Tomi Adeyemi

Reaper-Sensation: Children Of Blood And Bone

By Niki

 

One of the most anticipated reads of 2018 and Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show 2018 Summer Read, Tomi Adeyemi's Children Of Blood And Bone is an Afro-mystical re-awakening.

Covers: Macmillan Publishers and Ouida Books. Image: Elena Seibert via Macmillan Publishers.

 
They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.
NOW WE RISE.
 

I

have been a part of many conversations about diversity and representation, and thought I understood what it meant to be represented until a few pages into Tomi Adeyemi’s debut novel. The opening scene, presided over by a character called Mama Agba, is reminiscent of a female elder authority that shaped my childhood. As per tradition, I would sit around her whilst she wove tales of culture and folklore. To see this fictionalised in Children Of Blood And Bone was thus nostalgic.

The story follows a young girl: Zélie. She is haunted by the murder of her mother and the subjugation of her Reaper clan - one of the ten Maji clans that suffer abuse from corporal powers and are oppressed by the ruling class of Orïsha. Circumstances see her journeying and fighting alongside her brother and an escaped princess to restore magic to the land and allow her clan and the nine other Maji clans in the land, a fighting chance.


In this Afro-mystical novel, the magical, in the African sense, is not othered as something from a scary, unknown, feared presence but, rather, portrayed as a gift from the deities.

The quest takes Zélie, Amari, Inan and Tzain and their pursuants from city to floating villages, up mountains and into sacred underground lairs. They sleep in tents in the deserts, fight in arenas, meet shady characters in caves and sail over walls on the back of mythical creatures. Adeyemi’s debut novel takes place across different terrains and climates, all within a singular imagined country. What is most striking about the multifaceted terrains in the book is Adeyemi’s mirroring of natural phenoms to Nigeria’s topography.

As with many Young Adult novels, Children Of Blood And Bone is also love story—in the romantic and familial sense—as well as a story of self discovery. The added beauty of this narrative is its Afro-mysticism: a genre that is finally getting its deserved spotlight after existing off the fringes of literary discourse, and being conflated with magic-realism. In this Afro-mystical novel, the magical, in the African sense, is not othered as something from a scary, unknown, feared presence but, rather, portrayed as a gift from the deities. These deities are pointedly inspired by the Yoruba tradition.

 

Names Mean Things

The deities in Adeyemi’s novel are pointedly inspired by the Nigerian, Yoruba tradition. This influence is similarly evident in the naming of places and characters within the novel. For one, the entire province is called Orïsha1—representative of the head of all divinity in the Yoruba tradition. This anchoring of the overall location of the narrative to the divine through naming, makes it a great playing field for a journey to restore lost magic.

Particularly in Ilorin—the fishing town where Zélie and her family reside—the older generation are given the respect of Mama and Baba. This naming, the people and the town are, again, based on Yoruba culture. For this reason, I was very disappointed by the ambiguity of the names given to the major characters. If anything, these names stand out for the wrong reasons; they felt like a pandering to a wider Western audience, and an attempt to create a space for them to relate to the characters at base level.

In Yoruba tradition, children are named to reflect the circumstance of birth, or, as prophecy into their destinies. The names given to a child usually holds weight both on paper and when sounded out. In both reading and sounding out the names particularly of the four central characters, I felt no depth. On the other hand, as a friend suggests, the ambiguity of the names could be seen as representative of the loss of and disdain for magic across Orïsha. In this sense, Zélie and Tzain’s names can be seen to reflect the new Maji existence under their tyrannical, magic-hating ruler, and displacement from their true identity. Though this perspective is equally valid, it is with one exception: the novel’s time frame.

The young sojourners in the novel were born to parents who wielded or fought against magic. Zélie is a replica of her powerful Reaper mother—murdered by the oppressive authority in a bid to eradicate all who had tasted magic. Zélie’s survival stemmed from the fact that Maji children only come into their powers at the age of thirteen - she was six when her mother was murdered and magic ceased to exist in Orïsha. However, her birth and that of her brother, Tzain, occurred in a period where parents expected Maji children to grow into their divine destinies and, as such, their names should reflect this.

 

Lagos Under A Microscope

Lagos, the place the King, royalty and the wealthy flock to and the most densely populated city with a great deal of slum-living is the centre of Orïsha. In many ways, Adeyemi’s presentation of Lagos, Orïsha is very similar to the reality of Lagos, Nigeria. Early in the story, the reader follows Zélie’s singular visit to Lagos and the picture of gross wealth disparities, market haggling and abuse of corporal power is very reminiscent of Lagos. However, the language of discourse in these scenes keeps the Lagos in Children Of Blood And Bone distinct.

