Children of Blood and Bone (affiliate link*) by Tomi Adeyemi just might be the best book I’ve read in the last couple years. It’s a page-turning adventure that subtly comments on race relations in our current atmosphere. And one that’s important to read, yet thrilling. I loved every character, every moment, and every twist.
Let’s take a look at what makes it work and why.
Oh, and here’s your warning: Spoilers Ahead. Proceed with caution.
1. What is the Global Genre?
Children of Blood and Bone is a long form, arch-plot, fantasy, drama that turns on power and impotence. That means the external content genre is society, which makes sense considering the King’s demand for power over maji. There’s a love story subplot and an internal worldview shift weaved into the story as well. All that is to say, as the story progresses, Zélie learns about what it means to hold power and how she can use magic to save her people against a tyrannical king hellbent on destroying anyone who wields it. In the meantime, she falls in love and shifts from belief to disillusionment and back to belief.
As I said, there’s a social problem as subtext, which in this case is racism. The story asks you to care for characters who are black. Then, many of them are brutally murdered on the page. What she’s doing is asking the reader to care for black people, especially those murdered by the police. In her author’s note, she even says, “Children of Blood and Bone was written during a time where I kept turning on the news and seeing stories of unarmed black men, women, and children being shot by the police. I felt afraid and angry and helpless, but this book was the one thing that made me feel like I could do something about it.” I think she succeeded flawlessly.
2. What are the Conventions and Obligatory Scenes?
The inciting incident is that the King took away magic and had every adult maji killed. When an ancient scroll with the ability to restore magic returns and causes the King to take the life of his daughter’s beloved friend, she steals the scroll and threatens to overthrow the tyranny. At first, Zélie is reluctant to respond. She thinks she’s the wrong person to bring magic back and lead anyone. Only Mama Agba can convince her she must go and so she does.
Inan initially fails to catch Zélie and Amari, and, once he befriends them, fails to convince his father to let Zélie live. Meanwhile, her attempt to enlist the help of other maji fails when Inan kills her mentor. In his All is Lost moment, embraces Zélie and magic in order to save his sister. Power changes hands once Zélie’s father is killed and she once again has magic, and Amari kills her father, who kills Inan.
The revolutionary point of no return is when the guards show up and kill Zu. Zélie is taken and tortured by the King himself. Those who have the potential to become maji are seen as maggots, less than human, and are doomed to slavery or worse. Those in charge are vastly more powerful than those beneath them because they have been stripped of magic. And, those the King is killed, Zélie has woken up magic for everyone and no one knows what kind of terror that may bring.
3. What it the POV/Narrative Device?
The story is told from multiple character perspectives in the present tense and first person. Zélie, Amari, and Inan are the main characters who tell the story. Their perspectives, together, tell the overall tale.
4. What are the Objects of Desire?
Zélie wants to bring magic back to her people so that they can fight against the tyrannical King who wants them killed. He sees them as less than people. She needs to realize magic’s inherent danger, which she does, but she also needs to stop following her every whim and think through her choices.
Amari wants to avenge the murder of her friend, Binta. She needs to embrace the power within herself, which she does.
Inan wants to rid himself and the world of magic and its destruction. He needs to accept himself the way he is and work with the gifts he’s given to build a better world, which he rejects.
5. What is the Controlling Idea/Theme?
Tyrants can only be destroyed when we learn to express our gifts and accept ourselves and the world as imperfect.
6. What is the Beginning Hook, Middle Build, and Ending Payoff?
Zélie and her brother sell a fish to save them from the raising taxes but get caught up in a journey to bring magic back by the daughter of a tyrannical king and must leave everything they know to succeed.
Zélie, her brother, and Amari fight against Prince Inan on their journey to bring back magic, but Zélie gets caught by the King and tortured.
After Amari embraces her gifts and saves Zélie from the King, Zélie and Inan each must make choices about whether or not it’s right to bring back magic given its destructive abilities.
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