2 stars · book review

book review: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

2 out of 5 stars | Goodreads Review

I tried to like this book, but it wasn’t something I found myself enjoying. Perhaps the writing will improve with more books. I hope the movie adaptation is good. Maybe it’ll be the avatar movie we always wanted lol.

Initial reactions while reading:

Wow how much of the general ATLA outline are they gonna copy… so far (as of p. 173) we have the first three episodes. They go to the Orisha equivilant of the Southern Air Temple and learn about something they have to do before the solstice before it’s too late. We’re thrust into what looks like is going to be a quest for a MacGuffin/sunstone. I hope Adeyemi doesn’t rely too heavily on ATLA in future books.

Inan’s got nothing on Zuko. I do like Amari, though. I don’t like how there’s an instant attraction between Inan and Zelie. You can TELL something just snaps into place between them. Yes, the psychic bond, but also the signs of romo.

Below is my review from Goodreads (cross-posted):

Somewhere in this story there is an important message about police brutality and Tomi is ambitious to try her hand at it. I think we can acknowledge that this book is important to a lot of people in terms of representation while also being open to discuss Children of Blood and Bone as a piece of work, which includes any shortcomings.

Imma just come out and say it: the writing isn’t particularly strong. It was basic, average at best, but it was rarely at its best. Passages often felt repetitive. I could make a drinking game from how many times I had things spelled out for me on a single page. The narrative style felt very reminiscent of an ember in the ashes (first person, present tense, and just the rhythm of the sentences in general). That in itself isn’t bad, but the way CBB was hyped I thought the writing would be some new, revolutionary stuff. Instead it was painfully slow and lacked impact.

The romance is rushed. Being an OG, diehard Zutara fan myself, I can’t say Zelie x Inan hold a candle to Zuko x Katara (pun fully intended). I will however say. It was a nice touch having Zelie start to doubt if magic was the way to a better future. As much as her character annoyed me, I’ll give her credit where it’s due. Still, I found her to be irritating. Katara was friggin 14 and also lost loved ones from the 100 year war and acted more mature than Zelie (who is 17) even at her worst. Yeah, it’s natural to be distrustful of the royals given her circumstances, but constantly ragging on them when they’re trying to help you is a waste of energy she could have used elsewhere. I suppose if the point is for her to be an unlikeable protagonist, well that was a success.

Inans positions changed so fast that i wonder what conviction he had to support his father at all. Now Zuko had solid convictions; He wanted to capture the avatar to restore his honor. inan keeps using that word… duty ….but I don’t think he know what that word means. How could be still be so naive to the fact that his dad doesn’t not give a shit about the maji almost 400 pages in??? He has the gall to say he loves Zelie when like they just met and smiled at each other for one evening.

The first 200ish pages follow the first three episodes of ATLA very closely, almost beat per beat. If Adeyemi never stated her influences, i would have been miffed that they jacked the outline of the Boy in the Iceberg through the southern air temple! Ok I’m still a little miffed. And when the story finally started veering in its own direction and not over-relying on atla, I thought OH FINALLY! But then it was still the same slow paced, predictable storytelling as before, except not outlined after my fave tv show.

In my opinion, Amari was the most solid character, but she doesn’t particularly stand out in comparison to other rogue princesses trying to do right by her kingdom. I like Amari, but she was a generic girl with a sword who needed to find her courage. I feel like her arc was the most solid, as cliche as it was.

The pre-party to the solstice was too conveniently set up. It was the big OH JEEZ moment for me while reading. I know it was meant to double as commentary about profiling, but as a plot device I did not appreciate it.

Also a nitpick with the naming system for the different maji. The elemental maji names (burner, tider, winder, grounder) we’re so unimaginative I did a double take and had to show my friend who confirmed to me that was what was written on the page. There were a couple of typos I noticed (e.g, “fatigueS and bandaged knuckles”, the other one is maybe “locs” instead of “locks”of hair.).

I also found it weird Roen and Kato were described as having angular eyes… everyone’s eyes have angles LOL. Also why is their boat metal… wouldn’t that rust and sink. I guess this is ok in a world where you can fit 30 ships in an amphitheater in a desert. I’d dread to be the custodian that works there.

Was it worth the hype? Story wise no. I think it’s very popular to describe a book as “being like avatar”, but to capture its heart and caliber of storytelling in practice is a whole other ordeal. You’ve set a high bar for yourself the moment you make the comparison. I will also mention similarities I found CBB had with Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes series and I’m pretty sure Roen’s character is a watered down (asian-coded? Bc them eye angles, right?) version of Nikolai Lantsov (Please no love geometry in the sequel, Tomi) or a knock-off of Jet from ATLA. CBB is like a salad of everything I like, but somehow I end up feeling frustrated because salad alone is not a satisfying meal.

This ended up being more on the level of Bone Witch rather than Avatar TLA. I will say at least the three main POV characters (Zelie, Amari, Inan) get a beginning, middle and end for their character arcs in CBB, whereas Tea in Bone Witch didn’t. On the other hand, at least Bone Witch was having fun culturally appropriating Memoirs of a Geisha! But here Zelie constantly talks about magic this, magic that, all while the world building was pretty lackluster.

EDIT: I’ve also read a good review from Amazon that was very articulate about an issue I had with the book, but I couldn’t quite describe as well as they do here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-re…

To quote from that review by dsj35:

The thing about Black Lives Matter is that it is trying to protect entirely innocent people who are killed by police. Maji in this novel, on the other hand, do seem to truly be dangerous warriors, who have toppled multiple kingdoms and murdered innocent people who were actually trying to help them (i.e. Saran’s family). That doesn’t mean they deserve to be eradicated of course, but it does mean the book has a very different issue at its core than the one that inspired Adeyemi. It’s less a book about Black Lives Matter, and more about something like the Israel-Palestine conflict. Both sides have committed evil – the question is how to move forward together to find peace.

An example of this I can think of: Inan has reason to be concerned about someone with Kwame’s powers (he was a burner/firebender) because when Kwame? exploded (for a lack of a better word), that explosion hurt the Orishan soldiers and would have hurt Zelie as well. Yes, Kwame was trying to protect his people, but his “last resort” had the potential to hurt all sides of the conflict. In the past, Zelie had also mentioned the history of Orisha where there were maji that abused their power from the gods. I think dsj35 is correct to say the dynamic presented in Children of Blood and Bone doesn’t precisely mirror the issue of police brutality against black Americans, though I can see where Adeyemi tries to draw the connection between the world she created and real life.

Will I read the next one? Not when it first comes out but eventually I guess in hopes Adeyemi improves over time.

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