Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the first book in the “Legacy of Orisha” series.
Orïsha is a land ruled by fear. King Saran fears the return of the magic that led to the assassination of his first family. The maji, or maggots, as they are called, are all that remain of a once powerful race of people endowed with gifts from the gods to wield that magic.
Zélie, a young maji, lives in constant fear of Saran’s soldiers. They dragged her mother away and killed her 11 years ago during the Raid. That night, Saran found a way to sever the connection between the gods and the maji so they could no longer use the magic. Since then, the maji have been forced into poverty and slavery, as Saran keeps them under his thumb.
Amari also lives in fear of King Saran, her father. He has forced her and her older brother, Inan, to train to fight together. Even so, she and her brother share a deep bond of love. Amari does not like how her father and other nobles treat divîners, majis who no longer have power.
Her most beloved friend is Binta, her servant, who is a divîner. When Amari believes her friend has been accused of stealing an expensive bracelet, she sneaks into the throne room to tell her father the truth. She had given the bracelet to Binta so her friend could pay the high taxes demanded by the king.
Instead of a trial, Amari sees her father’s Admiral present him with a scroll. Saran is enraged. The scroll is one of three magical artifacts that he believed were destroyed after the Raid. The Admiral confesses that the artifacts were hexed. He tried burning and ripping the scroll, but it would reassemble itself. Finally he resorted to locking it and a magic sunstone into a chest and sinking it into the ocean.
They recently washed ashore, and those maji that touch them have awakened their powers. As proof, Binta is brought forward and forced to touch the scroll. Amari is amazed when light from Binta’s hand fills the room, but then horrified as she watches her father kill Binta. Angry, Amari steals the scroll and flees the palace. With the soldiers, including her brother, pursuing her, Amari runs into Zélie in the market and begs her for help. Having just been instructed that morning to protect those who cannot help themselves, Zélie decides to aid Amari.
As Tzain, Zélie’s brother, verbally thrashes her for her recklessness, Amari’s brother, Inan, must face his father and confess his inability to apprehend the fugitive with the scroll. Expecting a beating for his failure, Inan is surprised when his father talks to him rationally. He orders Inan to search for the fugitive, admitting that the one he seeks is Amari. If Amari can be found before anyone discovers what she has stolen, she can live. As only one divîner entered the city that day, Inan heads toward Zélie’s village to find his sister.
Zélie and the others arrive back in her village. While Tzain helps their father to pack items so they can flee, Zélie talks with her mentor, Mama Agba. Once Mama touches the scroll, her ashê, the latent magic within her, comes to life. As a seer, she is given a vision of Zélie, Amari and Tzain taking the scroll to a sacred temple. Before Zélie’s fear causes her to refuse the journey, fire breaks out in the village. One of Inan’s men disobeyed orders and lit a flame before Amari had been captured.
Zélie, Tzain and Amari escape into the wilderness. As Inan surveys the burning village, he is overcome by a vision of Zélie, fleeing. He believes she has infected him with a virus of magic in order to drive him insane. Later, he draws her consciousness into a kind of dreamscape. Zélie sees the white streak in his hair, the sign of the maji, and realizes the gods have gifted Inan. He is a Connector, a maji who has power over minds, spirits and dreams. His powers were awakened when he accidently touched the scroll while trying to capture Amari. The king will kill Inan if he learns the truth, and Inan will kill Zélie so she will not reveal his magical secret.
After a difficult journey, Zélie, Tzain and Amari reach the destroyed temple. When Zélie touches one of the skulls lying in the dirt, her magic allows even Amari to see a glimpse of its former glory. They are taken captive by Lekan, the last of a tribe of guardians who connected the Sky Mother’s spirit to the maji on earth. King Saran slaughtered all of Lekan’s people to sever that connection and rip magic from the world.
Zélie must perform a sacred ritual to re-establish the bond by the summer solstice in three weeks’ time. They must find the magic sunstone and travel to a hidden island to complete the ritual. Lekan performs the ceremony necessary to open Zélie’s ashê and allow her magic to flow freely. He also gives her a third relic, a bone dagger. When he finishes, they escape from Inan, who has found the old temple. Lekan is killed, but his spirit lifts Zélie to safety. Desperate to find them, Inan opens himself to magic. Admiral Kaea, his father’s mistress, discovers his secret. He accidently kills her with his magic and continues to search for Zélie.
Zélie and the others discover the sunstone is the prize for winning a staged sea battle within a coliseum. Slaves are forced to row the ships and fight. Zélie, Tzain and Amari get themselves placed aboard a ship, and Zélie uses her newfound magic to call up an army of spirits to help them win. They give the prize money to the other slaves on their ship, but escape with the sunstone before Inan arrives.
