Children of Blood and Bone: A Review (with spoilers)

So, a couple of months ago, I did a some book reviews on Facebook live. I thought, “hey – this is a good idea that could probably take off.”

And then I realized that I would have to comb my hair and put on some lipstick.

Every time.

So, here we are.

Anyway, for the last few weeks, my free time has been devoted to Tomi Adeyemi’s first novel, Children of Blood and Bone.

This.

Children of Blood and Bone

First, let me just tell you how excited I was about this book. Ms. Tomi was getting lots of press before its release, and I was here for it. Every last bit. I mean, Ebony Magazine was calling it the “next big thing in literature and film,” and several sources were calling it THE biggest fiction book deal ever.

AND she wasn’t even 25.

Hell, I was happy for her – even while looking at my own life like,

Anyway, a good friend of mine sent me a copy (thanks, Davina!) and I got right to it.

So, what is Children of Blood and Bone? Imagine if X-Men was set in Nigeria, but replace “mutants” with “magi,” and start the book right after a major conflict which destroys all of the magic in the kingdom. So at the beginning, all people with magic are either dead or in hiding.

That’s where we are when the book opens. In fact, the first person we meet is Zélie, a young girl born with magical blood (which is evident by her silver hair), who is living a double life, so to speak. During the day she works as a seamstress, but at night she hones her fighting skills in an underground training camp run by a badass African woman named Mama Agba.

Zélie lives in Eloirin, a city in the kingdom named Orishá. She lives there with her brother and her father, Baba. But her mother, who was a powerful magi, had been dragged from their home and hanged by the king’s soldiers during the last big insurrection.

Meanwhile, in the royal palace, the King (Saran) is pissed cuz first of all, he hates the magic folk because some years back, they killed his father, the previous king. And check it, the previous king was this benevolent dude who like, held hip hop summits at the castle and gave everybody free health care or whatever (hell I don’t know…) but he was killed anyway by the “ungrateful” magi.

So anyway, King Saran has a son named Inan. He’s tall with an athletic build and has a promising career in his father’s army. He is also a card-carrying member of the “Make Eloirin Great Again” club – leading troops around the kingdom, rounding up groups of magi and harassing them and what not. So basically, dude is good on paper, but he’s an asshole. And on top of all of that, Inan is carrying a secret: he is a magi, and has been doing everything he can to hide it – keeping his head shaved to hide his silver hair ad suppressing his urges to get all magicky, because he knows that if his father ever found out, it wouldn’t matter who he was… he’d be tortured and imprisoned and maybe even worse.

And then there’s Amari, King Saran’s daughter and Inan’s sister. She’s young and sheltered, starved for attention from her parents who either ignore her (father) or constantly criticize her within an inch of life (mother). Amari is basically alone except for her one friend, Binta, an undercover silver-haired magi servant in the castle. The two of them are typical young girlfriends, giggling and talking about boys, except one of ’em has to bring the other one her tea whenever she asks anshit.

Well, Binta has been hiding her true identity from everyone except Amari, living right up under the king and his fine ass, crazy ass son and trying not to get discovered and killed while Amari’s still talmbout boys anshit.

GIRL IF YOU DON’T…

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So, one day some soldiers from the King’s army show up and tell the King that they had just performed a raid on some magical folks and stole an artifact  – a scroll with some ancient writing on it. Turns out that it’s magical, and that there is another item missing (a stone) and get this: if the two artifacts are brought together in a special ceremony, then all of the magi would get their powers back.

Okay, so somehow, King Saran finds out that Binta is a magi and has her dragged into his chambers, because he wants to see what happens when he puts her and the scroll together. When he does, there’s this impressive light show so for a brief moment, and the King and all his guys are like:

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and then SHANK, he stabs Binta and kills her. What he doesn’t know is that his daughter, Amari, is watching through a crack in the door. So she realizes that her father is nuts and that she has to get away from him post haste.

Now while all of this is going on, Zélie and her brother Tzain are at the market hustling for some food for the house when a ruckus breaks out. During the confusion, Zelie and a disguised Amari bump into each other, and she says, “help me”.

Now this is one of those things that happens in books and movies that almost never happens in real life. Like jacking someone’s car for “police business.”

So Amari’s all, “help me, cuz I got this magic scroll that I stole from my dad and he’s pissed and if he finds me he’s gonna destroy it and all the magic will be gone forever” type shit.

One thing leads to another, and before she knows it, Zélie and her brother are caught up with this princess and all of her problems, which is basically the last thing Zélie needs, cuz she is already trying to stay under the radar because of her power.

But this is just the beginning of all of the mayhem and foolishness. Throughout the rest of the story, Zélie, Tzain and Amari are running for their lives, with Inan and All the King’s Men hot on their tails.

Let’s also complicate that with the fact that Amari is all hot for Tzain (and the feeling is mutual), and Inan’s powers are coming out in fits and starts, not to mention his telltale silver hair keeps growing back out, no matter how much Jermaine Jackson dye and Eco gel he puts in it. And Inan can’t seem to figure out who he wants to be – a soldier or one of the Avengers. And also time is running out – they have to find a boat, get to this particular island and then perform a ceremony by the end of the summer solstice that will bring magic back.

