Children of Blood and Bone – Tomi Adeyemi (Review)

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 rĂ©gime 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.

Buy it here.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Review)

Hello and, er, hail Satan, I guess? One of the hallmarks of this three-season Netflix revival of Sabrina the Teenage Witch is how the writers have carefully amended every phrase to be more witchy. So we tell our enemies to go to heaven, commend our friends as hell-sent, and so on.

Like most of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, the effect is unsettling, engaging… and it almost works. But not quite. Let’s talk about the good parts of Chilling Adventures, and the parts where it left me cold.

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Murderous Shakespearean Teens: a review of If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

Let us turn to an under-theorized but much-loved genre, which I have just decided to name “Murderous Shakespearean Teens”.

We’re thinking of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited; we’re thinking Donna Tartt’s A Secret History; at a pinch, we might think of Peter Nowalk and Shonda Rhimes’ How To Get Away With Murder. There are not many more examples, although I suspect there are quite a few Murderous Shakespearean Teens sitting in a YA publisher’s slushpile somewhere.

These stories all share three central traits: violence (physical or otherwise), glamour, and youth.

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Battle of the zombies: In The Flesh versus The Cured

I LOVE zombie films. This might come as a slight surprise because I normally leave the horror reviews to Dan. I can’t get through most scary movies without hiding behind the sofa and then having nightmares for weeks.

But there is just something about shuffling, brains-hungry, undead monsters which really works for me, as a movie concept. This may well have something to do with In The Flesh.

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Oceans 8 (2018): In a world without men

The Ocean’s franchise is venerable and well-established. First there was the original Rat Pack movie in 1960. Then came the 2001 reboot, which established the modern style: slick, understated comedy, which didn’t waste too much time explaining the heist. You get to watch the characters muddle about and mess things up with insouciance; then you see the double-speed replay where you realize that, actually, they were in charge of the situation all along.

And the formula worked for two whole sequels, until it started to run out of steam. So the big Hollywood directors sat down and thought about how to regenerate the franchise once more.

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Fen – Daisy Johnson (Review)

How do you choose a new book? Most of us start by looking at the title or the cover. Each person has their own private code of colours, typefaces and titles which signal whether a book is bad – consciously or unconsciously.

I like geometric or abstract covers with well-chosen colours; I refuse to read anything with a title that begins “The Girl/Boy Who…” Most of all, I avoid books with one-word titles. These rules of thumb are usually quite accurate. I trust the authors and cover designers to do their job well, and help me find the books I like by creating covers that appeal to me.

But sometimes, you have to break your own rules: because a book comes highly recommended, or you’re in a rush to choose a book before your plane leaves, or because it’s personal. Fen, the first collection of short stories from Daisy Johnson, ticked all those boxes for me.

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Fog Coast Runaway – Linda B. Myers (Review)

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Young Adelia Wright is left alone in the wild back country of 1890s Oregon to deal with her unpleasant brother, puberty, and not much to eat. So she takes matters into her own hands and sets out to find a better life.

Fog Coast Runaway is in the best traditions of novels from the 19th century. We have a tough young heroine with a kind heart – and she needs to be both tough and kind, because scarcely a paragraph goes by without a birth, death, fight to the death, or romantic gesture.

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