Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone was a hit book before it even came out. It had tremendous accolades and a movie deal before it hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. With that kind of praise, it was hard not to go into the book expecting it to be a dense Game of Thrones style series. But once I started reading, it didn’t feel intimidating at all. For a failing aspiring writer (you can yell at me about that phrase later, but it’s just true), it felt like the kind of novel that says “you can do this too” when you read it. The heroine is relatable, the worldbuilding well executed, and Tomi's own story and internet presence is a delight.
Of course, being us (as in Black Girls Create), nearly every one of our readers, followers, and friends told us we had to read this book. Being the host of a Harry Potter podcast and lovers of fantasy fiction starring black people, it was of course right up our alley, so we wanted to do something special with it. I decided to host a roundtable with Robyn, Bayana, and some members of our community as we all read and fell in love with the book. Spoilers for Book One of the Legacy of Orïsha ahead.
Being lovers of fantasy fiction — a genre that has traditionally left us out in the mainstream — what were your thoughts upon reading this book?
Bayana: I love how vibrant the world is. It’s fully realized in both its fantastical ways and its sinister ones. The characters all feel very real and the story allowed me to empathize with characters I might just write off as a problem otherwise. It carried a lot of nuance while also being very clear about what was right and wrong.
Porshèa: I feel like it's African-influenced magic & world-building done right — without putting us into either a colonial or African context. I like the touches of language and the reasoning of why, like many Black people in the diaspora, there are those who don't understand it. I also felt pulled in by the culture being realized via food, smells, clothing, and rituals.
Robyn: I loved how Tomi wrote the action and the passage of time. It felt like a long journey but also didn’t feel boring. I liked how we went to different locations in Orisha and they felt familiar and different.
Kishana: The world just sucks you in immediately. The geography and different locations are easy to imagine and immerse yourself in. The characters are relatable. The magical abilities and the way they manifested and were practiced were awesome and intriguing. I wanted them all.
Eliyannah: I mostly thought that the world felt very alive. Every corner of the village, every path along the road they traveled, every place they went felt real and vivid. I’m really visual and the books I love most are always the ones where I can see what’s happening as if I was watching a movie, and I pictured this story a lot. Porshèa makes a great point when she says that the world wasn’t colonial or a distant, isolated Africa that I can’t access.
What about the epic cliffhanger? Inan is nowhere to be found and suddenly there's magic... everywhere!
Bayana: WHERE IS INAN? But also I’m super intrigued and a little terrified to see what will happen now that magic is within everyone, including those who tried to eradicate it. The gods are playing no games and it’ll really be up to Zélie and Amari to find a way to be empathetic but also ruthless in certain situations, so watching them navigate that will be interesting and nerve-wracking.
Connie: Wow, I love that phrase and think it perfectly encapsulates Zélie (ruthless) and Amari (empathetic). I think they have facets of the other (Amari being tiger!), but it's like a yin and yang situation with the two of them.
Porshèa: I wonder who the magic touched. It's intriguing that Tzain shook his head yet Amari is seen holding magic. I wonder if there's a chance that this occurred because Zélie called on both lines of her ancestry when invoking the gods. I also wonder if this is a commentary on the dangers of playing with a lot of power without knowing what you're getting into (not knowing what the words meant on the scroll or final spell).
Rebekah: I’d be interested to see if Inan survived his father’s attack. I don’t know what to make of Amari having magic now and being a maji. I think the next book will focus on her more so than Zélie.
Robyn: I want to know what kind of magic Amari has or how magic has changed within the maji. I need Inan to be dead and stay dead. He was a problem. I want to know more about Ronan and his home kingdom too.
Bayana: LOL at the Inan hate. Also, I assumed Amari has the same powers as him? But can’t remember if that was written or just me making things up.
Kishana: First thought: “Shit's about to get real!” But I want to know what Amari’s power is and where Inan is. I also wonder how those who were not magical before handle new manifestations of their power. It’s going to be pure chaos I’m sure. The main defining attribute to their existing war (magic) is now ubiquitous among the kingdom, how are people going to navigate that?
We've sort of gotten a bit into it, but what do you think the cliffhanger means for the future of the world of Orïsha?