All in all, this was a bit of a wild ride. Adeyemi has a knack of writing fast-paced scenes with lots of action so that while this was a pretty hefty book, it was a fast read for me.

And what did I absolutely love about this book? Was it the way she used Nigerian-sounding words throughout? Yes.

Was it also the fact that the female characters were strong and smart? Hell yes.

Were there things I didn’t like? Well, I can say that I would probably hold off on letting a child under the age of, say, 13 read this because of the violence and adult situations. Personally, I don’t think a child should read anything in which a parent dies violently. Hell, I’m still seeing a therapist about Mufasa, y’all.

And I could kinda do without the flirting-thing between Inan and Zélie, basically because it was just implausible. I mean, dude was just trying to kill her, so…

But yeah. If you are still trying to read it (cuz I didn’t tell you everything), I encourage you to do so. And chime in on the comments and let me know your thoughts!

 

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Meh. A Review of Ben Winters’ Underground Airlines

What would this country be like if slavery were still legal in certain states? Like, for instance, Alabama? Louisiana? Mississippi?

How would this country’s political, judicial, social and racial and economic structures look?

These questions are (somewhat) addressed in Ben H. Winters’ book, Underground Airlines.

Now, when I first came across this book, saw the cover, then read the summary…

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…a huge “NAWL” rose up in my spirit – because with all the slavery-themed films and literature saturating our psyches, I was all slaved out, Fam. And here it was, a hard-cover image of a black man with title playing on the Underground Railroad… it wore me out. Not another one. Please. I’m still trying to recover from Rosewood and like, 30 seconds of 12 years.

So, how did I end up here?

Simple… the protagonist.

His name is Victor (we think), and he is a former slave – turned bounty hunter who works for the federal government. A black man who catches other black men and women, and returns them to their rightful owners. A mysterious, introspective type who only allows us brief glimpses of his past. A hero who has little control over his own destiny, spending his life ping-ponging from one situation (and one identity) to another.

It took me a while, but I realized why that felt so familiar to me… it reminded me of the nameless protagonist from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. There are differences, sure, but an essential element is present in both characters – a weightlessness, a detachment from everything around him.

So yeah, Ben got me, y’all. So imagine me, metaphorically going down the dark cellar stairs towards my doom.

Okay, so it wasn’t that dramatic. But as I read this book, I kept feeling as if I was being set up for something awful.

Or at least, for something disappointing.

So, this Victor kid.

As the book begins, he is sitting across from a priest in a diner, playing through one of the assumed identities that he wears. The priest, according to Victor’s sources, ran a small operation that helped slaves escape from the four slave states – Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and The Carolinas (called the “Hard Four”) through a “team of northerners, daring or crazy, making pinprick raids into the Hard Four, grabbing people up and hustling them to freedom” (p. 9).

Ooh, child – I was so here for this plot. Hear me?

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So far, so good.

So anyway, the basic plot is this – Victor is an escaped slave who works for federal law enforcement (represented by a mysterious dude he calls Mr. Bridge) to find and return a slave named “Jackdaw.”

In this alternate world, some things are still the same. Dr. Martin Luther King has still been assassinated outside of his Memphis hotel room. The 18th amendment still exists, as do fried chicken and hamburger chains. Abraham Lincoln still hasn’t survived his visit to the theater. MJ is still the greatest to ever do “it.”

And the U.S. Government is still training the best killers in the world.

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Aaaanyway…

Much is different. For one, Texas has “unofficially” seceded, calling itself the “Republic of Texas.” James Brown, the Godfather of Soul and expert escape artist, is, in this world, a defected slave. A former leader of a traveling, singing, family band of slaves, spreading the propaganda of “happy slavery” to those in the North.

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The hits just keep coming, but I’m not gonna ruin the entire thing for you.

You know, I was really excited to read this book in the beginning. But the problems I had with it showed up in rapid succession. Number one, Winters seems to be making several points, each very important and worthy of detail. Unfortunately, he just jumps from one to another, giving each a cursory glance and a wink before moving on to the next – not giving the reader a chance to recover.

I want to like this book. I mean, really like it. I want to buy copies for friends, then invite them over to my house so we could eat hot wings and talk and cackle.

But I don’t like it that much. Winters backs away from making any serious indictments of the “peculiar institution,” or of current societal issues for that matter. It seems that he tries, at least, during the first half of the book – but he soon turns towards a sci-fi-ish (yup) direction without explanation or logical foreshadowing.

It was a WTF moment, to be sure. One which, sadly, almost ruined my experience with what could have possibly been a permanent addition to my collection of fiction.

I don’t want you guys to get the wrong idea – I do recommend this book. Mostly because I want to hear what other folks think about it. If you’ve read it, or will read it soon, please leave a comment below. Let’s talk about it!

No hot wings, though.