Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Book Review: CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE by Tomi Adeyemi

WARNING: This week’s book is actually edgy YA and it is filled with adult content. It is absolutely not appropriate for younger readers and adults should view it as the equivalent of an ‘R’ rated movie. 

First Paragraph(s): Pick me.
It's all I can do not to scream. I dig my nails into the marula oak of my staff and squeeze to keep from fidgeting. Beads of sweat drip down my back, but I can't tell if it's from dawn's early heat or from my heart slamming against my chest. Moon after moon I've been passed over.
Today can't be the same.

I adore this book. Esteemed Reader, and I promise it will blow your mind. I'm going to fanboy out for Tomi Adeyemi's incredible novel and I'm squee-ing with happiness that Tomi Adeyemi will be here on Thursday to face the 7 Questions. But at the top of this post, I have a related concern, so the part of this book review that's actually about the book starts seven paragraphs down:)

I'm angry this week. I'm outraged. I'm guessing you are as well, Esteemed Reader. 

Should you be reading this at some future date, we present time Americans have just enjoyed a fifth Jurassic Park film that featured silly performances, a mostly ludicrous plot, and some cringe-worthy stupidity, but also super scary dinos that never fail to satisfy. Additionally, there was the little matter of our Nazi-endorsing, openly racist president ripping thousands of brown kids from their parents, some if not most never to be returned, drugging them and locking them in cages (among other abuses still being reported). 

And while the world was reeling from this news, Paul Ryan and his minions passed a farm bill that strips nutrition assistance, ya know, lunch for hungry kids, ahead of his plans to attack social security and medicare because we don't have the money to not kill kids and the elderly after tax cuts for the wealthy and an objectively unnecessary increase in military spending. Oh, and at the bottom of the news feed, there was a story about white police officers shooting another unarmed black boy who looks uncannily like my nephew as he ran from them. 

I'm outraged and I'm scared and I can't believe I brought a child into this mess (during the Obama years). And I can't believe the number of people I know and used to respect who are all "womp, womp" about things. But I'm not a political blogger. The world doesn't need an insightful post demonstrating my political acumen entitled "AHHHHH, Oh My God, Everything Is On Fire And We're All Gonna Die Screaming As Satan Laughs At Us From The GOP Headquarters, AHHHH!!!" 

A month ago I went off on an emotional rant after a school shooting happened in my town and that post went viral-ish and became the second most read in the history of this blog, which was alarming, but good, I guess (I want to tell the world how upset I am because I want some sensible gun control laws passed), but also irritating. Not for nothing, but I've got publishing professional interviews and guest posts from a lot of amazing authors at this blog that are absolutely worth reading and that the internets should be stampeding toward. And if people really wanted to read me raging about politics, my novel, The Book of David has been available for a year this month and the first part's free.

This has synced up with some other discouraging things in my writing life it would be unprofessional to discuss here, but which all seemed to hit at once for some reason. And it's all had me wondering: What am I doing? Do people care about books anymore? Should they when there's a revolution coming and the American Empire is falling around us and we've got real problems to deal with? Is polishing Banneker Bones and the Alligator People and promoting other writer's books really how I should be spending my time, or should I be marching in protest (doing that also), or prepping for the apocalypse?

Esteemed Reader, I don't know. I do know that this last week as all of this horror has been unfolding, I was held in absolute rapture by rereading an amazing fantasy novel that took me away from the real world for long periods, allowing me to break the surface and catch my breath. Children of Blood and Bone reminded me that books matter. Not all of them maybe, but this one does.

And then I read this inspiring quote by Tomi Adeyemi: “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. I felt afraid and angry and helpless, but this book was the one thing that made me feel like I could do something about it. I told myself that if just one person could read it and have their hearts or minds changed, then I would've done something meaningful against a problem that often feels so much bigger than myself.”

My review is: stop what you're doing and read Children of Blood and Bone. Or listen to the audiobook, which is incredibly performed by Bahni Turpin, who is now one of my favorite narrators as I've listened to this book twice and am keeping it on my phone to listen to it again in the near future. That's also the reason I'll be sharing fewer passages from the novel this post.

Esteemed Reader, this book will change lives. I've heard the usual online grumbling from some of the usual folks about another young author (Adeyemi is in her early 20s) making it big on the second book she ever wrote (seven figures and a pre-publication movie deal), and doesn't that just go to show that publishing is a lottery? You'll never hear me argue that publishing is a fair business and I might've grumbled myself about a few other young writers who won the lottery despite their books being less than amazing. But once in a while, the system still works.

