Author: Tomi Adeyemi (website)
UK Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books
Genre: Fantasy, YA
See also: Children of Blood and Bone
After battling the impossible, Zélie and Amari have finally succeeded in bringing magic back to the land of Orïsha. But the ritual was more powerful than they could’ve imagined, reigniting the powers of not only the maji, but of nobles with magic ancestry, too.
Now, Zélie struggles to unite the maji in an Orïsha where the enemy is just as powerful as they are. But with civil war looming on the horizon, Zélie finds herself at a breaking point: she must discover a way to bring the kingdom together or watch as Orïsha tears itself apart.
One of the things I enjoyed about book 1 in this series was how there were no easy answers to the questions. Prejudice and hatred was embedded bone-deep in the two factions of the nation, based on allegedly justifable causes – events in history where both maji and non-maji have brutalised each other as each held power in their own way. While the easy, fairy-tale ending would be right there, with the magic back that justice could prevail as clearly the oppressed were peaceful, Adeyemi isn’t going to give us the easy, tidy ending. People aren’t easy and tidy, and neither are her characters.
Sometimes it can be frustrating to experience a story where misunderstandings could be solved by calm communication. There are a lot of chances for this here – where Amari, or Zélie could just take a beat, or a breath, or a moment and talk it out. And, the key thing here is that they do, but that doesn’t solve the issues because the problems are greater than them, because there are too many other people involved, some with less than honest intentions. It’s not a simple as just undoing the removal of magic, there has been years – generations – of hatred and cruelty that hasn’t just existed on the surface in society. It has radicalised people, and others take advantage of that for their own gains.
This is, in just about every way, a far, far more difficult read than Children of Blood and Bone. The tensions are higher, everyone’s motives are suddenly in question, and with no-one willing to simmer down or compromise, suddenly there is no balance to anyone’s actions. Nothing to bring someone back from the brink, or to advocate for the less extreme course. And as each action causes more injury and anger, the situation escalates. People use tragedy as a way to inject poison into the narrative, to engender fear and rage and hatred, to shape the situation as they see fit and damn the consequences.
There are betrayals, from the small scale to the large. There are tragedies, horrors, atrocities.
It’s not an easy book.
At every point, the fact that the protagonists are teens becomes evident. The older generations on both sides have been all but wiped out, and these are traumatised, stressed children, dealing with horrors and anguish and rage, but with no experience or wisdom to guide them. Can they trust the people they thought they could? Is there any way this can be redeemed?
I mentioned in the last book that I struggled with Zélie’s judgement, how she couldn’t seem to be measured or how her choices seemed to be contradictory. This continues – and it’s nice to see Adeyemi examining how these things build into her character more deeply, the consequences and psychological impact of this – but as the situation drives more people out of their comfort zones, other characters struggle too. And here’s the thing – you can see that they’re trying, but even as a reader, an objective outsider, it’s hard to know who is right. That’s on purpose, in situations like this there can be no one easy answer, and desperation drives people to do awful things, or great things, depending on where they find themselves.
Where book 1 was a quest, a hero’s journey, book 2 now is looking at the reality of it, the political implications of having warring factions, of power vacuums at the top of society when society as people have known it has suddenly shifted significantly. The panic, the lack of trust, the way bad actors will try to use the opportunity to consolidate power, to feed their own narratives to gain the outcomes they want. Misinformation fuelled by and fuelling fear, escalating tensions and causing chaos. Is any sacrifice too great? Who will say otherwise?
If you are struggling with the world at the moment, this book will probably seem very stressful. Not least because, in answer to the question in my last review, this is not a duology. There will be one more book, and the ending to Children of Virtue and Vengeance is the traditional book 2 ending – Peril, despair, no clear way out. After a book that is quite heavy with the realities of conflict (both interpersonal, political and military) then there isn’t a catharsis in finishing it. But it is well written, and powerful, and seeing a series like this play with the social and political realities of it (but with a factor less brutality than The Poppy War) is really interesting.
No word yet on the release date for book 3, but I’ll be waiting.
- A more complex book than Children of Blood and Bone, this deals with the societal and political issues that come when a nation is destabilised, finds a power vacuum, and this is exploited by people with ill intentions.
- The main characters’ youth and inexperience is stark against their trauma and it’s really heartbreaking to see the way they react and respond without the chance to process it. The psychological examinations of people in different high-stress situations, with different values and backgrounds, is really fascinating.
- It is the second book of a trilogy, so be aware that it doesn’t provide a resolution that could be seen as comforting – instead it sets things up for bigger questions to be addressed in book three.