After discovering that both my CBR 10 reading list and my personal library have been far-too-heavily skewed towards male authors, I was determined to make a correction, and I set out on my first trip away this year with a too-long wishlist that yielded a bonanza of books by women, sixteen in all, pictured here. I could easily have come home with twice as many but kept myself under control if only to avoid overweight baggage charges.
After dinner on my second night in London, I arrived at Foyle’s on Charing Cross Road about 30 minutes before close, just enough time for an initial scout. On my way out, I browsed through the YA section, realizing after a few minutes that I was the creepy old dude shopping in the back-corner, basement YA section with a couple of too-cool (like, obviously) teen girls. Blimey. I grabbed a few of my top choices and headed for the cashier, imagining those teens giving each other grossed-out looks as I fled.
Children of Blood and Bone had been high on my wishlist for a few months, having seen it on a few different lists of most anticipated books of 2018, so I was happy to check it off my list that night at Foyle’s. After I finished up The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August the next morning, this was a natural choice for next read: woman of color author, world-building in an African setting, heavy on mythology and magic, and girls as principle characters. I wanted more diverse books, and I certainly got it.
The story is told by three main characters. Zélie is a teenage diviner, identifiable by her snow-white hair, a group of people who receive magical powers from the gods when they come of age. But she has no powers, and neither has anyone else since the king banished magic several years earlier in a brutal crackdown. Zélie and her kind are now the lowest of the low, referred to as maggots by the nobles and their sympathizers. Amari is the king’s daughter, whose only friend is her servant, also a diviner, whom she watches her father murder in his throne room for the sole crime of being born a diviner. In a fit of rage and guilt, Amari flees from the palace with a magical artifact that may be able to restore magic to the kingdom. On her way out of the city, she happens on Zélie and pleads with her for help escaping the king’s guards. Inan is Amari’s brother, the crown prince and young captain in his father’s army, and he’s sent to find Amari to bring her back quietly before anyone finds out not only that the relic is missing but that the princess Amari is responsible.
From there, it’s a fairly standard story, often enjoyable due to Adeyemi’s dazzling world-building. I loved the different types of animals, especially the great cat beasts like lionaires and snow leoponaires that they rode like horses. I loved the imaginative magical powers that the young maji were just beginning to discover with no one to guide them, the older generation of maji having been wiped out a decade earlier. And I loved all the ass-kicking women, young and old. But the story was also often frustrating and expected. I just didn’t buy the gladiator-esque battle on warships in the desert. It felt trite, basically just another riff on quidditch or Hunger Games, and downright unbelievable, even within the world that Adeyemi had so carefully built. And I found myself wanting more from Inan’s character development, wishing he could have been given a more thoughtful progression like Zélie and Amari instead of being so reactive in service to the narrative.
And yet, as often as I was frustrated, I still enjoyed the book as a whole, particularly after reading the author’s endnote explaining her inspiration. I also realize I’m inexperienced with YA lit in general, so some of my expectations were unreasonable. And I know part of my issue was simply that this is the first book in a planned series, so once I took it as the first chapter in a larger work, I was able to forgive more of the parts I’d initially seen as shortcomings. I don’t know what I’ll think in six months or a few years, but for now, it’s a solid 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 for world-building and imagination. I’m curious to see where Adeyemi goes with the story and can’t wait to read the next volume.