Adeyemi is a better writer than me and many, many other writers and if there were ever a book that should shoot to the front of the line, it's Children of Blood and Bone. It really is that good. Sometimes in life, you encounter someone who is just plain smarter than you (happens to me all the time) and better at something than you. People have said some nice things about my stories and sometimes I get to thinking I'm the bestest (or periodically, the other extreme), so it's helpful to remember there are next level writers like Tomi Adeyemi in this world. The rest of us should tread lightly.

People have and will continue to compare Children of Blood and Bone to Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and other YA fare, as well as The Lord of the Rings (both have spirit army battles), and Black Panther (both are examinations of race and culture within the context of an epic narrative with heavy influences of African mythology). There are fantasy genre staples along the way and clear influences from other works, but Children of Blood and Bone is its own thing.

This is not a book about a plucky white protagonist and his black friend, or even a black protagonist and his white friend. Near as I can tell, there are no white people in Orïsha (and I better not see Martin Freeman cast in the movie). This is a story primarily about two black girls with explicitly dark skin, at least one of whom has magic powers (though I found it hilarious to learn that one of the key inspirations for Adeyemi was the Lindsey Lohan version of The Parent Trap). But don't miss the detail that those in the palace have lighter skin than those outside it and Princess Amari is made to lighten her dark skin while in the palace.

Our main protagonist, Zélie Adebola, is a magi warrior in training, although her people have been subjugated since their magic was stolen from them. Zélie's earliest memory is of her mother being hung because of her magic. Soldiers collect taxes too steep to be paid, beating, raping, and sometimes killing the magi, who they call "maggots." It's not insignificant that Zélie's power is calling on the strength of the dead who came before her and whose previous resistance fuels her own.

Meanwhile, the occasionally obnoxious and exasperating, but ultimately lovable Princess Amari steals a scroll with the powerful ability to return the magi's power and flee's the palace after her father kills her best friend. There's a lot of murder and cruelty in this story as Orïsha is a very difficult world for everyone living there, which is compelling and probably why they swear so often. But make no mistake, this is a YA novel, and in no time some handsome male characters are also introduced for our heroines and so it goes--do you want an epic fantasy with some romance in it to take you away to a magical place, or don't you?

Me, I preferred the many battles and relentless bloodshed to the dancing and psychic romancing (it takes some explaining, but Zélie hooks up with a sexy enemy because they can chat on the spiritual plane like Kylo and Rey and see each other's souls). But there's plenty of action and one super awesome sequence with a sea battle with all the explosions and bloodshed to make up for the kissy parts:)

Tomi Adeyemi is writing a meaningful tale with beautiful language and imagery, but she never forgets to show the reader a good time. It's entirely possible to read this story and miss some of the deeper significance of certain events, but still be enthralled in a the magic of Orïsha and of a great story well told. Children of Blood and Bone is the first novel of a planned trilogy, so don't expect to have all your questions answered, but that's okay. I can't wait for the next installment. Should it become five more books instead of two more, that would be just fine as well.

My father-in-law has frequently recalled with a special bitterness that the only book with a black character for him as the only black boy in a Mississippi classroom in the 1950s was Little Black Sambo. "That wasn't any kind of book," he's told me on more than one occasion, his face going dark like a storm moving in. "And I could tell the white teacher was making fun because all the other kids were laughing at me when she read it."

Never been a big reader, my father-in-law (he's still smarter than most), but he encouraged his daughters to read and he sometimes wears his Banneker Bones T-shirt with pride. I wonder what his opinion of books might be if Children of Blood and Bone had been available to be read back then. I wonder what future writers and artists Tomi Adeyemi is inspiring. These are dark times we're living through, Esteemed Reader, but the world is getting better. A novel as wonderful as Children of Blood and Bone is proof.

As always, I'll leave you with some of my favorite passages from Children of Blood and Bone:

“I teach you to be warriors in the garden so you will never be gardeners in the war.”

“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.”

“In this man - this one wretched man - is an entire kingdom. An entire nation of hate and oppression, staring me in the face. It may have been the guards who broke down the doors in Idaban that day, but they were simply his tools. Here lies the heart.” 

“Let them taste the terror they make us swallow.”

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: All reviews here will be written to highlight a book’s positive qualities. It is my policy that if I don’t have something nice to say online, I won’t say anything at all (usually). I’ll leave you to discover the negative qualities of each week’s book on your own. 

1 comment:

  1. Loved this book but hated the ending! Good thing it's a trilogy. It is very dark and while I will have it in my middle school library I'd recommend it mainly to 8th graders. Looking forward to reading you interview.


Thanks for stopping by, Esteemed Reader! And thanks for taking the time to comment. You are awesome.