Believe the hype. Recently named by Amazon as their featured debut best book of the month and highlighted by critics at Entertainment Weekly and Vulture as one of the top debut novels of the year, Children of Blood and Bone has been riding a sea of acclaim for months now. Oh and did we mention that Henry Holt Books for Young Readers acquired the book in an astonishing seven-figure deal (which is almost unheard of in the publishing world) and that its film rights were quickly acquired by Fox 2000? After devouring the book in very few sittings I can safely say that debut author Tomi Adeyemi should make room on her mantel for the inevitable onslaught of awards coming her way as well.
Set in west Africa in the fictional district of Orïsha, the story is told from the perspectives of three equally fascinating and fully formed characters: Zélie, a young, poor woman who’s emotionally scarred following the brutal death of her powerful mother; Amara, an overly sheltered Princess who longs to experience the world away from her brutish father and brother; and Inan, Amara’s brother who is wrestling with his own mysterious demons. Each character grapples with the legacies endowed upon them from their parents and whether they will follow in their footsteps.
The book begins as an Aladdin-esque epic fantasy (Zélie and Amara, two young people from very different upbringings, literally run into each other at the marketplace and then must band together to collect three ancient artifacts in order to bring magic, banned by Amara’s ruthless father, back into Orïsha) and then sneakily becomes something much greater than your typical YA novel.
Adeyemi studied West African mythology in Brazil and she injects that knowledge here in fascinating ways. Not only that but the author also infuses into the heightened magical realism world a grounded argument that children have the capacity and ability to change a racist, patriarchal and poisoned system from within. More importantly, the women here aren’t motivated by the desires of men, instead they push each other to be the best version of themselves and the male characters become almost an afterthought (a position usually reserved for the female characters in fiction and film).
One can easily compare the ambitious work to Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes series or even Ben Okri’s novels about the spirit world, but this is a wholly original work that’s more compelling than anything I’ve read in years. Bring on the sequel, stat!
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