Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I downloaded this book in Audible after hearing about it a bunch, but didn't decide to read it until it was selected as the Tonight Show Summer Reads. I love that a late-night show would get people reading, and wanted to support that idea and join in. I do think I should say that this book is not my usual thing - YA fantasy series don't typically appeal to me for multiple reasons - they tend to include too much questing and I get tired of reading this kind of story, particularly because often questing fantasy tends to wait until the end to have the exciting events. YA fantasy tends to focus a lot of time on world building and magic systems, neither of which appeal to me all that much. Those are my biases, but even so, I have read books that do these things well and books that do not. I went into the read knowing I'd probably like the diverse elements of the setting and characters, and with a familiarity of East African mythology and gods, landscape and history.
The author is clear in her note that she wrote this book as a reaction to young black bodies killed and devalued..she begs the reader, if you can see the humanity in the characters killed without reason in the novel, surely you can see it in reality too. Magic then becomes a metaphor for blackness and identity even within a story where all characters are dark skinned. Color is used as a signifier of latent magical potential in a different way (hair color) and interpreted as dangerous. The king who rid the world of magic believes he is keeping everyone safe by staying in power and killing those who threaten to return to other ways. The violence is seen as necessary by one side and senseless by the other. It doesn't matter that people are killed, because keeping magic out is priority #1. The author may have written this in response to one issue; in the current political climate I was also seeing an easy connection to the border and immigration issues that are ongoing, particularly the devaluing of the personhood of people who are given negative labels instead of names. Adeyemi is the child of immigrants, but the internet says that they shielded her from her Nigerian culture as a child, trying to help her be "more American." In some ways the cultural elements of this novel are an extension of her exploration of her own background and cultural history.
The YA nature of the novel shows in the characters having to learn skills and come into their own, form their own opinions and chart their own actions, and make mistakes they can learn from. The stakes are high but the adults aren't trustworthy. There is also attraction and romance, but not to the extended focus that many dystopian YA books end up with. In this book, the romance ties in to the stakes of what the characters are trying to do, so that worked better for me than the other way around.
Some of the fantastical elements are a bit confusing. There is a lot of world to learn, and sometimes the information is dumped on the reader rather than slowly being discovered, making it even harder to absorb. I found this readers guide of sorts on EW.com that is helpful; I only wish I'd had it as I listened. Some plot elements that are introduced don't come back around, while other world-building elements seem to be used for their cool factor rather than their importance to the storytelling, and this adds noise that doesn't need to be there. The author is young, writing takes practice, I imagine she will get better and better at pacing and detail decisions.
I would have liked less redundancy and a tighter narrative; almost 18 hours definitely felt too long in audiobook form. I've read other books with Nigerian cultural elements combined with magic, so if you like that part of it I would also recommend Nnedi Okorafor, specifically Akata Witch.
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