I’ve been trying to read books by authors of color the past year or so, particularly those that fit into the #OwnVoices movement. Y’all know I’m a huge supporter of #OwnVoices and #WeNeedDiverseBooks. I read Pachinko, Everything I Never Told You, and 1Q84 — all by Asian authors — over the summer, and they were my first foray into this journey of mine. Adeyemi is a Nigerian-American author, and COBAB is her debut novel.
There’s been substantial buzz in the YA community about COBAB, and it’s been a while since I’ve read a fantasy book and a YA book, so I picked it up. I have a lot of thoughts, and will hopefully be able to communicate them well. If it’s a little messy, sorry — it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these.
Children of Blood and Bone opens with a ton of backstory. Zélie, our protagonist, is a diviner, a person who was capable once of magic but no longer is, ever since magic died off. Her mother was a magi murdered during the Raid, and she lives with her older brother, Tzain, and her father. The Orïsha kingdom is plagued by corruption and violence, particularly against the diviner population, who are seen as “maggots” (a slur used in the book).
From the beginning chapters we already see the introduction of themes that influenced Adeyemi’s story: the oppression of a group of people out of fear and the inspiring Black Lives Matter movement, colorism, prejudice that is taught rather than stitched into our DNA. COBAB debuts at a time when we need it, as Zélie’s fierce drive and anger is something that is the culmination of centuries of oppression. Her anger is the echo of rallying cries over the deaths of Tamir Rice and Eric Garner. The only difference is that her trauma exists in the story. Tamir Rice and Eric Garner were real.
Zélie and Tzain “accidentally” (i.e. by fate) find themselves tangled into the task of bringing magic back. Meanwhile, we have Inan and Amari, the two complicated heirs to the Orïsha throne. Amari, who becomes a fugitive to help Zélie and Tzain, undoubtedly underwent one of my favorite character developments in the book. Where she is kind and believing in the diviner population, Inan is cruel and ruthless, hell-bent on hunting down his sister and killing Zélie as well as magic once and for all.
Adeyemi does a good job of providing the why behind the hate. Inan’s hate is taught from his father, who is taught from the history of what happened to his father. Inan is likely one of the more polarizing characters in the book, but you can’t help but sympathize with him, at least a little. His arc had me on my seat the whole time.
The world-building in this book is stunning. I love the richness of the land of Orïsha, the history behind it, and how Adeyemi doesn’t shy away from depicting the horrors of the ruthlessness of the monarchy. Although I was less satisfied with the character development of the other characters, this is the first in a series and I have hopes that we’ll get the development we want.
Because this is, in fact, YA, there are many tropes of classic YA lit that you’ll find anywhere. The romance subplot, some of the plot conveniences, and the writing style is very fitting for a young adult audience. Older audiences like to criticize YA tropes for being “cliché,” but fail to recognize consistent tropes used in other genre lit/adult fiction. So I don’t have a huge problem with it, but I know there are gonna some people who will.
Something about the narration irked me, but I couldn’t tell quite what it was. Maybe they just didn’t fit my tastes? In addition, some of the pacing was a little disconcerting, and I think this is because there are quite a few passages that are entirely within characters’ minds, then suddenly zoom out into an action-packed, almost-too-much-going-on kind of scenes.
I’ve seen some raving reviews for Children of Blood and Bone, and I’ve seen some pretty negative ones, too. This sits somewhere in the middle for me, because while this wasn’t my favorite book I’ve read this year, I enjoyed reading it and will be continuing the series as they’re released. I don’t really believe in rating books, but this would earn a solid four out of five stars from me. Overall, Adeyemi’s debut novel is promising, though not quite there, I believe her next books will reveal her fullest potential as a storyteller, especially in the #OwnVoices movement.