Goodreads: Children of Blood and Bone
Series: Legacy of Orïsha
Published: April 2018
When she was six, Zélie Adebola saw her mother killed for her magic. Now, there is no magic left in the land of Orïsha. But then she meets a runaway princess carrying a scroll that she claims can bring the magic back. And suddenly Zélie is travelling with her brother and the princess in a race to bring together a group of artifacts before the solstice. Only then can they ensure that magic will return for good. But a disgraced prince is hot on their trail.
I wanted to love this book. I had heard so many good things about it and was assured that here, finally, was an original YA fantasy. In fact, I almost stopped reading fourteen pages in because of how unoriginal the plot actually is. Still, I persevered until I reached the halfway point, thinking that perhaps things would get better. But by then, I could no longer stand the hodepodge of fantasy elements, the unconvincing worldbuilding, the uneven pacing and characterization, and the clear “enemies to lovers” trope foreshadowed from the start. I rarely DNF books, but I simply could not stomach any more of Children of Blood and Bone.
Despite the claims of originality, the premise of the story is, in fact, the premise of several YA fantasies I have read recently. An oppressed population has been stripped of their magic by a tyrant king, but a teenage girl, the chosen one, will return it. Of course, fantasies have the same premises and even the same elements, but still manage to combine them in new and interesting ways. So this alone might not mean Children of Blood and Bone is unbelievably cliche and boring. Generous readers might even be able to overlook all the obvious parallels to Avatar: The Last Airbender. However, the story attempts to cram in about every fantasy and every YA fantasy element one could think of, without regard to the logic of the story. The result is that Children of Blood and Bone feels like a derivative hodgepodge of about any fantasy you might care to name.
This hodepodge construction affects the believability of Tomi Adeyemi’s secondary world. I was never drawn into the setting, never able to believe I was there, because her influences are too obvious and poorly connected. For instance, Adeyemi strings together a flight from the palace to the marketplace (complete with chase scene), to a floating fishing village, to a mountain jungle (complete with ruined temple and rickety bridge escape) to a desert (complete with slave labor and gladiator arena). None of these elements really seems to go together. It feels like we’re in the middle of several different stories (all of which you have read before) and we just jump from one to another when it begins to get boring. It might help if Adeyemi showed more of the travel from one destination to the next, but she tends to dismiss these interludes with a few sentences, leaving one feeling like the characters simply walked off a lush mountain jungle straight into a desert where the Romans still rule.
The magic system, too, leaves much to be desired because, frankly, it does not make any sense to me. Perhaps the second half of the book expands on the explanations. But what I understood is that magic is hereditary, except maybe it’s not if the gods decide so. And you need to study hard and use incantations to perform and strengthen magic, but maybe not if the plot demands it. Also, the gods want to connect with mortals, but not really. They will intervene to bring people and objects together, but their interest is so minimal that, if the humans fail to bring certain artifacts together in a ritual every so many years, the connection is severed forever. I really don’t get it. Even gods who are portrayed as needing a ritual or sacrifice to respond don’t typically remove themselves forever after one failed ritual. Do they care or not?
The pacing of the story does not mend matters. The story switches among the perspectives of Zélie, the princess Amari, and Amari’s brother Inan. Zélie‘s chapters tend to go quickly–they are the ones where the characters zoom from water to jungle to desert. Amari’s chapters are few and far in between, very short, and usually pointless. They just reiterate her feelings (the same ones) so readers don’t forget she exists, or something. And then there are Inan’s chapters. His chapters, compared to Zélie‘s, are excruciatingly slow. He struggles with his father’s orders to kill everyone on sight, kills people anyway, regrets it, and then begins the cycle over again the next time. I think this is supposed to be character development, but, in fact, Inan is not developing at all.
Except, of course, Inan obviously will suddenly develop later in the story when he begins his tropey romance with Zélie. I assume he will abruptly forget all the massacres he committed, Zélie will forgive him, and everything will be rainbows and roses. This is so utterly ridiculous that I did not bother finishing the book in part because I am not sure I can handle it.
But the overriding reason I chose to DNF is because of the darkness. I simply cannot spend any more time in a book where entire villages are routinely massacred and burnt to the ground. I cannot spend any more time in a book where every person who speaks to Amari is abruptly killed. I cannot spend any more time in a book where each new scene depicts increasingly larger numbers of people murdered in new ways. I cannot spend any more time in a book where everything is unrelentingly dark and depressing. I need the light to peek through, at least sometimes.
I know this is an unpopular opinion and that Children of Blood and Bone has received an overwhelmingly positive response. I recognize that people are excited to read a fantasy based on Nigeria–I was too. However, I do not believe Children of Blood and Bone is well written. And I have to be honest about that in my review.