Bayana: I think it means things are going to get really bad before they get better. I’m mostly interested to see what it will mean for Zélie, as her instinct is generally revenge and retaliation, so her learning how to understand how things aren’t always black and white will be important for her character. But first, a lot of people are gonna die.
Connie: How can more people possibly die?! Her mom, half of everyone she meets, HER DAD! We’re already at Thanos-level decimation, how can it get worse?!
Bayana: Listen. These noble kosidans don’t know how to act and I can only assume they will further act a fool once they also have magic, especially because part of their hatred probably stemmed from jealousy in the first place.
Porshèa: How many of the issues in this series are going to be based on the lack of Maji elders. Especially now that the one elder she knew that she could trust, Mama Agba, is (possibly?) dead.
Rebekah: Porshèa, I like your thought process here. There’s no one to reign her in when she gets too far into her head. I also think things will get worse before they get better. Especially in regards to who will rule Orïsha. How are they going to learn to harness and control their magic? How are noble kosidans going to deal with having magic they have always despised (if they have it)? What/Who the big bad in the next book? I’ve been wondering who the new “villain” will be and I think it’ll be Amari’s mama.
Robyn: Yep me too!
Kishana: I agree with Bayana, it's definitely going to get worse before it gets better. Royal kosidans are most definitely about to act a fool. And Zélie is going to have to figure out whether revenge is still something she wants when the enemy have essentially become her brethren. I also agree with Porshèa, this would be easier to navigate if they hadn’t killed almost all of the maji elders. The oldest maji are still basically kids.
As I said earlier, there were a lot of deaths in this book! I definitely wasn't expecting such a bloodbath. Which one hurt you the most?
Bayana: I think for me Zulaikah. She was so young and innocent but also had become a leader, and I was looking forward to seeing how she grew and took on her role as a healer in the future. I understand that that was essentially the point of her death though — that these men who don’t regard her as human can easily shoot her down despite her attempts to make peace.
Porshèa: Same, but also because just like the (mirror) gift in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the idea that they could've just continued their journey instead of pausing for the festival lingers on my brain. If they had, Zu would prob still be alive. Also, how did the soldiers find them? Inan? When did he contact them?
Bayana: I think they said it was because a few of them had gone into town to buy stuff for the party and some of the guards got suspicious. They'd let their guards down in the process of planning for the party because it was a rare moment of joy for them amidst the fear. I don’t think Inan had anything to do with it — he was too sprung off Zélie to be thinking about that in that moment.
Robyn: I think Baba’s death because they were so close and it was so petty.
Kishana: I agree, Baba's death was the worst because Zélie tried so hard to keep him safe and out of the way. But also because it represents such a betrayal from Inan, who I was almost convinced was going to attempt to be decent.
Delia: As soon as they pulled out Baba, I knew Inan needed to catch these hands. I just kept thinking "die. die. die." I hope he's dead and he stays that way.
Lots of Inan hate for his waffling back and forth and for his role in Zélie's torture and what happens at the end — do we think he's truly gone or might he appear in the next book?
Bayana: I don’t think he's gone — we didn’t see a finishing blow after Amari went to save him. I feel like she saved him for a reason and hopefully we’ll get to see more of their relationship in the next book. Seeing him with Zélie is gonna hurt but also I think Zélie is looking at that pirate bruh [Ronan] now so this looks like a love triangle in the making. I don’t think Inan’s story is over. He has a lot of unlearning to do, and while I’m betting he won’t get Zélie in the end given all he’s done and all his father has done, I think a redemption arc would be cool to see.
Porshèa: Same, but I truly hope Amari is the one who gets the throne in the end. Her head has always been right & Inan's level of internal conflict never does well in positions of power.
Bayana: Oh definitely. I don’t think Inan should be king, both because of what he’s done and because Amari is clearly the better choice. It feels like he may end up sacrificing himself in some way or maybe just step aside once he finally realizes he shouldn’t be the one.
Porshèa: Yeah, he lets other people take on the dirty work WAY too easily. Hardly seems like he feels too bad about their actions unless it affects him or someone he loves.