He catches up with them in the jungle, but as he and Zélie fight, Tzain and Amari are captured by a new threat. Young divîners have made a haven in the jungle. The sunstone had been stolen from them and now they want it back. When Zélie is caught in their trap, Inan sees his chance to kill her, but when he touches her, it ignites his magic.
He has a vision from Zélie’s memory of the night his father’s soldiers beat her father and dragged her mother from their home — and of Zélie finding her mother’s bleeding body hanging from a tree. In that moment, he sees Zélie not as his enemy, but as the frightened child still grieving the loss of her mother. Inan frees her, and the two unite to save their siblings.
Amari and Tzain try to convince their captors that they are working to save magic, not destroy it, but Amari’s royal blood convinces them that both are their enemies. They beat Tzain to try and force Amari to tell what they think is the truth. Before they kill him, Inan and Zélie attack the camp.
One of the captors has command over fire and attempts to burn Zélie. Inan protects her, calling on his own magic to stop the attack. Once it is apparent they are also maji, the others back down. Zu, the group’s young leader, calls for a celebration before Zélie continues on her trek to perform the sacred ritual.
During the festivities the following day, Zélie and Inan are attracted to each other, but their brief romance is broken up when the king’s soldiers attack the camp. Zu and many other children are killed before a maji ignites himself and incinerates most of the army. Tzain and Amari escape, but King Saran captures Zélie.
She is tortured as he tries to discover who has the sacred relics. They even burn the word “maggot” into her back. Inan, who now truly loves Zélie, but fears the power of magic after seeing the destruction it can cause, does not know what to do. He does not want to kill the divîners, but he does not want Zélie to complete the ritual and reconnect the divîners to the gods.
His love for Zélie compels him to free her, but he remains behind with his father. Amari and Tzain break into the royal stronghold to rescue her. As they carry Zélie toward a hidden island, she realizes that the king’s torture has stolen her magic from her. She cannot feel the ashê anymore.
Keeping the loss of her magic secret, Zélie still seeks to perform the sacred ritual. She enlists the help of mercenaries. The mercenary army is able to take over one of the king’s ships, which is also headed to the island. They sneak past King Saran and his troops and find the temple where the ritual must take place.
When they reach it, they are ambushed. Zélie is shocked to see Inan holding her father hostage. Inan promises that if she gives up the relics, her father will be safe. He still hopes to bring peace between their people.
Desperate, Zélie agrees and turns over the scroll and the sunstone. As she leads her father away, Saran orders her to be killed. Her father steps in front of the arrow, sacrificing his life for hers. His spirit fills her body and reignites her magic.
Black spirits shoot from her, killing anyone who gets in her way as she tries to regain the relics from Inan. He turns her unbridled anger toward himself, then holds out the sacred scroll as she seeks to spear him with her magic. The shadows destroy the scroll, and he hopes, the chance for magic to fully return to the world.
In the next instant, he uses his own powers to save his father from being killed by a mercenary. The sight of his son as a maji enrages the king and he tries to kill Inan. Amari rushes to save him. After a brutal battle, she kills her father.
As the solstice approaches, Zélie searches for a way to reconnect the divîners to the gods. She cuts her hands with the bone dagger and places them on the sunstone, calling on the spirits of her ancestors to make a way. Through their power, she utters an unknown incantation.
Her mother appears and says she has always been, and will always be, at Zélie’s side. Zélie begs her to stay with her, but Mama says she must return to Orïsha. When Zélie wakes, her mercenary friends, as well as Tzain and Amari, surround her. She asks if she succeeded in bringing magic back. As an answer, Amari holds up a hand, revealing a swirling blue light of magic. Zélie’s blood chills when she sees the shock of white hairs on Amari’s head, evidence the gods have gifted her. Zélie realizes magic has come, but it is bound to the princess.
In the past, Sky Mother created the world and all the other gods. She then let each of the gods pick a gift to bestow on their chosen people on earth. The maji were connected to the god that gifted them and different groups had immense power over water, fire, air, mind, body and even death. But some groups of maji abused their powers. As punishment, the gods took away their gifts.
The first to lose their power were the nobles, so they began to fear the maji they ruled, especially when some led a rebellion against the king. King Saran, the present ruler, discovered that one tribe of people were guardians of the connection between gods and maji, and so he slaughtered them.
He then tried to destroy the three ancient relics that helped amplify a maji’s power. Those relics could only be destroyed by magic and so were hidden away. Now that they have come to light again, those with magic began to be able to use their magic.
Zélie’s mother once used the most powerful kind of magic, blood magic, to bring her son, Tzain, back to life after he drowned. Although forbidden, some maji will cut themselves so that the magic within their blood can be released. This blood magic is very dangerous and will kill all but the strongest maji.
