The BookBrowse Review

Published December 5, 2018

ISSN: 1930-0018

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In This Edition of
The BookBrowse Review

Highlighting indicates debut books

Editor's Introduction
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Hardcovers Paperbacks
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Recommended for Book Clubs
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Novels


Historical Fiction


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  • Burned by Edward Humes (rated 5/5)

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Young Adults

Short Stories/Essays

  • Black Enough by Ibi Zoboi, Tracey Baptiste, Coe Booth, Dhonielle Clayton, Brandy Colbert (rated 5/5)

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Children of Blood and Bone
Children of Blood and Bone
Legacy of Orisha
by Tomi Adeyemi

Hardcover (6 Mar 2018), 544 pages.
(Due out in paperback Mar 2019)
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
ISBN-13: 9781250170972
BookBrowse:
Critics:
  

Winner of the 2018 BookBrowse Award for Best Young Adult Novel

Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut, perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo and Sabaa Tahir.


They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.
Now we rise.

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie's Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers - and her growing feelings for an enemy.

CHAPTER ONE
ZÉLIE

PICK ME.

It's all I can do not to scream. I dig my nails into the marula oak of my staff and squeeze to keep from fidgeting. Beads of sweat drip down my back, but I can't tell if it's from dawn's early heat or from my heart slamming against my chest. Moon after moon I've been passed over.

Today can't be the same.

I tuck a lock of snow-white hair behind my ear and do my best to sit still. As always, Mama Agba makes the selection grueling, staring at each girl just long enough to make us squirm.

Her brows knit in concentration, deepening the creases in her shaved head. With her dark brown skin and muted kaftan, Mama Agba looks like any other elder in the village. You would never guess a woman her age could be so lethal.

"Ahem." Yemi clears her throat at the front of the ahéré, a not-so-subtle reminder that she's already passed this test. She smirks at us as she twirls her hand-carved staff, eager to see which one of us she gets to defeat in our graduation match. Most girls cower at the prospect of facing Yemi, but today I crave it. I've been practicing and I'm ready.

I know I can win.

"Zélie."

Mama Agba's weathered voice breaks through the silence. A collective exhale echoes from the fifteen other girls who weren't chosen. The name bounces around the woven walls of the reed ahéré until I realize Mama Agba's called me.

"Really?"

Mama Agba smacks her lips. "I can choose someone else—"

"No!" I scramble to my feet and bow quickly. "Thank you, Mama. I'm ready."

The sea of brown faces parts as I move through the crowd. With each step, I focus on the way my bare feet drag against the reeds of Mama Agba's floor, testing the friction I'll need to win this match and finally graduate.

When I reach the black mat that marks the arena, Yemi is the first to bow. She waits for me to do the same, but her gaze only stokes the fire in my core. There's no respect in her stance, no promise of a proper fight. She thinks because I'm a divîner, I'm beneath her.

She thinks I'm going to lose.

"Bow, Zélie." Though the warning is evident in Mama Agba's voice, I can't bring myself to move. This close to Yemi, the only thing I see is her luscious black hair, her coconut-brown skin, so much lighter than my own. Her complexion carries the soft brown of Orïshans who've never spent a day laboring in the sun, a privileged life funded by hush coin from a father she never met. Some noble who banished his bastard daughter to our village in shame.

I push my shoulders back and thrust my chest forward, straightening though I need to bend. Yemi's features stand out in the crowd of divîners adorned with snow-white hair. Divîners who've been forced to bow to those who look like her time and time again.

"Zélie, do not make me repeat myself."

"But Mama—"

"Bow or leave the ring! You're wasting everyone's time."

With no other choice, I clench my jaw and bow, making Yemi's insufferable smirk blossom. "Was that so hard?" Yemi bows again for good measure. "If you're going to lose, do it with pride."

Muffled giggles break out among the girls, quickly silenced by a sharp wave of Mama Agba's hand. I shoot them a glare before focusing on my opponent.

