February Book Review: Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi

Be warned, spoilers of Children of Blood and Bone and Children of Virtue and Vengeance below (and sorry for the late review!).

I’ll be honest, the second installment left me very upset the third hasn’t been released yet. What a cliffhanger! The rollercoaster our main characters are on gets even more treacherous as they navigate the return of magic and deal with betrayal and tests to their convictions.

The princess Amari has really grown into her own in this novel. In Children of Blood and Bone Amari is a shy, unsure, and sheltered royal, with no grasp on the depth of her role in bringing magic back, except that she wants to avenge her maji friend who died at the hands of her father. She begins to toy with some sense of agency in the first book, but it’s only in the second where she embraces her destiny as the lone royal capable of uniting Orisha. Accordingly, she begins to assert herself as a warrior. Not only is she physically and mentally waging war against her mother and father, she consistently butts heads with the maji rebel group, who understandably see her for the sins of her father and family. Amari is really growing into her title as ruler-to-be of Orisha, fighting against her internalized critiques from her father and having to prove herself to the maji; holding your own on two different fronts is no easy task. I think Amari is the person that most embodies the second books themes, which I will go into next, in that her progression from naive princess to torn warrior takes her down a path that reveals deeper problems plaguing Orisha.

As Amari and each character finds themselves fighting against their own morals for the means that will justify the ends, the external fighting for the crown also deteriorates on both sides. War has emboldened old tensions against the maji and as blood spills on both sides the casualties and sense of resentment grows. The lines between right and wrong blur in this book, causing the reader to doubt the main characters’ actions, which we might be used to with Inan, but when it comes to Amari and Zelie, it’s a clear sign of the toll war has taken on our heroines. Every action they take is a constant reminder that there are no right decisions to be made in war and every action and loss will chip away more and more at good people.

Zelie and Amari constantly find themselves going against their better judgement, with revenge or victory clouding their minds. The reader is not witnessing a linear journey towards progress for either of them, but a spiral with the main characters being pulled apart in every direction. The development of the characters can oftentimes feel like a regression, pinning the reader with sadness for the (more) carefree characters we once knew. Their spirits are tainted and there’s no going back, but as the reader we’re unsure how they can move forward. There is no right answer in war.

Although I found Amari’s growth most compelling in this novel, Zelie’s trauma and how she navigates it really strikes a chord. Zelie is a child of war, having seen her mother slaughtered in a genocide and forced to retreat her home with her family. Although a victim of trauma at a young age, Zelie is able to cope with the support of Mama Agba, her dad and brother. In the second book we begin with Zelie reeling from the death of her father by the hands of her soulmate, and the outcome of magic resurfacing not just in majis, but also in the enemy. Zelie is at times immobile by the emotional shocks she has to endure, but with each push down she is visited by a kindred spirit that helps spur her forward. From Ronan to Mama Agba to her new community with the maji, no matter how deep of a pit Zelie finds herself in, a ray of light is able to sine through and bring her back. Zelie has always been a testament to the full potential of a strong and corageous character, but this book reminds the reader that even a character as amazing as Zelie needs a support system in order to make it out of traumatic situations.

I am so excited to see how Tomi Adeyemi ends the series this year. Please let me know your thoughts on the novel in the comments below. The March book I’ll be reviewing for March is The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller.

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