If you only looked at Western bestseller lists and film rankings, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Egyptian mummies are the only fantasy storyline which Africa has ever produced. But you’d be wrong – and I was thrilled to see that Children of Blood and Bone has brought a long-neglected mythology into young adult fiction.
We need more African stories. There’s an incredibly rich tradition of storytelling across the continent, which remains largely unrepresented in Western publishing. Tomi Adeyemi’s novel seems to draw mainly on Nigerian culture and mythology for inspiration, but I hope it heralds a great variety of stories from a great many more countries.
Adeyemi’s idea of magic is as a powerful force, given to a certain race of humans by gods and rooted in the natural elements such as fire, water and earth. But some of her magicians also deal in death and healing. They are all specialists in their own elements and, following a brutal régime change that destroyed their temples and records, self-taught. So the reader has all the fun of figuring things out at the same time as the main characters.
This adds up to a pretty clear allegory for race, colonisation and the erasure of traditional customs and knowledge. What’s especially interesting and powerful is that Adeyemi does not shy away from the anger that follows. Some of her characters are critical of violence; others want their revenge, and get it. Still others go back and forth, unable to reconcile personal principles with an enormous sense of rage and loss. Adeyemi’s refusal to judge or neutralise her characters is both refreshing and challenging.
Besides the mythology it draws on, this book is a pretty basic YA fantasy novel. All the usual tropes apply. There’s a clumsy girl who looks different from the others and never quite fits in. There are animals with silly names that sound suspiciously like animals in our real world. Everyone’s parents are either dead or incapacitated. The narrator changes every chapter so that we can keep up with the ensemble cast, et cetera et cetera.
These elements might be derivative, but at least they’re well done. I have more of an issue with the clunky dialogue, which swings bizarrely between pseudo-mediaeval and tame Twilight-style swears, and lends itself much too easily to parody. (Dammit! thought the guard, ’twas a twelve month since he had last faceplanted thus in the royal courtyard…)
But these are all problems that could be solved with a decent edit. There are more books coming up in this series and even, reportedly, a movie. I’ll be reading every one.