3.5 out of 5 stars
Let’s be honest: Screaming “This is the new JK Rowling!” is always setting the bar too high.
I liked Children of Blood and Bone. It’s a good book; a strong fiction debut that thrums with vibrant African roots. It’s also a unique and important allegory for the modern black experience. But as a YA fantasy adventure story, it didn’t change my life. I won’t be re-reading it in 20 years. For me, the hypebeast ate this one alive.
Zelie is a diviner, one born to magic. The magic-less monarchy of her country, Orisha, has killed every adult who had magic (maji), blocked any new magic from manifesting, and subjugated those who would have come to power, simply for the crime of potential. Diviners and their families are taxed, harassed, and enslaved.
Zelie and her non-magical brother Tzain get wrapped up into an adventure to free magic and restore power to all maji. Princess Amari is their unlikely ally. Her brother, Price Inan, is their conflicted frenemy. With lines between them constantly crossing and uncrossing, they race toward the possibility of remaking the world.
This book drips with imagination. It’s wild and colorful, as twisted and deep as the jungles it depicts. The suffering feels real and current, in enough of a guise to separate it from reading the news. The characters, particularly Zelie and Inan, have maturity to match the burdens they carry. Big themes resonate superbly: racism, oppression, institutionalized discrimination. These subjects are prevalent in many YA works, though in less politically and racially relevant context. That is a huge strength for this book. It’s an important message wrapped in a shiny package moving at the high speed necessary for our twitchy world.
But… I didn’t connect with the characters as viscerally as the hype made me expect. Their personalities did not grip me. The dialogue didn’t wow. Part of that is likely due to the audiobook: The narrator did a lively mix of voices and accents, but Amari was a whiner and Kaea excessively shrill. So where I anticipated an EXPERIENCE, I only got the lower case version – albeit, still a positive one. But Children of Blood and Bone is a better allegory than it is a story. I’ll make this a lesson for myself: read extremely buzz-worthy books right away, before that buzz gets carried away.