I think I’ve made it clear that I tend not to be a fan of what’s popular simply because it is popular. Overexposure has a way of killing things before I’ve even tried them. But there are those things which are popular for a damned good reason. And, if I’m lucky, I hear about them in such a way that I’m intrigued. If I’m even more fortunate, I don’t hear and see them everywhere before I ever get the chance to try for myself.
This is my library hold, Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone. I’d heard about it some months back – even heard that it was being optioned for translation to film before the book had been released. Some people were calling it a “black Harry Potter”. I think that’s false advertising though. This book has nothing to do with Harry Potter and to compare the two is to do Children of Blood and Bone an injustice. Not to mention that would be a super white way to view the book.
It’s a powerful story though, Children of Blood and Bone. In a fantasy world based on Africa instead of Europe, we discover the kingdom of Orïsha. Once it was a land of magic. Not everyone had such power, but you could easily tell those who did by their white hair. Then…something changed. Magic was stripped from the land, and in that aftermath came the Raid, where King Saran slaughtered all the former maji. He let the children live though, knowing they would never come into their power.
Zélie is one of those children. Or was, being seventeen now. She’s a diviner, the old name for the white-haired children whose magic has not yet come. The kosidán, the Orïshans who are born without the potential for magic, now oppress, enslave, torment, and murder diviners. They call Zélie and those like her “maggots”, and use majicite weapons against them. Majicite is akin to Superman’s Kryptonite.
It’s not a kind life. Zélie is always afraid, always missing her mother who was hung with a majicite chain. She often lashes out to conceal her fear for her loved ones when they’re just trying to do their best for their family each and every day.
And then, one day, as she is trying to sell fish for enough money to pay the crushing taxes leveled on anyone helping diviners, everything changes. A kosidán noble carrying a scroll runs into her, and Zélie helps her escape from a captain of the guard. It seems magic is not quite as dead as the King would have his country believe…and Zélie has just been handed the chance to save it.
I’ll admit, there are definitely points in the book where I became aware of reading below my level, but that happens with most novels geared towards a particular age group, so I can overlook it. Regardless, Adeyemi has woven a terrifying and powerful narrative that tells so much more than Zélie’s story. It’s a story of of how her own African American people have been and are oppressed each and every day simply because of the color of their skin. Part of me wants to say “yes, I understand, for some of these things have also happened to Jews”, which is true, but that’s not the right response. After all, I am not black. My religion is not obvious and therefore I can only be persecuted for it if I make it obvious. Children of Blood and Bone is about a different kind of persecution.
It’s like the #BlackLivesMatter versus #AllLivesMatter. Yes, all lives do matter. But what those people are conveniently overlooking is how white lives are held above black each and every day. And that isn’t right. Or fair. We need to value their lives as highly as our own…if not more so.
Reading a book, it doesn’t matter to me if the characters or white or black so long as I can understand them, enjoy reading about them, sympathize with them, and just be invested in their story. A good book is good no matter who it’s about. But because of this book, this author, and the state of the world outside, I cannot overlook the realities it represents. I think Children of Blood and Bone is a very good book. Not the best, but something that I’d like to own at some point. And since there’s room for more in this world, I’ll definitely keep an eye out for it.
I suspect there are people who feel more strongly about this book than I do. People who will shout its greatness from rooftops…and that’s no bad thing. If Children of Blood and Bone is compared to Harry Potter, it’s because it has the potential to draw a massive audience with a story that they haven’t seen before. Any movie it creates has the potential to be another Black Panther, and that’s no bad thing either.
My only caution is that this book is for teenagers at its youngest. There may not be swearing and there may not be sex scenes, but sexual relationships are definitely implied and various forms of torture are hinted at or even metnioned outright. And, just as Jirel of Joiry allowed a kiss to carry the weight of rape, Adeyemi does not shy away from the impact such deeds can have on her characters.
Really, the scariest part of this book is the fact that we’re seeing these kinds of atrocities in this country right now. Last weekend, I got a Facebook notification that one of my friends who lives in Philadelphia was safe. She belongs to a different congregation. But it could’ve been hers. Hell, the Neo-Nazis wanted to march right through Skokie in the 1970s, precisely because of its high Jewish population at the time, which is part of what prompted Holocaust survivors to finally start speaking about their experiences. I don’t want to be like Zélie, always afraid that someone might do something unspeakable to me just because I’m different. But I am afraid.
And that’s what he wants. Which is why we can’t let him, let them win. Our elections are important, and our votes are our voices. There is a creature who thinks anyone that isn’t white, Christian, or wealthy exists only for him and his friends to exploit. They are wrong, and we need to prove it to them.
I didn’t mean to get on a soapbox here, but this book so clearly shows what will happen if we don’t stop it. I remember the National Holocaust Museum brought it up, before the election if I remember correctly. We’re well past the start. The war began long ago and we need to fight in it before the front line comes to us.