Updated: Sep 1, 2020
I was recently introduced to the fantastical works of Nigerian-American author, Tomi Adeyemi, and I was not disappointed. Between the books of "Children of Blood and Bone" and "Children of Virtue and Vengeance", here are my (some spoiler) thoughts.
The story is set in the World of Orisha, deeply inspired by West African Mythology, and follows a young woman named Zélie Adebola who is suddenly set on a mission to restore magic to her realm of Orisha after the privileged nobles stripped her realm and her people of not just magic, but their way of life. With an unlikely companion in tow, she must race against time and the oppressive royal military that threatens to bring her world-changing mission to an end.
In Tomi Adeyemi's Author's Note, she mentions how part of her inspiration of the struggles and obstacles the characters in Children of Blood and Bone/Children of Virtue and Vengeance experience were that of the black community's experience with police brutality, and open discrimination. The fantastical racism trope is not only evident in the series' world building of Orisha, but bleeds through the unlikely relationships between certain characters due to differences in their social statuses. All of the characters are clearly West African-inspired (as intended). It not only made me think back of the police brutality in America, but also the time of apartheid that occurred in Africa with the "police stand-in" characters openly engaging in harassment and embarrassing the book's "minorities": the maji.
Our main protagonist does experience a great deal of pain with the royal military's constant suppression in the form of PTSD as well as having a thirst for justice. However the case, Zélie often expresses her internal struggle of endangering or eventually losing her loved ones should they continue to aid her solely for the fact that she was born the way she is. It is not a detail I'll get too into, but not just with the main protagonist, the books use more than one perspective including that of the privileged. Much like Game of Thrones in a way, it keeps the story from sounding as if there is a "good and evil", and room to form your own opinions of the characters.
This series is meant to be a three-book series filled with action, adventure, and fantasy, and make no mistake that that is what you'll get. As someone who actively follows Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, The Witcher, Lord of the Rings, and Game of Thrones, The Children of Blood and Bone in terms of the genre was up my alley. The plot never felt boring, any expectation I had in terms of world building was exceeded, and nothing was entirely forced. Characters had arcs that had payoffs whether or not it was to another character's detriment.
The overall mission felt dire and made the protagonist's party of misfits take in the gravity of every situation they fell into in every part of the adventure to the point where, as an adult, I'd rather them finish their mission as soon as possible, but then remember that the age range of this group is way under twenty—these characters are literally children! They are children in a world that took away their elders and parents only to leave them orphaned in a place that oppresses them and reminds them that they are virtually alone, so the particular scenes where they can celebrate their culture or kick off their shoes to play truly opens one's eyes to what has been stolen from these youth.
Children of Virtue and Vengeance was less adventurous and more about warfare. There was more division in the current cast that worked up to have at least a decent standing relationship only for it to be completely ignored in a way. With all the trauma the main protagonist suffered in the first book, it made sense to be in this bubble of rage (any other outcome would be strange and out of character), but pushing away the companion that wants to help everyone was a bit much. The building of the romances is another story, but at least is treated like a subplot and doesn't hinder the overall plot, and still pushes some character development.
New York Times state that Tomi Adeyemi is the new JK Rowling and understandably so. Though her writing doesn't make me think of how much I wanted to wait by the window for my acceptance letter so I could attend as a proud Ravenclaw, there are a plethora of magical clans to be a part of with different kinds of natural-born magic governing each one. The first book does a great job explaining the world of Orisha through the eyes of the characters in their personal experience and knowledge rather than an accidental terms and agreement format. You see how battered the race of the maji are and how defenseless they've come to be, and how much of a threat the nobles and the monarchy are in this story similar to the "Big Brother" looming over in George Orwell's 1984 in a fantasy setting.
The idea of a fantastical realm having its theme centralized in a West-African mythological setting is refreshing; especially when mainstream fanatasy-adventure genre would be more inspired by Anglo-Saxon, Greek Mythology, Norse Mythology, sometimes even biblical themes. I will admit that the book seems fast and speeds through its sagas in way that makes me wish that things were taken more slowly, but I'll not deny that this series took me on a ride that was well worth it. Part of me was afraid that stories that pointed to indigenous, African, or anything ethnic would be entirely scarce and publications like this with a large audience just moves me.