Zélie’s father’s spirit flows through her, and she is able to wield it like a spear. Zélie calls on the spirits of those that have died to help her fight for the sunstone. She uses blood magic as a way to reconnect the maji to the gods. She experiences a vision of the creation of the world — of men and of the gods. She sees magic connecting all people, but that people are capable of violence and virtue. She dies and travels through a place of darkness until a great light appears before her. It takes shape and becomes her mother.
Her mother explains that she has been and will always be at Zélie’s side. They are sisters of the goddess, Oya. Although Zélie wishes to stay in this place of love and grace with her mother and father (who is also there), she is told she must return to life to complete her work.
Zélie and Tzain’s father, Baba, is a loving, but broken man. His spirit broke when guards beat him and took away his wife to hang her. His strength returns because he believes Zélie has a chance to bring magic back to Orïsha. He sacrifices himself for her.
Amari and Inan’s father, King Saran, was fundamentally changed when his first family was killed by rebellious maji. He hardened his heart against them and now hates magic with a blinding passion. He forced Amari and Inan to fight each other with actual swords in order to prepare them for battle, to the point that Amari’s back is permanently scarred from Inan’s attack. Inan fears, and is proven right, that if his father learns he has magic, his father will kill him.
Many characters swear by the god’s or god’s sake. D–n, b—tard, a– and h— are also used.
The society of Orïsha is extremely violent. King Saran and his guards brutalize the divîners. Once the magic begins to return, the divîners use their power to rebel. Because of this, almost every chapter includes either a memory of violence or some act of aggression.
Mama Agba teaches Zélie and her other students how to defend themselves using wooden staffs. Zélie and another girl spar at the beginning of the story, but it is more brutality than an exercise. The girls hit each other in the sternum and abdomen, looking to cause pain. Before they can do serious damage to each other, the king’s guards arrive.
Zélie sees a boy’s back being burned and smells his flesh. Innocent people are burned alive when a guard sets Zélie’s village on fire. The image of burnt corpses is graphically described.
Zélie uses her staff as a weapon. She smacks a soldier in the head and then knees him in the groin. Amari and her brother were forced to spar with actual swords until the day Inan sliced her back open, permanently scarring her. Amari sees her father run his sword through her best friend’s chest because her magical powers have returned.
As Inan searches for Amari, many people are killed. Knives are thrown into their necks and the animals they ride rip people apart with their teeth. They also use arrows and spears to kill those in their way.
The maji use their powers to fight back. Lekan causes the soldiers’ ryders, the large cats they ride on, to levitate, then fly off a cliff to be killed on the jagged rocks below. Before Inan learns to control his power, he sends blue energy out to paralyze his father’s Admiral so she cannot tell others about his magic. His power kills her, causing blood to run from her eyes and mouth.
Slaves are forced to fight to the death against each other in a mock sea battle, as entertainment for the public. The death and carnage is graphically described.
Another maji controls fire and uses it to burn his attackers. When the soldiers come, he cuts himself, freeing his blood magic and incinerating all those around him, as if several bombs exploded. The image of his body turning into flame and killing others is graphically described.
Zélie is brutally tortured and beaten by King Saran. He burns the word “maggot” into her back, permanently scarring her. In the final scene, Zélie’s father steps in front of an arrow, intended for her. She watches him die. His spirit flows through her, and she is able to wield it like a spear. How she kills those around her is very graphically described.
Not only are they speared, but they are also turned to ash. Although Inan uses his power to save his father, King Saran attacks his son, stabbing him. Saran disowns his son as he prepares to cut off Inan’s head. Amari stops him. The two battle. Saran cuts open her back when she hesitates to kill him. When he swings to finish his work, she stabs him in the heart.
Although relationships between the maji and other social classes are illegal, soldiers often grope, abuse and rape maji girls. Amari sees her father’s cloak in Admiral Kaea’s bedroom and realizes her father spent the night with her.
Inan pulls Zélie into several dreamscapes. It is obvious to the reader, even before they admit it to themselves, that they are physically attracted to each other. Inan is haunted by images of Zélie, and in a dreamscape, she disrobes and swims in front of him.
They kiss several times. It is intimated that they have sex in a dreamscape. Tzain is appalled at his sister’s attraction to Inan, believing that the prince’s only goal is to get between her legs. He calls her the prince’s whore.
Slavery: Many young maji are forced into being servants or slaves in order to pay the taxes King Saran requires.
Gambling: People bet on the outcome of mock sea battles fought by ships filled with young slaves.
Alcohol: During a celebration, the characters drink honey palm wine.
Social commentary: In an author’s note, Tomi Adeyemi explains that she wrote this novel in response to news stories of police violence on unarmed black men, women and children. She calls on people to fight back.
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