We’re kicking off the book reviews with Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi.
I was really sceptical about reading Children of Blood and Bone. I hate anything to do with horror so the title really wasn’t appealing to me. In fact, I kept putting it off until I decided to try it on a whim. And to this day, I am so glad I did. It easily surpassed all my expectations and is definitely one of my favourite books of all time.
So, if you were looking for a sign to start reading this book…here it is.
Recently, I watched an interview that Tomi Adeyemi did with ‘Good Morning America’, where she admitted that for years she had been writing her novels with white or biracial protagonists. She only stopped when she was 18. As a writer myself, I realised that this had been my issue up until a few years ago. Adeyemi pointed out that ‘if you don’t ever see someone that looks like you, your subconscious says that you don’t belong there.’
A powerful statement that really hit home.
I’ll be doing a blog post about the lack of diversity in the publishing world and the detrimental lasting effects it can have on the mental psyche of black children growing up. Especially because this isn’t anything new. This has been known and addressed by authors such as Toni Morrison since the 1960s.
So before I start I have to really outline what Afrofuturism is and I think the simplest way I can think of is ‘re-imagining the future filled with arts, science and technology through a black lens’. It’s re-telling the past without the horrors of slavery and colonialism.
Tomi Adeyemi changed the Young Adult fantasy/sci-fi literary world with the publication of afro-futuristic Children of Blood and Bone because of it’s roots in West-African culture and mythology.
The only way I can really emphasise how significant this is in the literary world, is if I point out that I can’t name a single black character in any of the Harry Potter novels. Now I’m not saying there isn’t one because I know there is. I’m just saying that they don’t come to mind. Hogwarts and it’s magic has completely taken the literary fantasy world by storm throughout the last couple of years and I can’t even imagine what it would look like or if it would be any different, if either Harry, Hermoine or Ron were black with an afro.
I’m only using Harry Potter as an example but there’s so many fantasy novels out there that I struggle to connect with…such as every single Disney fairytale there was growing up until ‘The Princess and the Frog’ came out.
Those fairytales formed the basis of my preconceptions when it came to fantasy and consequently, my imagination hits a mental block when it comes to imagining black people as these characters. It’s something I’ve genuinely overlooked, not on purpose but just because I’ve resigned myself into believing that we don’t belong in those kind of stories.
This is why I can only emphasise how important Children of Blood and Bone will be for the generations to come.
Tomi Adeyemi created a safe space for young black children to allow their imagination to run wild. It’s something that I even feel like young black adults need now. Our imagination can feel restricted in how we imagine ourselves to look in other scenarios. And what I loved about this novel was that I could feel myself connecting with the characters and even, the culture.
So I’ll just break the novel down quickly without giving too much away.
The world of Orîsha is told through the eyes of Zélie, Amari and Inan.
Orîsha is divided into magi and kosidán. Magi are those that have powers and kosidán being the opposite. King Saran reigns this empire in which the lighter you are the more status and power you have. Consequently, the magi, being darker skinned, are reduced to a lower class and robbed of their magic.
Zélie is a diviner (a white-haired, would-be maji whose powers have been suppressed). She lives with her brother, Tzain and father. Her whole family are still reeling after the death of Zélie’s mother who was killed in the Raid to rid Orîsha of all maji. After going into the city to try to come up with money to pay the family’s taxes, she runs into princess Amari (daughter of King Saran who orchestrated the Raid) who has stolen a powerful scroll that has the potential to bring back magic.
And thus, the story begins as Zélie, Amari and her brother Tzain travel though the land of Orîsha to bring back magic whilst being hunted by Amari’s brother, Inan.
At first glance, the themes of family, love and grief are propelled throughout the story keeping the reader on edge. The main character Zélie was definitely created with the attempt to be the favoured one. She’s brave, smart, loyal and willing to do anything for the people she loves. She is literally the epitome of a heroine. Although, I can understand why she can be irritating. Her impulsiveness and irrational nature can be frustrating and a sharp reminder of her age.
Amari is the complete opposite. She is kind-hearted and gentle but fierce when needed. She is literally the complete opposite of Zélie in terms of personality. However, they both have potential to be fantastic leaders.
I don’t have much to say about Inan other than that I found him frustrating in all honesty. His desire to please his father made me want to kick him in his teeth. But he had his moments when I actually really liked him.
Not only has Tomi Adeyemi built an entire world based on West-African mythology with loveable characters that aren’t perfect, she’s also paralleled the racial divide in America and she did it without mentioning racism or colonialisation. She covers real-life issues such as genocide, tyranny and oppression. She’s mixed a fantasy world about injustice with the present tones of racism in society. It’s genius. It’s incredible. It’s redefining our imagination to express its full capabilities whilst reminding us about what’s important.
Adeyemi is teaching young black children that their history is more than slavery and I, for one, grew very tired of that rhetoric quickly growing up.
The conflict between the kosidán and maji is one that was eerily similar and it soon became apparent that class was synonymous with race. The kosidán are lighter in colour and although, I can see the colourism debate around this division. I thought it was more apparent that the divide represented white Americans and African-Americans, with the different maji clans mirroring all the many different cultures that make up the continent of Africa. Especially with the parts about King Saran and his officers as they reflected the US police. She mentions the parallel in an interview at the back of the book but in particular, she speaks of Aiyana Stanley-Jones and how her death inspired Zu (a character later on the book).
Which is why a part of me debates as to whether it’s meant to serve as a warning. Will we as black people grow tired of all the injustice and find a way to overthrow these institutions designed to keep the divide? All is it simply just a fantasy novel to keep us entertained and thrilled by the action?
Regardless of whether it serves as a warning or not, I believe Adeyemi is simply saying black children, especially, have the right to be whoever they imagine themselves to be. They aren’t limited to the struggling black characters growing up in the racist Southern States of the US during the sixties or those on the plantations in the Caribbean/US during the 1800s.
They can be kings and queens, princesses and princes, maji and diviners…
There shouldn’t be a limit on your imagination.
And if there is one…
It’s past time to let it go.
Children of Virtue and Vengeance Review: