What do you do when you cannot live your life fully because the monarch has outlawed magic in your country? What would you do if you found out there was a way to change all that and bring back magic?
That’s the essence of the first instalment of the Orisha Legacy series, The Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi.
The story follows the life of Zelie, a maji, her brother Tzain, the princess Amari, and the prince Inan. Zelie is among many magicians living in fear after a purge saw many of her kind killed for the good of Orisha.
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For Princess Amari, a life-changing event opens her eyes to realities she has always accepted without question. She steals a magic scroll believed to be the origin of magic and during her escape, encounters Zelie sending the reader into an adventure as they seek to bring back magic to Orisha.
Hot in pursuit is Inan, who is also dealing with his own realities and a discovery that might change the course of his life forever, to stop the return of magic.
It is through this journey that the richness of Nigerian mythology comes alive. The intricacies of gods and goddesses as well as a creation of a fantasy world that transcends the usual one-setting fantasy worlds many readers are familiar with.
Within the story, Adeyemi tackles heavy themes including police brutality, hair politics and death. In a interview with the NPR, Adeyemi reveals that she based part of the story on her fear of police shootings of black men in America that even her own diary entry made it to the book.
I am always afraid. It’s a truth I locked away years ago, a fact I fought hard to overcome. But when it hits, I’m paralyzed. I can’t breathe. I can’t talk. All at once, I crumple to the ground, clasping my palm over my mouth to stifle the sobs. It doesn’t matter how strong I get, how much power my magic wields. They will always hate me in this world. I will always be afraid.
The aspects of identity- using the discrimination and violence on the magicians- is also a vital aspect of the book. All the characters go through life-changing events that inform their existence as well as their plans of action. The more the characters accept who they are, they seem to get a sense of power and confidence. The opposite is also visible.
Beside content in the book, Adeyemi uses the story to showcase heroes of colour and give others without these experiences a platform to see what the ‘other’ are going through.
“Children of color need a mirror to see themselves in. And then people who don’t have that experience, they need a window. They need a really personalized way to see what people who are different from them are going through,” she said.
Some of the strong points in the story include the world-building, which is quite impressive. The richness of the setting, the tangibility of the fantasy world makes the story more palatable. The interchanging narration of the four characters provides an in-depth understanding of their motives and thought processes.
However, some characters could be improved. Zelie, inspired by her mission, sounds a little one-dimensional until towards the end; the question in so many readers’ minds would be ‘what makes her exceptional?’. The same can be said of Tzain, who is portrayed more as Zelie’s protector than anything else. Inan sounded more complete – his internal battle between his duty as a prince and the new identity he’s forming makes him an interesting character. It was wonderful to see how Amari drops her naivety and faces the realities that life threw at her.
The romantic angle was also quite questionable: it was instant, it was distracting for the characters and the reader and considering the ending, quite unnecessary. Like many young adult fantasy stories, the storyline is pretty straightforward and many readers of this genre would find it too predictable.
That said, the book is a good read, an introduction to a mythological world in Africa explored by teens on a mission. I am looking forward to the second instalment, Children of Virtue and Vengeance to see where the adventure will take us.
Children of Blood and Bone was published by Holt Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Macmillan and is set to be adapted into a film.