Everyone was talking about this book when it first came out – while I was snagged by the stunning cover. When I had some book tokens to spend and saw it on the shelf, I scooped it up – and then didn’t get around to reading it until now…
They killed my mother. They took our magic. They tried to bury us. Now we rise.
Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls. But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.
This is a book about injustice, oppression and prejudice wrapped around a tale of magic, using the power to try and carve out a better future for those afflicted with the white hair of the maji. Told in multiple first person viewpoint, we see the story unfold through the eyes of two sets of siblings from opposite sides of the conflict – Prince Inan and Princess Amari, whose father is responsible for the oppression, as he battles to expunge magic from the world after it caused the death of his family; and Zélie and Tzain, whose mother is brutally murdered by the king’s guards.
I was interested in the fact that the story isn’t straightforward – while the systemic degradation of a people is clearly wrong, Adeyemi doesn’t hide the fact that once magic is unleashed, its power to kill and maim large numbers indiscriminately is terrifying. Indeed, one of the main protagonists accidentally kills someone they are fond of and respects when their magic slips beyond their control. The king’s argument is that he takes no pleasure in supressing, torturing and murdering maggots, as he calls magic-users, but it’s for the good of the kingdom. It’s clear he regards them as sub-human.
But we also see at very close quarters the grief of a girl who has done nothing wrong, except to be born to a woman with a strong talent for magic. Over the years, she hasn’t only seen her mother murdered, but suffered daily humiliation at the hands of brutalised guards and been constantly afraid. When there seems to be an opportunity for the hundreds of orphaned children scattered across the kingdom to once again regain their magical heritage, Zélie and Tzain set off on a quest to gather the necessary artefacts and be at the right place at the right time to perform the ritual.
The book covers that journey. Along the way, they encounter the prince and princess – and I love how Adeyemi plays with reader expectations as to how that will play out. Gripping, action-packed and highly emotional, this is a book that at times I had to put down because I needed to surface from the intensity – at other times a crowbar wouldn’t have levered it out of my hands. I’d love to see this book become a classroom text for young teens, given the moral questions it raises. What do you do when a slice of the population is perceived as a threat to the rest? How do you responsibly neutralise that threat? Is it ever justifiable to ostracise a people because a very small number of them are exceptionally dangerous?
It doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to see that these are questions very relevant to our current political situation – but in certain areas of the country, any discussion of that situation may well be seen as not only controversial, but inflammatory. So using Children of Blood and Bone would be immensely helpful in raising these issues to tease out the moral implications. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys a gripping fantasy adventure with unsettling echoes in our modern world.