Also published on this date: Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Wednesday, January 10, 2018: YA Maximum Shelf: Children of Blood and Bone

Henry Holt & Company: Children of Blood and Bone (Children of Orisha #1) by Tomi Adeyemi

Henry Holt & Company: Henry Holt & Company: Children of Blood and Bone (Children of Orisha #1) by Tomi Adeyemi

Henry Holt & Company: Henry Holt & Company: Children of Blood and Bone (Children of Orisha #1) by Tomi Adeyemi

Henry Holt & Company: Henry Holt & Company: Children of Blood and Bone (Children of Orisha #1) by Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orïsha)

by Tomi Adeyemi

Eleven years ago, six-year-old Zélie Adebola watched as her mother, a powerful maji, was hanged from a tree in a brutal raid led by a monarchy that feared and despised magic. That day, as the monarchy tortured and killed any maji they could find, magic disappeared. Now Zélie and other divîners--children of the fallen maji who should have come into their powers at age 13--secretly train to defend themselves and others against the soldiers of King Saran. As their trainer, Mama Agba, tells them, "Though your ability to become maji has disappeared, the hatred and violence toward you remains."

Divîners are recognizable by their white hair, contrasting sharply with their own brown skin, and with the brown hair and skin of those around them. "In the beginning," Zélie's mother used to tell her, "white hair was a sign of the powers of heaven and earth. It held beauty and virtue and love, it meant we were blessed by the gods above. But when everything changed, magic became a thing to loathe. Our heritage transformed into a thing to hate." The "maggots," as the king's guards call divîners, are taxed relentlessly for their very existence.

Now 17, fiery, impulsive Zélie is eager to compete in her graduation staff-fighting match. She has no idea just how soon her training will be put to real use and that she will soon long for the days when taxation was her biggest concern. The first of many dramatic chains of events brings Zélie and her brother, Tzain--a kosidán, or citizen of Orïshan who doesn't have the potential to do magic--to Lagose, the seat of the monarchy.

Meanwhile, in the royal palace, King Saran's daughter, Amari, is beginning to question her father's methods for keeping the "maggots" in their place. When he commits an unforgivable act against her beloved chambermaid/friend, a divîner, Amari is compelled to act--and escape. Soon she, Zélie and Tzain, astride Zélie's "lionaire" Nailah (a massive lion-like creature with horns) are running for their lives. In hot pursuit are soldiers led by Amari's brother Inan, the crown prince.

So begins this epic tale of maji and kings, swaying allegiances, cultural quandaries, deep prejudices and forbidden love. Based in a fictionalized West Africa, Children of Blood and Bone borrows heavily and gracefully from the culture and language of the region. Every character is a shade of brown: "soft copper," "coconut," "dark chestnut," "mahogany," "oak," "obsidian," although the nobility pride themselves on their paler skin, and some go to painful measures to lighten their complexion.

Told in the alternating voices of Zélie, Amari and Inan, this first book in a trilogy by Nigerian American debut author Tomi Adeyemi delves into fantasy world themes paralleling real-world issues: racism and classism, blended families, war and the messy, ambiguous line between good and evil. Each character is deeply conflicted by her or his respective obligations and expectations in a way that readers absolutely will relate to, even if magic is not the underlying source of their own conflict. Zélie longs to avenge her mother's death but struggles with her impulsivity and recklessness: "I can't even sell a fish without causing the destruction of my entire village. How am I supposed to be the maji's only hope?" Amari has spent her privileged royal life being told to fear magic, but when she sees it for the first time, she's overcome with awe: "How can something so beautiful truly be evil?" Inan, too, has been told by their father, the king, that magic is the source of all evil, the root of all their pain. His father believes that if maji are allowed to practice, this magic will tear their world apart. As next in line to the throne, Inan grapples with the mantra that has been drilled into him since birth: "Duty before self." Now, though, Inan is discovering, as they all are, that the folklore and beliefs of their families and culture may not be as clear-cut as they have always been told. Bewildering questions blast through all their minds: What if magic and monarchy could come together? Does magic have the power to solve the world's problems? Why is one side's shattering violence any more or less justifiable than the other's?

Balancing wit and intensity, Adeyemi's cinematic writing will strike a chord with teen readers. In one thrilling scene worthy of a Harrison Ford movie, guards are closing in on Zélie and Amari, blocking all their escape routes. Zélie prepares to die--until Nailah's "monstrous figure" leaps into the fray: "Guards tumble back in fear as my lionaire lands on the dirt path, saliva dripping from her massive fangs. I'm convinced she's a hallucination until I hear Tzain shouting from atop Nailah's back.

" 'The hell you waiting for?' he yells. 'Get on!' "

In a novel positively dripping with imagery and story, Adeyemi builds a world no reader is soon to forget, drawing on folklore and language from Yoruba, West Africa, as well as the traditions of fantasy. When the last remaining liaison between maji and the gods, known as a sêntaro, tells Zélie, Amari and Tzain the creation story, he describes the 10 deities linked to each of the 10 clans: "In the beginning, our Sky Mother created the heavens and the earth, bringing life to the vast darkness.... On earth, Nana Buruku created humans, her children of blood and bone. In the heavens Nana gave birth to the gods and goddesses."

