Book – Children of Blood and Bone
Author – Tomi Adeyemi
Year – 2018
Pages – 532
Genre – Fantasy
Series – Legacy of Orisha
Bought for me by Alex Campbell
When I put together my list of all of the books I have read and started to really look at the data I had accrued, I was really surprised to see what a tiny percentage of the books I had read had been written by non-white authors – around one percent. I tried to have a think about why, and I think that there are several reasons. There are a few authors who take up a lot of the spaces on the list – GRRM and JK Rowling for instance take up fifteen of the first two hundred and fifty slots – which reduces the actual number of authors. Also, nearly a quarter of my books are fantasy, and there are not a lot of very famous non-white fantasy writers.
It was that second thought that really made me think twice. It is true, there are not a lot of famous non-white fantasy writers, but I couldn’t imagine that meant that there were none out there. Alex did some research and found loads. This just really bought it home – despite my first thought being that they weren’t out there, actually the only real problem was that I wasn’t reading them! And this would lead on to solving the first issue – I can’t read multiple books by the same author if I haven’t even read the first one.
Alex’s research yielded this book by writer Tomi Adeyemi. Much hyped even by the time of release, and with a film deal already penned, it is a beautiful looking book even before you turn to the first page, and once you do, seeing a beautifully drawn map and series of runes sets you up perfectly for a new fantasy series.
Zelie is a diviner – someone with magic in her blood – but since The Raid there have been no maji. However, marked as they are by their distinctive white hair, they are still cruelly repressed by the King, scared of the powers that they used to yield. However, a chance encounter with a renegade royal carrying a scroll capable of returning these powers sets in motion a series of events that could change everything.
There are so many things that I would like to talk about with regards to this book, that I am not quite sure where to start. I think I will go with the style. Adeyemi’s world is a fascinating blend of Nigerian culture, fantasy elements and real world items. Lions become lionaires, enormous horned beasts capable of being tamed. African dishes such as jolof rice are eaten to give a sense of our world, whilst magic is split into ten ‘clans’ to show the different masteries – fire, mind, healing etc. Their capital city is named Lagos after the Nigerian largest city, yet it does not appear that this is the same state. None of this is explained in detail – something that often bothers me, and yet here it does not. After a couple of chapters you accept the world building, and fall into it.
In terms of the characters, they are pretty standard fantasy fare – the rebellious teenager lead, the pampered princess with a steely interior, and so on – but I am never one to look down on that in a novel. There is a reason that these stock characters are used, and the joy of a fantasy series is to see how they can be changed over the course of more than one book.
The most up and down part of the book is the plot. It starts out wonderfully with a well planned opening that really sells the characters to you, and dips into the history of the world. When the plot starts to kick in it is exciting and interesting. The development is good, and some really interesting characters are introduced – Kaea and Zu are great example of interesting characters that you would want to get to know more of. And then just when it is starting to hot up, Adeyemi spends about a hundred pages focusing on a strange romantic sub plot, and it loses all steam. Even the excitement of what is happening is sapped away with wistful chapters that simply don’t feel earned. I am not adverse to love plots in fantasy by any stretch, but making them the focus is too often not the best way to go – for evidence, see The Hunger Games or Divergent: not Twilight, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Reaching this point became a real struggle – albeit one that I am glad that I ploughed on through, because the ending didn’t really go where I was expecting it to, and it has set up an interesting next book in the series.
I feel I should make mention of the race element to the book. All of the characters are black, this is explicitly stated throughout, and yet race is not a major theme of the book. There is mention of how the nobles strive for lighter skin, but generally it isn’t the main divider in their society. It is the white hair of the diviners that separates them. There is a strong parallel however between their situation and that of those in America being arrested and shot every day for the colour of their skin. It is a wonderful way of weaving this together – not avoiding skin colour, but making it a different focus.
The fascinating thing for me is that it took me a while to adjust my minds eye to see all of the characters as black. I like to think of myself as an open minded, liberal person who takes the time to consider issues that may not directly effect me. And despite this, whenever I read a novel I automatically make the characters as similar to me as possible where a book does not spell it out as being specifically different. With TV and film so often casting only white, male leads, it is even easier than ever to do, and it gives me reason to take pause and think this kind of thing through. There is a bias that is implicit in so much of what we do, and whilst I, and many others, would never see ourselves as having such a bias, this is the kind of thing that means we should think again.
I can’t say that since book 250 I have done enough to redress this unbalance – I finished book 275 this morning so the two BAME written books I have read amount to 4% of books this year and take my overall percentage to 2.2 – but it is some steps in the right direction, and despite some misgivings partway through this book, I am very keen to read the follow up which was released late last year.