This review will be shorter than usual because I broke my elbow and have one hand in a cast. For my future self looking back to see what I thought of this book: Janani's review is very detailed and concurs with much of my opinion. And, as ever, Julie's review eloquently explains my dissatisfaction with the romance.
Children of Blood and Bone is a Nigerian-inspired fantasy novel about two pairs of siblings wrapped up in a quest to restore magic to the land. Zélie is a diviner, an heir to magic, if there were any left. She and her family nevertheless face oppression at the hands of Orïsha's non-diviner population and power base. Zélie is joined by her brother, Tzain, and the unlikely ally Amari, daughter of the king who slaughtered magi and eliminated magic from Orïsha. Her brother, Inan, pursues these three, initially attempting to thwart their quest. Things get more complicated, of course.
That complexity is one of my favourite parts of this book. Adeyemi explores the different perspectives that are present when it comes to power struggles and genocide without resorting to the crass over-simplification that sometimes seeps into these narratives. This is particularly key in the case of Inan, who must confront a lifetime of being programmed with certain beliefs that are now being challenged.
Similarly, I love that Zélie is a kickass hero—but not universally beloved. When she encounters another group of rebel diviners, they don't fall over themselves trying to help her with her quest. Their response is appropriately sceptical: who are you, little girl, to come here promising us something so big? I love that Zélie has to work to build bridges.
The evolution of friendships among the main characters is so nice to watch, especially the way it's bumpy and requires confrontation of internalized privilege. Zélie rightly calls out Amari for calling her servant her "best friend" given the power dynamic between them—that's a trope not examined enough in fantasy. Unfortunately, I have much less patience for the predictable and plodding romantic arcs.
The story itself ends on a satisfying note. Yes, there's a cliffhanger of sorts, but not the kind that requires you to read the sequel—I might, but probably not immediately. More importantly, Children of Blood and Bone is evidence of something people of colour have said forever but we white people weren't hearing: when you drop the obsession with European-inspired medieval fantasy and instead draw from different cultures, the result is rich and beautiful and entertaining.