Just so, Tomi Adeyemi has given birth to a fantasy of remarkable proportions. --Emilie Coulter

Holt, $18.99, hardcover, 544p., ages 14-up, 9781250170972, March 6, 2018

Henry Holt & Company: Children of Blood and Bone (Children of Orisha #1) by Tomi Adeyemi

Tomi Adeyemi: "The Book Is Fantasy--The Pain Is Real"

photo: Elena Seibert

In Children of Blood and Bone (Holt, March 2018), the first in an explosive debut trilogy (with a movie deal already in the works), 23-year-old Nigerian American author Tomi Adeyemi builds an astonishing West African-inspired world of magi pitted against monarchy, complete with epic battles, star-crossed love and profound soul-searching. Shelf Awareness recently talked with Adeyemi about the book's parallels to the current world, the power of words and Adeyemi's fierce passion for getting books with characters of color into the hands of young readers.

Children of Blood and Bone is packed with mythology, characters, culture and language. How much was from your imagination and how much from your own heritage as a Nigerian American?

It's a healthy combination of both! My Nigerian heritage acted as the foundation for the world of CBB, so it was kind of like taking a blank page and using my culture to draw the map. I got to name characters, cities, mountains and oceans after all the different members of my family. Instead of a magic system based on Greek and Roman gods, I created a magic system based on the Orïsha, godlike figures in West African mythology and religion. My favorite part was creating magic spells out of Yoruba, the dialect my parents grew up speaking. I even shaped the kingdom of Orïsha after the continent of Africa, so I literally drew a map from my heritage.

With its themes of racism, oppression and power, Children of Blood and Bone has clear parallels to current (and historic) world events. How intentional is this?

This was 100% intentional. Every obstacle the characters face throughout the story is tied to a real obstacle that black people are facing today or have faced within the past 30 to 50 years. I wanted to write a compelling adventure that sucks readers in, but I also wanted to connect everything to the real world because, while the book is fantasy, the pain inside it is real.

The use of the derogatory "maggots" to describe divîners and maji is evocative, with a degrading, sneering bite. How did you come up with that word?

I went to one of the most hurtful words in the English language and worked backward. It was important for me to show readers how language can be just as abusive, degrading and oppressive as a physical attack.

I know several black people, myself included, who have been called a n****r by a white person whom they considered a friend or by a complete stranger. The hatred and venom people can spread is awful. It's hard not to internalize that word and that hatred, and it's easy for that venom to carve into your being.

I knew I couldn't write an effective allegory about the black experience without having a word used in the same degrading way that the N-word has been used and continues to be used today.

Skin and hair color play a powerful role in Orïsha. What are you hoping to get across to your readers?

That black is beautiful!

Growing up, I was made to feel that dark skin wasn't beautiful and the way my hair naturally grows out of my head wasn't "acceptable." Though I've grown to love my skin and my natural hair, those same voices that told me I shouldn't when I was young are still shouting those lies today.

For that reason, it's extremely important to me that I shout over them so that young boys and girls don't think that the color of their skin and the texture of their hair isn't beautiful. I want to be one of the voices drowning out the lies.

You're barely a year out of college. Most people your age are not brokering movie deals and waiting for their first epic fantasy novel to come out. Are your family and close friends surprised at where you are... or not at all?

LOL! The scale of this book and movie deal is definitely a surprise. But several of them said things along the lines of "I can't believe it... like, I can, because it's you, but I can't." So in a way, they also weren't surprised.

I'm the child of Nigerian immigrants, and that means I've been working my butt off for as long as I can remember. My friends and family know that by now, and it's helped me achieve great things, so when I applied that work ethic to this publishing dream, they believed in me and believed it would happen. I did, too. But none of us expected it to go like this!

When you were growing up, how important was it for you to find characters of color in books?

It wasn't even an option. I've been an avid reader my entire life, and I didn't get to see a prominent person of color in a book until I was in college. The only person of color I can remember from my childhood was Dean Thomas in Harry Potter.

That complete erasure from something I love so much is why I feel so aggressive about giving kids the opportunity to see themselves. I didn't grasp how messed up I was from never seeing myself until I was 18 and realized all the stories I wrote had white or biracial protagonists. I wasn't even creating black people in the books I wrote.

That's simply not okay, and I'm proud to be writing in a wave of authors that's working really hard to make sure kids of all races, sexualities and religions see themselves and know they belong in stories, on covers, in TV shows, in movies and in every aspect of life that's previously been closed off to us.

Have you already plotted out Books 2 and 3? Do you know how it all will end?

I know about 23% of Book 2 and 30% of Book 3, but I do know how both stories start and end so I'm sure the middle will come eventually! --Emilie Coulter

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