We'll see who's giggling when I win.

"Take position."

We back up to the edge of the mat and kick our staffs up from the ground. Yemi's sneer disappears as her eyes narrow. Her killer instinct emerges.

We stare each other down, waiting for the signal to begin. I worry Mama Agba'll drag this out forever when at last she shouts.

"Commence!"

And instantly I'm on the defensive.

Full Excerpt

Excerpted from Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. Copyright © 2018 by Tomi Adeyemi. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

A spellbinding debut fantasy that expands the boundaries of readers' imaginations while thrilling and delighting with captivating prose.

Print Article

Voted 2018 Best Debut Novel Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

What would you do if, in a world filled with magic wielded by different clans, the magic disappeared over night? What would you do if it didn't just disappear, but a ruthless despot was trying to make sure that it died for good, and all who could practice died with it? And what would you do if you could stop it from disappearing? In her debut novel, Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi takes readers to Orïsha, a land ruled by a murderous king where those with the potential for magic, divîners, are ostracized and persecuted, and not allowed to pass on their traditions or their language, Yoruba.

Zélie is a divîner, and like all divîners, is easily distinguished from her countrymen by her dark skin and white hair. Before King Saran raided the lands killing all maji - active magic practitioners (including Zélie's mother) - Zélie would have one day grown into her powers. Since that raid, divîners' potential to wield magic can't come to fruition. But that changes with the appearance of a runaway princess, Amari, and a scroll that is part of the connection of the divîners and maji to Nana Baruku, the female deity from whom Zélie's people get their power. Zélie and Amari learn that there is a chance to restore the connection to Nana Baruku, and therefore the magic of Orïsha, before it is lost forever. As they set out on their journey, hunted by Amari's brother Inan, both are forced to take a hard look at the brutal realities of power when wielded with injustice, racism, and colorism, and the scars left by fear and genocide.

This work is timely – perhaps, overdue – not only because of the themes Adeyemi wields intellectually and accessibly, but because the young adult (YA) fantasy world has needed epic fantasies that root the concepts of magic, setting, and culture somewhere other than European, American, or generally "Western" locations. Rooted in West African and Yoruba religion, mythology, and magical traditions, Adeyemi gives readers a different way of experiencing wonder, a different way of sensing the world, which extends beyond representation and the presentation of diversity, though these are important. Adeyemi does not rely on the fantasy to give her prose strength; if the magic and the fantastic elements were stripped away, we would still be left with a story that touches upon the brutal elements of life that so many teenagers themselves face: inherited trauma, prejudice, isolation, facing down systems and institutions that are designed to keep them oppressed, and the fear and loneliness of families torn apart because of the inhumanity of others.

In Children of Blood and Bone, Adeyemi recognizes the maturity thrust upon contemporary youth and adolescents and has written them a book that doesn't offer false promise or hope of redemption through magic, but instead offers them a world that reflects, in many ways, the complexities of this one. And the idea that maybe, just maybe, injustices can be fought and triumphed over when we recognize the value of all to exist.

This is the first in a series that is going to challenge everything that readers know about what makes good YA fantasy. It's going to leave them demanding more, not only from the series, but from what the standard of "good enough" in publishing already is. Growth, confrontation, trauma, and the search for a better way by two strong women are all part of this epic fantasy. If I have any criticisms, it is that it ends on a cliff-hanger and 2019 is far too far away to wait for the next installment of what is sure to be the bestselling Legacy of Orïsha series.

Reviewed by Michelle Anya Anjirbag

Entertainment Weekly
Twenty-four-year-old Tomi Adeyemi's YA debut is looking like a phenomenon.

Ebony
The next big thing in literature and film.

Teen Vogue
One of the biggest young adult fiction debut book deals of the year. Aside from a compelling plot and a strong-willed heroine as the protagonist, the book deals with larger themes, like race and power, that are being discussed in real time.

Campus Lately
A remarkable achievement.

