Friday, May 4, 2018

Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orïsha, #1) by Tomi Adeyemi

This action-packed story incorporates African legends and Yoruba language that involves three teenage protagonists in a high fantasy quest. The plot is an allegory of black oppression that digs into the consequences of violence on individuals marginalized in society. Zelie Adebola, 17, is a teen whose mother was chained and lynched because she was a maji that could raise people from the dead. King Saran of Orisha committed genocide against all maji because his family was killed by one. The children of maji called, Diviners have dark skin and white hair that distinguishes them from the other dark-skinned people and the King has made them servants, slaves, stockers, or prisoners in Orisha. The Diviners powers will not manifest without magical artifacts that the King has destroyed in his first purge. When a magical artifact is discovered and the King uses it to kill his daughter's best friend and servant, Princess Amari steals it and goes on the run. Amari runs into Zelie and her brother, Tzain, going on a quest to bring magic back to the kingdom and free the Diviners. The Crown Prince Inan is bent on stopping them and finishing his father's eradication of magic.

The strong character arcs and world building around African mythology make this fascinating. In Benin or Nigeria, orishas are divine spirits in Yoruba and the author incorporates this history into her world-building creating a rich tribal world reflecting ancestor worship. Zelie is a Reaper like her mother and her contact with the dead as well as with her ancestors makes a strong metaphor for those who have died under oppression either in slavery or in institutionalized racism. When Zelie gains her powers it connects her with her ancestors and the goddess Oya.

Inan's character arc has depth as he struggles with his father's expectations and gaining powers that help him to understand the pain of others. Amari foreshadows his wavering or misguided beliefs as she tells Zelie about Inan's influence under the tutelage of their father, King Saran. As Inan tries to please his father and do what is right, he makes mistakes that make him a complex three-dimensional character, unlike King Saran who has become hard-hearted from his choices.

Amari is part of the nobility and does not agree with her father. Her best friend is a diviner and when her father murders her she decides to bring magic back to the realm. Her interactions with other nobles reveal a race of lighter skinned Africans that favor light skin and despise the different looking diviner race. While most of the plot is straight-forward the twist at the end concerning Amari makes the reader wonder if she has a hidden agenda.

The characters engaged me more than the plot which seemed like a mix of different fantasy books such as Hunger Games. While the plot may have not felt wholly original, the well-crafted representation of a different culture and heritage gives readers identification of what it is like to be marginalized. The oppressive brutality of those in power and the violence inflicted on the oppressed people in Orisha is reflective of modern society. The author says that when the guards throw Zelie to the ground in chapter 1, it was written after a specific incident of police brutality. The first-person points of view are repetitive in some spots but for the most part, the plot moves along. I wished there were more twists like the one at the end. What I like about this fantasy is that it can apply to other minority experiences in the world whether the person is an immigrant, disabled, LBGTQ, or unique in some way and prejudiced by the ruling majority. The strong female characters are a draw and it sits alongside other well-written books produced this year such as "The Hate U Give" and "Long Way Down".

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