“Children of Blood and Bone” is a young adult fantasy unravelling in an alternative Africa, opposing a feisty girl, from a former magical and now powerless and oppressed minority, against a terror inducing monarchy. This is a novel that I heard a lot about, the cover is beautiful, and I loved the premise as a rare one, sadly enough lots of fantasy books take place in more western worlds, so reading an African inspired one is refreshing. I first wished it had come from Africa itself, but this was not the point at all. In fact, it could only come from an African-American writer as it is a very relevant work to today’s American situation.
There are many levels of reading to this novel. While of course it can be taken at face value, it is a mirror to the black lives matter movement. Magic is a metaphor of freedom and intrinsic individual power. I understand the author so well. I cannot believe that today xenophobia is still a problem. I can’t believe some people are treated like sub-citizens in a country that calls itself the land of freedom. Facing injustice, violence, everyday horror on television, in the streets, through her community and network that she HAD to speak up and lift up a mirror to the society to show them violence begets violence. Oppression is never acceptable. Children growing in this suffocating world, where everywhere they are reminded they will not be treated equally, and when their futures are stolen from them, will be boiling over with rage. This is a powerful novel, with a strong and important message that has to be heard.
The opening of the novel drops us into a ceremonial fight Zelie is itching to win. she’s persuaded she can and all her hopes are weighing down on it. It’s a great way to show the world, the discriminations and hatred directed against the diviner minority she belongs to. We quickly jump to Amari, the princess of the kingdom, who fears with good reason for the life of her diviner maid and best friend. When Amari stumbles on an artefact with the ability to restore magic to its former glory, she immediately knows she doesn’t want to live in the world her father enforces with an iron fist and blood soaked soldiers. And when Amari escapes with it, she accepts she is forfeiting her life as she holds the whole future of the nation in her hands. Obviously she quickly knocks into Zelie. Tension runs high and the stakes escalate constantly, pushing the reader to keep turning the pages.
I enjoyed the world very much, and the plot is well paced with many twists and turns and bumps and surprises. I was always curious as to where the story was taking us, what conclusion it would reach and who would make it, and what form magic would take, and if the heroes would make it in time… But sadly it quickly became apparent that I wasn’t going to like anyone in the book. Zélie was way too full of rage for me, her constant aggression annoyed me. I would have identified at 13, but not anymore. So in a way maybe it talks directly to it’s target… I don’t know. Amari who is meant to be a contrast, feels deflated the whole time and lacking personality. Inan is the sitting on the fence type, and his lack of conviction is not attractive. The redeeming attempts are not enough to ever make him likable even though he is, admittedly, psychologically fascinating. We always wonder where he will finally stand. And because we never hear the story from Tzain’s perspective, he is kept at too far a distance for us to care much. Also the 2 romances had me cringing a lot, one utterly pointless and the other bordering on the Stockholm syndrome. I wish it had done without any at all.
This was a real shame for me, because while I loved the concept, the message, the world, the characters in it did not talk to me. And I felt very exterior to the whole epic adventure and in a hurry to get through it more out of professional curiosity: just to understand what the author wanted to express.
Still, I recommend the book, because while the characters did not resonate with myself, I am sure they talk to many under 18 year old. I do think all teens should give it a go, for its anti-xenophobic message, and would particularly recommend it to fans of the Black Panther movie, for the setting, and fans of the Hunger Games for the strong women fighting the oppression of their people.
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