Jet
Tomi Adeyemi is about to take both the literature and film world by storm.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Adeyemi's devastating debut is a brutal, beautiful tale of revolution, faith, and star-crossed love.

Booklist
Starred Review... Adeyemi keeps it fresh with an all-black cast of characters, a meaningful emphasis on fighting for justice, a complex heroine saving her own people, and a brand of magic made more powerful by the strength of heritage and ancestry. Perfect for fans of the expansive fantasy worlds of Leigh Bardugo, Daniel José Older, and Sabaa Tahir.

Kirkus Reviews
Powerful, captivating, and raw—Adeyemi is a talent to watch. Exceptional.

School Library Journal
A refreshing YA fantasy with an all–West African cast of characters that should be on every shelf.

Print Article

The Importance of Diverse Fantasy Spaces

"Children have a right to books that reflect their own images and books that open less familiar worlds to them…for those children who had historically been ignored – or worse, ridiculed – in children's books, seeing themselves portrayed visually and textually as realistically human was essential to letting them know that they are valued in the social context in which they are growing up…At the same time, the children whose images were reflected in most American children's literature were being deprived of books as windows into the realities of the multicultural world in which they are living, and were in danger of developing a false sense of their own importance in the world."

- Rudine Sims Bishop, from, "Reflections on the development of African American Children's Literature," Journal of Children's Literature, Vol. 38, Iss. 2 (Fall 2012): 5-13.

children readingDiverse spaces in literature, especially in fantasy – and, perhaps, especially in YA fantasy – remain hard to find, but they are necessary for the growth and progression of a more equitable society. In her oft-quoted and referenced 1990 critical essay "Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors", internationally renowned children's literature scholar Rudine Sims Bishop discusses the importance of diversity, especially regarding the representation of African American children, in children's literature for all child readers, but specifically those who are often only portrayed in negative ways. As shown in her 2012 reflection on the same topic, the necessity of providing "windows" into a multicultural reality for readers has not changed. That is what makes books such as Tomi Adeyemi's Children of Blood and Bone, which destabilize the hegemonic power of proto-European fantastic spaces, so important. Not only do marginalized readers see some reflection of themselves that isn't token, but they are given access to the wonder and empowerment of seeing in text someone who looks like them, comes from their cultural background, and has access to all the possibility and power and ability to be a hero. This access translates into the idea that maybe they can be heroes too, that there are more possibilities for them to aspire to than token sidekick, or person who dies first in a horror film.

Yoruban Divination BoardPart of the beauty of Children of Blood and Bone is how different its aesthetic is to some of the other books that have been on fantasy and YA bestseller lists. Adeyemi roots her setting and her concept of magic in Yoruba and West African traditions. This is not the magic of Harry Potter. There are no allusions to Merlin or a Pendragon, or whispers of what have become all-too-familiar fairy tales and narrative patterns. Yoruba is a religious and linguistic categorization, and the culture, religion, and language have all been transmitted globally, largely thanks to the Atlantic slave trade. By drawing from this mythology and cosmology, Adeyemi adds something completely new to the mainstream market, creating windows into a new way of experiencing wonder, and presenting strong, relatable, well-developed characters who do not fit the Hollywood/mainstream representation of what heroes look like.

Yoruban Deity OsunFor years, there has been a perception that diverse books just simply won't sell, that there is no demand for literature that centers on the voices and experiences of people of color, of people who are other. Christopher Myers outlines this succinctly in his 2014 New York Times essay "The Apartheid of Children's Literature." But with Adeyemi's record-breaking seven-figure book deal for the trilogy, which was optioned to be adapted to film before the first book had been released, the idea that the market has to cater to a Euro-centric, colonizing perspective of the world starts to crumble. More representation leads to more understanding and empathy, which leads to more equity, and better quality art and literature which challenges us all more. And that is a good, and long overdue, thing.

Yoruba divination board Opon Ifá
Yoruba Deity Osun

By Michelle Anya Anjirbag

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