Where Zélie trades in the Lagos market, her capabilities as a trader is recognised. This setting highlights how wealth gaps and abject poverty are sustained by the wealthier class. The King’s ever rising Maji tax-levies—designed to force Maji folks into prisons, slavery and to keep them poor—is what drives Zélie to Lagos. Where her father and brother hope that she can return with enough to last them through the month, Zélie is able to barter the rare fish she has in exchange for almost a year’s worth of money. That someone, desperate to eat fish to which the King has no access, can hand over enough cash to last Zélie, her father and brother a year, while Zélie and her family live day-to-day, is a travesty occurring in Adeyemi’s world, and likewise, in the real world.

Another prominent theme that comes up in the royal family is the issue of bleaching. The lighter skin is seen as a sign of royalty while darker skin is distasteful and scrubbed away with potions and creams. Princess Amari, darker than her family, is forced by her mother to undergo beauty rituals with the aim of lightening her skin. This experience leaves her with a skewed perception of her own beauty—a trajectory very similar to that of many young men and women across Nigeria and the rest of Africa.

Zélie’s interaction with the guards, on an attempt to enter Lagos, likewise reflects another societal issue: the sexual danger faced by women. Her status as Maji or “maggot,” as non-Maji individuals are hatefully labelled, presents her as fodder for the guards’ sexual desires. This perception of women as weak and easy to attack has allowed for sexual assault to be an issue women face. For the fear of being abused and murdered, she has to temper her reaction and adopt a false meekness—an all too real experience for many women.

 

Hate: A Four Letter Legacy

What takes Children Of Blood And Bone from a simple YA novel to a masterpiece is the level of complexity added by the self-loathing that drives two characters. For a particular character, the duality of being something one hates causes alliances and allegiances to shift. The internal and external conflicts these characters come against, owing to their understanding of the past and their position on the quest to restore magic, gives this story layers that are impressive for a first time author.

Tackling and sustaining the theme of deep hate—the kind that drives people to kill without mercy and teach hate to their offspring—is not an easy task, as any author could fall into the trap of presenting hate from a very linear perspective. Thankfully, Adeyemi does not. She writes characters that stay true to themselves. While there are twists and turns that make the book a fantastic read, character reactions are never implausibly outlandish or written to force excitement in the narrative. The plot and characters flow seamlessly.

The story ends on something of a cliffhanger. There is an ambiguity around the the success of the quest; creating an eagerness, post-completion of the novel, to break down theories therein. The end of Children Of Blood And Bones creates a clear path for new themes to be explored in the subsequent novel in the trilogy—Children Of Virtue And Vengeance. Adeyemi’s debut YA novel has a freshness and a simplicity that make it compelling. You may call it a must-read!



Have you read Adeyemi's Children Of Blood And Bone? Tell us what you think about it!

 

Note

1 The word 'orisha' is related to several other Yoruba words referring to the head. It can also be spelt orixa or orisa. An orisha may be said to arise when a divine power to command and make things happen converges with a natural force, a deified ancestor, and an object that witnesses and supports that convergence and alignment. An orisha, therefore, is a complex multidimensional unity linking people, objects, and powers.

In this story, the ruling class of Orïsha can be seen as a metaphor for oppressive classes or races across the world, with the Reaper clan and other formerly magic clans being forced to live in slums, work as slaves and suffer abuse from corporal power.

 

2018: Most Anticipated Reads

An annual ritual you may call it but every year, we put together a list of books we cannot wait to get our hands on. This time, we got together 21 literary connoisseurs, bloggers and editors, and asked for their most anticipated read of 2018 from an African or author with African heritage. From them emerged a potpourri of genres, 10 debuts, 9 forthcoming novels and a consensus: Emezi's Freshwater is coming for all your coins! So, start piling them.

Mayowa

Historian and literary blogger

Black British history is cast aside by academia, and this negation of Black British history allows Britain to carry on its myth of racial harmony and egalitarianism. As an African, I think it is important to educate myself on not only the country and continent I’m from but also on the diaspora. This book is black excellence, and I am really looking forward to educating myself on my British sisters and brothers!

