“What to Read after Black Panther” part 3. It’s not quite Afrofuturism because it’s decidedly mythic past without even the alternate technology of Everfair, and it came out after I made my display. It still belongs here. Thanks to the Book Smugglers for saying that it lives up to the hype.
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. Henry Holt, 2018.
In this start to a West African-inspired epic fantasy, we meet two sets of siblings. Zélie is the daughter of a woman killed for her magic in a kingdom that has outlawed magic and its practitioners. In a remote floating village, rebellious Zélie secretly learns forbidden martial arts anyway. Her brother Tzain hides a fiercely loyal heart behind the face of a happy-go-lucky ball player. Meanwhile, in the capital, the children of the king who outlawed magic are at odds. Amari, heartbroken at her father’s callous killing of the enslaved girl she considered a friend, Binta*, runs away. Inan, her brother, chases after her. Soon Amari, Zélie and Tzain have joined forces in a countdown to save the magic before the summer solstice, after which it will be irretrievably gone, with Inan at the head of a small army out to get them.
This is a vivid and well thought-out world, filled with moments of intense joy amid the struggles both internal and external. Though a fantasy, this is based in traditional beliefs. There are ten clans each with an associated deity with its own powers, and the deities are all authentic to West African religion. This isn’t a familiar tradition to me – I recognized only a few deities from other African fantasies – and xenophile that I am, I’m always happy to learn more. Adeyemi does a great job with unfolding the world in the context of the exciting and appropriately twisty path to the goal. It’s a trilogy, and the ending was just enough to feel cohesive while leaving room for the sequel. Given the near-obligatory nature of romance in teen fantasy, it feels like only the smallest of spoilers to say that the part that worked least well for me was the Forbidden Romance between Zélie and Inan, with Tzain and Amari having a less well-developed one as well. I just couldn’t quite buy it, and felt that Zélie and Amari would have made a more convincing couple. But that’s a relatively small part of the overall book, and I’ll hold out hope for the next book of the series. #TeamAmari
*Don’t let your name be Binta if you’re in an African fantasy book is the lesson I get from this and Who Fears Death. Binti in Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti series fares marginally better, starting of the trilogy as the only survivor of a massacre.