WARNING: This review contains spoilers. If you would like to read the spoiler-free review, you can find it on my Goodreads.
I was conflicted about rating Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone because there are a few distinct aspects I enjoyed immensely and many that I found unoriginal and dull. Looking back, I think my positive impressions were mostly due to the hype and setting of this book.
Children of Blood and Bone takes place in the fictional world of Orïsha, where magic has vanished after a massacre called “the Raid.” Zélie, daughter of one of the slaughtered maji, is set on a quest to save magic when a princess brings her a sacred scroll. Pursued by a conflicted prince, Zélie’s group travels in search of other sacred artefacts, hoping to gather them and reach an island of the gods before the solstice – and before magic disappears forever.
If this synopsis sounds like a dozen other fantasy stories, that’s because it is. While the setting, rooted in West African culture, is refreshing and new, the story is a potpourri of plot devices that have recurred throughout countless YA fantasies: element-based magic, the villains’ fight to repress magic, a solstice deadline, a conflicted prince… In fact, all of these plot devices and more conspired to remind me of Avatar: The Last Airbender and its sequel, Avatar: The Legend of Korra. Other subplots only reinforced this impression, such as the sacred temple high in the mountains whose inhabitants have been massacred (Air Temple in AtLA season 1), the prince betraying his friends at the last to appease his father (Zuko in AtLA season 2), and the trauma endured by the protagonist near the end/how it crippled her magic (Korra in LoK season 3). The giant animal-turned-car (Appa) is just icing on the cake by this point. Individually, none of these plot devices raise any red flags, but the combination of them made it impossible to ignore the similarities.
Another complaint I had with the plot was some pretty obvious holes. For example, if the main characters were racing the clock to arrive at an island on the solstice, why did they take time off to hold a festival with the other maji? Why didn’t Inan, whose powers give him mind control and empathy, use those powers on his evil father? Better yet, why didn’t Inan take command of the guards when they arrived to capture all the maji? These obvious discrepancies made the plot execution seem slapdash.
Lastly, I had a difficult time forming attachments to any of the secondary characters, as it became clear that they were prone to getting killed off shortly after their introduction. Amari’s friend, Binta, is killed in her very first scene. Without any prior attachment to her, it’s difficult to feel Amari’s sorrow or that her motivation is justified. This became a trend that deadened me to all the characters, rather than endearing me to them.
Despite my complaints about the plot and characters, I genuinely liked the setting. So many YA fantasies are set in Europe or faux-Europe that the departure to West Africa was a welcome change of scenery. The issues of race – ranging from the subjugation of the maji to the designs, with dark skin, grey eyes, and white hair that goes from straight to curly with the presence of magic – those were all intriguing additions. The pantheon of Orïshan gods was also interesting, as were some of the powers – Zélie’s Reaper magic in particular. Other maji, such as
Firebenders Burners, Waterbenders Tiders, and Metalbenders Welders only served to remind me of Avatar.
All told, Children of Blood and Bone is a story with a fresh setting and a stale plot. If any of the plot devices I mentioned above interest you, I would recommend watching Avatar: The Last Airbender and Avatar: The Legend of Korrabefore picking up this book. Those series have a stronger execution and more sympathetic characters than Adeyemi’s.