Ainehi

Founder/Editor, Brittle Paper

Adeyemi burst into the limelight last year when the news of her million-dollar book deal got out. She is the second African writer to attract that kind of payout. So that’s exciting. But the story itself is intriguing. It is a fantasy narrative which draws some inspiration from Yoruba cosmology and features a powerful female lead character. Children of Blood and Bone could very easily be the next mega hit YA novel…like The Hunger Games, perhaps.

Leila

Writer, book reviewer, and blogger, Black Book Quotes

An American Marriage    - Tayari Jones

An American Marriage - Tayari Jones

It is a story of upwardly mobile newlyweds whose love is tested when the husband gets jail time for a crime he didn't commit. Having never read Jones before, I am really looking forward to being introduced to her work. After having loved Ayobami Adebayo's Stay With Me and Imbolo Mbue's Behold the Dreamers in 2017, I'm super excited to read another nuanced portrayal of how structural injustice trickles down into romantic relationships.

Tope 

Writer and editor

Akwaeke’s writing is not of this world. To be honest, her style isn’t for everyone. She’s one of those love-them-to-your-bone-marrow or hate-them-with-everything-in-you type of authors. Iweala, on the other hand, had a good first book, so I’m excited to see what he’s done with Speak No Evil. It’s interesting that even with his well known surname in Nigeria, the literary community knows him as his own person.

Afoma

Writer and content creator,  Afoma Umesi

Hold   -  Michael Donkor

Hold - Michael Donkor

Michael Donkor’s Hold - to be published in July by 4th Estate - is definitely high on my TBR list. It is a story of unexpected kinship between a housegirl and her masters’ daughter, set in London and Ghana. Hold promises to be a captivating read from a new African voice. Besides, with a cover like that, who wouldn’t be interested?

Fifi

Book blogger, Kenyan Bibliophile

I’ve always been fascinated by race relations. It seems my thirst for wanting to understand how people can mistreat a certain group based on their skin color is yet to be quenched. Hurston’s book is based on her 1931 interviews with Cudjo Lewis who was brought to the US as a slave in 1860. Barracoon is set to be released in May by HarperCollins, almost half a century after the author’s death.

Sreddy

Postgraduate student and literary enthusiast

Tales of the Metric System   -  Imraan Coovadia

Tales of the Metric System - Imraan Coovadia

My most-anticipated African read of 2018 is Imraan Coovadia's Tales of the Metric System (Umuzi, 2014). Coovadia is one of South Africa's most exciting contemporary writers, and I'm looking forward to reading his latest (though not-so-new) novel, which reflects on the nation that is South Africa through its transition from the atrocities of apartheid to the uncertainties of the present.

Marcelle

Co-founder, Afrikult.

I'm a big lover of historical fiction. When I first heard that Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani was due for release in March, I immediately leapt to my laptop and began reading the reviews. The endorsement from Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o is very promising; the overflow of praise this novel has received won me over completely. I'm intrigued to see where this story takes me, what I learn of colonial Kenya's 'iron snake', how the narratives are interweaved meanwhile discovering Peter Kimani's work. I'm equally excited and intrigued by Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi.

Freshwater   -  Akwaeke Emezi

Freshwater - Akwaeke Emezi

I fell in love with Akwaeke’s words after reading ‘Sometimes, the fire is not fire’. I can’t wait to read her debut book and immerse myself in the story and completely savour it. Freshwater is part fiction, part memoir, and Akwaeke blends the two beautifully. I’m excited to go into new worlds with her and have my reality and worldview completely shaken.

 

James

Literary blogger, James Murua

Freshwater   -  Akwaeke Emezi

Freshwater - Akwaeke Emezi

The only book I am eyeing right now is Akwaeke Emezi debut novel "Freshwater." So why am I looking forward to this read? Well, I read her Commonwealth Prize winning short story 'Who is Like God’ which announced her as an important new voice in African writing, and I LOVED IT. With the talent from that wonderful short story, I want to sample more of her prose.

Bri(tish)   -  Afua Hirsch

Bri(tish) - Afua Hirsch

Blackass   -  A. Igoni Barrett

Blackass - A. Igoni Barrett

Akua: The novel presents a melange of cultures in its quest to explore answers to the question "where are you from?" As British born Ghanaian, I can relate to the pressure of self-identity when it concerns that provocative and also annoying question. I'm confident this book is going to be amazeballs.

