In my case, this book fell victim to too much hype. Few books have I felt so guaranteed to like; fewer still have lived up to that kind of expectation. While I like each of the elements of this novel in principle, the execution stumbles enough that the concept itself doesn’t quite save it. I would still recommend this to genuine young adult readers who love adventure and fantasy.
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.
Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.
Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers and her growing feelings for an enemy.
RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME, RIGHT WRITING
Children of Blood and Bone is an explosively popular novel with a movie on the way for good reason. It filled an opening in the market that many were looking for at exactly the right time—it was solidly Young Adult, incorporated a creative fantasy concept, and all of its characters are black in a dazzling world of their own. It deals sensitively and intelligently with themes of oppression, empire, loss, and cultural erasure.
The ending, while confusing, takes a lot of these themes to the next level. Without spoiling, I can say that a lot of people didn’t like the end for its ambiguity, but in my opinion, it’s a very clever kind of ambiguity that promises to peel back more truths and cause a lot more important conflict in books to come. I appreciated that this is clearly the first book in a series; while it has its own arc, it really doesn’t make sense as a standalone.
The novel’s biggest weakness is the frequency with which the reader is jerked out of the narrative by the characters. They frequently make decisions that don’t align with what we know about them or their inner dialogues, or they abruptly flip-flop their entire ideology with apparent fervor.
This happens most often with Inan, the crown prince of Orïsha and one of the three characters for whom we get a POV narrative. I agree with other reviewers that having his narrative only made his character weaker, and it definitely doesn’t help explain the decisions his character makes.
Zélie is by far the strongest character and the only one whose head I really cared to live in. She was the lens through which it seemed the author saw the plot unfold. And yet, there were also times in her narrative that completely stumped me. If you really think you can’t continue, that you can’t succeed…why continue anyway? Zélie isn’t a serial people-pleaser or anything.
A lot of these conflicts center around the question of whether it is safe to bring magic back. I appreciate a problem without an obvious or easy solution being posed in a book meant for teens; I think it really encourages critical thinking on the part of the reader. In this sense I understand the desire to write from the perspective of children brought up by the oppressor. The desire to unpack the way they’re brought up in bigotry and how challenging it can be to buck that. But these transitions and realizations rarely hit believably.
I always try not to be too critical of plots that have been done before, because often, if the execution is exciting enough, all is well. This story essentially goes from one urgent quest to another, but—at least in Zélie’s narratives—this totally works to keep the stakes high and the pages turning. I wasn’t dazzled by any of the plot twists except the last one, which, depending on execution, could be really interesting in the next book.