How did we get so lucky with this spring’s young adult novels? The March releases alone are just *Italian chef kiss*.
At the top of the class is Tomi Adeyemi’s flawless YA fantasy, “Children of Blood and Bone,” which has already been snapped up in a giant movie deal. Nigerian-American Adeyemi, who has studied West African mythology and culture in Brazil, puts her knowledge on glorious display in “Blood and Bone.” Through nuanced characters and exquisite worldbuilding, Adeyemi’s thunderous debut explores race, power, magic, and identity.
The land of Orïsha was once full of magic. Ten clans of maji, identifiable by their white hair, represented a tensome of deities, each with their own power. Tiders governed the waves; Connectors could manipulate minds; Healers restored people; Reapers ushered them into a peaceful afterlife; and so on.
But after rogue maji killed members of the kosidán (or non-magic) monarchy eleven years ago, magic seemed to disappear; some said the gods took it away. A furious King Saran, seizing the moment, ordered every adult maji killed in a genocide later known as the Raid. Since then, those of maji descent (known as divîners, since their gifts have not manifested) are imprisoned, used as slave labor, taxed at impossible rates, called “maggots,” and abused by guards everywhere.
One such divîner is our heroine, Zélie Adebola. Her mother, a Reaper, was publicly murdered in the Raid.
“Mama used to say that in the beginning, white hair was a sign of the powers of heaven and earth. It held beauty and virtue and love, it meant we were blessed by the gods above,” Zélie says. “But when everything changed, magic became a thing to loathe. Our heritage transformed into a thing to hate.”
Zélie, her kosidán father, and her older brother, a protective athlete named Tzain, were left to scrape together an impoverished, post-traumatic life under the monarchy’s boot heel. Tzain, Zélie says with disgust, “wants to believe that playing by the monarchy’s rules will keep us safe, but nothing can protect us when those rules are rooted in hate.”
Meanwhile, in the palace, Saran’s children, Princess Amari and Prince Inan, have been raised by their paranoid, sadistic father to believe that magic is the source of all evil in Orïsha. When an ancient magical artifact surfaces – a scroll that, when touched, reawakens a divîner’s gift and transforms them into maji – the king swears to destroy it. But when sheltered Amari sees him use the scroll to reawaken her divîner best friend’s magic – and then he slays her on the spot – she steals the scroll and escapes.
Amari, Tzain, and Zélie, whose magic the scroll has now awakened, find themselves on a quest to collect two more artifacts that, if used with the scroll in a sacred ritual, can bring magic back to Orïsha. But the clock is ticking and they’re hunted by Inan, who suddenly finds the hated magic growing within himself, as well as a powerful connection to Zélie that neither understands.
Whereas Zélie describes her magic as feeling like life itself has returned to her, a giant breath after eleven years of drowning, Inan calls his gift a curse, poison, virus, infection. Something toxic that must be oppressed, removed, avenged. The two are diametrically opposed but inextricably linked, and when they finally connect, the physical and spiritual clash is like a sonic boom.
“Magic is the root of all our problems,” Inan bellows during one confrontation. “It’s the root of Orïsha’s pain!”
“Your father is the root of Orïsha’s pain,” Zélie retorts.
“My father is your king. A king trying to protect his people,” Inan says. “He took magic away so Orïsha would be safe.”
“That monster took magic away so that he could slaughter thousands. He took magic away so the innocent couldn’t defend themselves!” yells Zélie. “Our lack of power and our oppression are one and the same.”
As Adeyemi explores these tensions, her prose gallops at a breakneck pace from one outstanding plot point to another. With precision and thrumming intensity, Adeyemi crafts 540-plus pages of relentless, focused action with nary a blurry moment. I was never lost, never aimless, never distracted by a fudged narrative sequence; really, it left me in awe. The first page alone raised the hairs on the back of my neck.
Her dialogue is also fluid and natural. I eagerly await (but do not envy) the work of audiobook narrators like my oldest sister, who will get to grapple with Yoruba pronunciation throughout.
“Children of Blood and Bone” deserves every extraordinary piece of praise lavished upon it, plus one hefty disclaimer – due to graphic violence and torture scenes, the “ages 14 and up” footnote must be respected.
This sweeping epic is perfect for fans of Laini Taylor or Tamora Pierce. If you enjoyed “Black Panther,” the Elder Scrolls video game series, or Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy, Tomi Adeyemi’s gale-force gust of fresh air will move you.