 

Mel: Picture yourself, a person of African descent, and you wake up one morning with blue eyes and freckles! I've toyed with the concept with friends and family so it's no surprise that I was drawn to reading this book in 2018. I'm looking forward to the comical flare this satirical novel has to offer.

I actually just posted some books (56 of them) that I'm looking forward to this year. But I'd say Hold by Michael Donkor and The Hundred Wells of Salaga by Ayesha Harruna Attah are the ones I'm very eager to read. Nafkote Tamirat and Akwaeke Emezi's debuts - The Parking Lot Attendant and Freshwater - are also highly recommended!

Suyi

Author

It's easy to fall for this book, really. A seven-figure deal, a Fox 2000 film option, a gorgeous cover and a six-chapter sampler (released in late 2017) everyone's gushing over. But what interests me most is how this book will tackle matters of identity, community and courage. People are calling it Black Lives Matter meets Fantasy. Who wouldn't want to read that?

So many good books are coming out in 2018, and I am looking forward to reading Wake Me When I’m Gone by Odafe Atogun. He captured me with Taduno’s Song, which I found was almost spiritual for me. I am also chuffed that Buchi Emecheta’s books will be re-published this year. Buchi was a woman who came way before her time and her writing is still relevant today. Head Above Water which is her memoir is definitely the one I am most excited about.

Karabo

Avid reader and book blogger

Always Another Country  -  Sisonke Msimang

Always Another Country - Sisonke Msimang

This is a book that has been doing the rounds on Instagram (bookstagram). Out of curiosity, as always the case, I looked it up and found that the storyline seems compelling and very interesting. I'd really like to travel back in time with this particular book especially since the Sisonke Msimang has South African roots.

Wale

Founder and Editor-In-Chief, The Republic Journal

The Rise of the African Novel  -   Mũkoma wa Ngũgĩ

The Rise of the African NovelMũkoma wa Ngũgĩ

I’m most looking forward to reading Mũkoma wa Ngũgĩ’s The Rise of the African Novel: Politics of Language, Identity, and Ownership. According to a tweet the author posted in 2017, The Rise of the African Novel explores “what it means for the current generation of writers and scholars of African literature not to have an imaginative consciousness of their literary past.”

Ghana Must Go   -  Taiye Selasi

Ghana Must Go - Taiye Selasi

Ghana Must Go – I have watched a lot of Taiye Selasi Interviews and thoroughly enjoyed her brilliance. Ghana Must Go is up next on my list. I have heard contradicting opinions about this book, and I want to see for myself. Some seem to love it and others, not so much. I read that her writing in this book reads like poetry and as a huge fan of poetry, it’s a yes from me.

Lade

Researcher, Writer and Editor

Freshwater   -  Akwaeke Emezi

Freshwater - Akwaeke Emezi

After reading her short story, Who Is Like God, I became interested in Emezi's writing and looked forward to reading more of her work. My curiosity about the book increased because of my interest in Psychology. I read in a blurb on her site which says the main character has several selves; making identity of the major themes of the book.

What We Lose   -  Zinzi Clemmons

What We Lose - Zinzi Clemmons

Maybe because it was described as the debut book of the year by Vogue in 2017. Or, perhaps, because I am curious to know how a pretty face like Zinzi Clemmons captures grief — a theme I want to learn more about this year; that is, how does one handle loss or grief? What We Lose reminds me of my most potent 2016 read - When Death Becomes Air - and I just want to relive that moment again.

Nancy

Founding Editor, Afreada

Hold   -  Michael Donkor

Hold - Michael Donkor

My anticipated read of 2018 has to be Hold by Michael Donkor. I remember smiling when I first heard about this book. During a conversation with the Editor, I was informally introduced to the three main characters, “wayward” Amma, born to Ghanaian parents in Brixton; “sensible” Belinda, a housegirl sent from Ghana to London, and Mary, left behind in Kumasi. This debut is bound to explore issues of cultural navigation. As a Nigerian-Londoner, Hold already holds a very special place in my heart.

Freshwater   -  Akwaeke Emezi

Freshwater - Akwaeke Emezi

Akwaeke's Who Will Claim You remains one of my favourite creative non-fiction by our generation of African writers. Her forthcoming novel, Freshwater, is thus my most anticipated read. What heightened my anticipation is the 'blasphemy' African Book Addict describes in it. She warned 'Christians' that the book may have them wondering if they aren't sinning by reading it. It is a temptation I intend to fail at resisting.

 

We would like to hear from you too - what is your most anticipated read in 2018?