitely not comparable to Fire Lord Ozai or Lord Voldemort as the real villain here is his father King Saran. As such, other than the standard conflict between the good guys out to save the maji and the bad guys out to destroy them, there is also the internal conflict each of the three narrators face, especially Inan and Zélie. In addition, the characters are relatable, from the most loved of them to the least loved, at least to me—and hopefully to as many readers as possible.
Children of Blood and Bone is particularly impactful because of the driving force behind the story—race and other distinctions that have been exploited as a basis for discrimination. There is the distinction between the maji and the kosidan as well as between the wealthy nobles and the ordinary people. The book lends a very strong voice to global racial issues and a somewhat subtle—almost totally inaudible—voice to patriarchy. The former is evident in the discrimination against the darker skinned maji/diviners by the lighter skinned kosidan; the use of the slur “maggot” to refer to the maji/diviners; the general use of maji/diviners as slaves; and the taxes imposed for keeping diviners similar to the slave trade period. The latter is seen in King Saran’s household, particularly how terrified of him his own wife was. The significance of his wife’s fear is however open to debate as it may be claimed that she merely lived in fear of his tyranny rather than patriarchy.
I must confess that I was excited almost every step of the book at how Nigerian it is. I found myself smiling at several things I could relate to which non-Nigerians would probably be unable to relate to as though they were inside jokes. But I was a little offended that fried plantain was referred to as fried plantain rather than dodo.
I also have a big problem with the romance. First, they felt like a bug rush. I totally understand that this is the twenty-first century where relationships get rushed, but c’mon… that was just too much. Second, I was not very comfortable with the romance scene. Halfway into the book, I was getting ready to pass it on to my bookaholic cousin who’s only a little more than ten years old. Then, the romance happened. While it is not completely explicit content, it is somewhere close. I just wish it had been toned down.
Complaints aside, I definitely enjoyed reading Children of Blood and Bone, and I look forward to the subsequent books. However, I am a bit concerned that non-Africans who can relate to neither the Nigerian background nor the discrimination against Black people may not appreciate the book, considering that those are really the main attraction the book offers. For them, I am grateful that it is a considerably fast-paced book. They may not be excited as I was, but they are not likely to be bored either. In fact, even non-Africans should find it interesting and relatable in other areas. I will definitely be recommending this to every reader I know, except the ones who cannot stand fantasies.