When I added Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi to my reading list, I did not know the backstory for the novel.
I only read the following and knew I had to read the book this summer.
“They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.
Now we rise.”
I now know the following about the novel:
- The Legacy of Orisha is the first book in a trilogy
- Its a young adult fantasy novel
- It was one of the most anticipated books of the year [Vulture]
- It will be adapted to film by 20th Century Fox [Deadline]
- It was inspired by the ongoing protests against the murders of unarmed Black children by the police in the U.S., and the uproar after racist viewers realized that Rue’s character in the Hunger Games, Amandla Stenberg, was Black [Washington Post].
The story was written as a revolt against systemic oppression and inequities. The novel infuses Yoruba mythology with the fight for equity and draws parallels with police brutality and the dehumanization of Black people in the U.S. (and around the world).
The story is set, in what to me, appears to be Nigeria. Given that the Adebola’s live in Ilorin, in the fictional country of Orïsha.
Orïsha is socially stratified. This means that the citizens of Orïsha are grouped and treated differently based on certain characteristics.
- Maji: perform magic (used to before it was wiped out from Orïsha)
- Divîners: have the potential to do magic. Their full head of white hair set them apart from everyone else. Divîners are discriminated against and treated poorly.
- Kosidán: cannot do magic. These are the noble/upper class of Orïsha.
Readers discover that when Zélie (a divîner) and Tzain (a kosidán) were children, their mother was killed in a maji genocide (the Raid). The tyrannical King Saran ordered the killing of everyone over the age of thirteen. After the genocide, magic disappears from Orïsha, and the maji can no longer perform magic. They are now divîners and are used for slave labor, abused, mistreated, and referred to as “maggots.”
The plot thickens when Zélie and Tzain’s story merge with the story of King Saran and his children, Amari and Inan. The way these relationships unfold and how each character makes sense of their respective duties to Orïsha and their family is powerful.
King Saran institutionalizes discrimination and prejudice in Orïsha, banning traditions and levying heavy taxes on the divîners. Because of their lack of power, divîners live in perpetual fear of King Saran and the guards, who are present to “protect the citizens.” However, divîners are abused and berated by the guards.
Tomi Adeyemi’s portrayal of economic inequity is astute. The divîners live in a cycle of poverty and debt because they can not afford to pay the taxes levied on them. If they fail to make payments, divîners are brutally punished. They are rendered powerless even though their labor— blood and bone— is used for Orïsha’s economic growth.
I marvel at Afro fantasy fiction and the depths from which writers like Tomi Adeyemi pull to create stories that are rooted in fantasy and reality. Maybe the thing about creating a fictional world is that you can mirror what exists in real life but by the end of the novel, have characters that can press restart.
Once I started reading, I could not stop. There is something about magic itself that makes this book so captivating. Children of Blood and Bone was worth the wait and I look forward to watching everything play out on the big screen.