Author: Tomi Adeyemi
Finished on: 22 March 2018
Where did I get this book: A kindle read
When Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman was published in 2015, there was uproar among fans of To Kill A Mockingbird, and in particular among fans of one of the book’s central characters and long-standing hero to many, Atticus Finch. Because in Go Set A Watchman, not only is Finch not very nice, he is downright racist. This titanic figure many of us grew up adoring was one big disappointment.
And then came the wave of criticism of this human response. It went along the lines of: people who care that Atticus Finch is racist are stupid. They don’t understand that he is fictional, and that it doesn’t matter what fictional characters do or say because they are not real.
Rarely has any journalism made me as cross as the stream of snark that came from this section of the British press. And having read Children Of Blood and Bone, I am fairly sure Tomi Adeyemi would agree with me.
One one level this is a book that luxuriates in fantasy and escapism: an epic tale of adventure set in a magical world where a princess, Amari, and a magician (maji), Zélie, embark on a grand quest. The world Adeyemi has created is richly realised with its own mythology, history and geography to rival Tolkien.
Most of my previous knowledge of Yoruba culture has come from the books of my beloved Helen Oyeyemi, and Adeyemi takes the same fertile mythology that has served Oyeyemi so well in her trademark blending of folklore and reality, and builds on it to create the setting and structures in Orïsha, the world of Children Of Blood and Bone. The different classifications of maji alone, from the Reapers who control life and death, to the Tiders who control water, to the Healers who control health and disease, will be enough to have fantasy aficionados young and old salivating at the deliciousness on offer.
But on another level this is a story borne of the very real ‘pain, fear, sorrow and loss’ in the world today: a world of brutality where unarmed black men, women and children are being shot by the police. In a stonking tearjerker of an author’s note at the end, Adeyemi talks about writing the book as a response to the anger and helplessness she felt facing this cruelty.
This is a writer who believes that stories can change the world. And she is right. The generation brought up on Harry Potter are becoming adults filled with the spirit of rebellion and justice that runs through the books. Political activists are citing Dumbledore’s Army as their inspiration to challenge and fight inequality and the status quo.
My twelve-year-old daughter, who is growing up in the very beautiful but very white and privileged Hope Valley in Derbyshire, came downstairs after finishing Children Of Blood and Bone (in a matter of days – it’s a doorstop, but that’s how good it is) saying, ‘What! This is horrible, mum. This is SO SAD.’ Adeyemi has given her, not to mention her mum, a new awareness of the world she lives in.
It matters what fictional characters do and say. Every time Zélie Adebola gets up and fights for what is right in Orïsha, she now has an army of readers all over the world willing her to succeed and backing her up. This matters. Because this is the army that may just go on to have the power to change the evils of the real world.