Robyn: Yes!! Bye, Walmart Zuko. Goodbye to all that wavering! I also think it’s fitting that he knew his father wouldn’t accept his magic and he died saving his father's life. I think Inan needs to die to give Amari a clean claim to the throne that her mother (the new big bad) is going to challenge
Kishana: I don’t think he’s gone. I don’t think that in the first piece of the story, there would be such a simple resolution.
What clan would you most want to be apart of and why?
Bayana: I think the Reapers. It seems morbid at first, but I think the concept of guiding spirits to the alafia is beautiful. Plus it also gives me ancestral plane vibes given their connection to their ancestors as well. But also I want to take the sorting quiz at some point…
Porshèa: I didn't really see a lot of it but because of Avatar: The Last Airbender, I'm leaning Afêfê (air), Émi (mind, spirit, & dreams), or Aríran (time/seer). Also, I see what Tomi did with giving the lead character the "scariest" of powers. I wonder how many people will lean towards that clan after seeing it used for good.
Bayana: Yeah, that was my thinking as well. But also it was super smart to have Zélie be a Reaper especially in regards to the language Inan and other nobles use when talking about her. It has a heavy parallel to the way cops talk about victims of police brutality — they “fear for their lives” because the victims were supposedly these huge monstrous creatures. We see Zélie’s powers as beautiful, while also seeing them through the eyes of people who are terrified of them as well.
Robyn: I think I would like to be a Connector. I liked that Inan could go to the dreamscape, which also gave me ancestral plane vibes, and being able to help people mentally and spiritually escape things they can’t physically escape. I also think a Welder would be cool so I could get my Tony Stark on.
Kishana: A Connector or a Seer for sure. I think there’s something to be said about being able to communicate with a person spiritually and understand things on a deeper level. But also being able to see the future and guide people to a better one would be cool too.
One of the first things that happened for Children of Blood and Bone, before it was even released, was the selling of the movie rights. Who are some people you'd love to see cast in the movie?
Porshèa: A bunch of new people. I'm really tempted to put the cast from Still Star-Crossed in here though — Rosaline (Lashana Lynch) = Zélie, Prince Escalus (Sterling Sulieman) = Inan, Livia (Ebonee Noel) = Amari — but they're a bit older than the characters. Ohh...but if Quvenzhané is old enough now, let's lead with her!
Rebekah: How old is Mama Agba supposed to be? I’ve got a range from Angela Bassett to Cecily Tyson for that one… Also, I could see Danny Glover in this. He has the range to play Baba, but he could also play King Saran...I can totally see him killing his own kids
Robyn: Lol Danny Glover will never escape Mister. I would love to see Marsai Martin as Zu and Kofi Siriboe would be a good Tzain.
As often happens with new creatives (but especially Black ones), everyone is deciding who Tomi is the "next" one of. Do you think it’s fair for Tomi to have been saddled with the “The Next J.K. Rowling” — who was an extreme outlier in YA and fantasy fiction — mantle this early into her career?
Rebekah: I think it’s too soon to tell if she will be or not, but I like the idea of getting the J.K. Rowling we deserve, not the one we got. Although this first book is incredible, J.K. Rowling built an empire off of 7 novels. I do think with Children of Blood and Bone already having movie rights, there’s potential for an empire to happen. And this time, we get someone who knows what’s going on in the real world…
Bayana: I think it’s important for people to get their accolades without comparing them. Tomi is a wonderful writer but past writing a magical world I’m not sure I see all that many similarities between Harry Potter and Children of Blood and Bone. Like Rebekah said, I think it’s too soon to tell the kind of impact her books will have in the long run, but it would be amazing if it’s a similar trajectory. But they also are always saying something is the new Harry Potter and it rarely ever is. In this case, I don’t think it’s because it won’t hold up, but because the stories feel so much different.
Rebekah: All I can think about is how Tomi acknowledged pain the entire book and J.K. Rowling treated pain like it was a frivolous thing. But Bayana is right, they’re so different that there really shouldn’t be a comparison, but I see where people find the comparison.
Bayana: I mean it is a dope comparison to have though, early or not.
If you’d like to join the BGNO book club, where we hope to have more conversations like this, check out our new Goodreads page. We don’t typically host discussions like this (Children of Blood and Bone was an exception because so many of us read it at the same time), but it’s a list of recommended books by our members! Thanks for reading!