Reading Children of Blood and Bone

Complicated Morality in Children of Blood and Bone, Chapters 31-41

The reread of Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi continues with chapters 31-41 in which Amari is overcome with terror, Tzain is kidnapped by guerrilla fighters, Inan has a change of heart, and Zèlie has a moment of happiness in a sea of horrors.

 

Recap

The sea battle is chaotic and frightening, and the pool quickly fills with corpses. To save their ship, Zèlie turns to blood magic. The effort works, but saps the last of her energy and pulls her underwater. Amari still can’t gather her wits in order to do something until her instincts finally take control, enabling her to kill a dude. By sheer luck, the trio are victorious, but at great cost. It probably wasn’t a good idea for Zèlie to take hold of the sunstone and release all that magic in front of a crowd of thousands of kosidán and divîners, but here we are.

Inan tracks them to Ibeji, but they’re already gone. He takes out his rage on the hapless citizens; his transformation into his father is nearly complete. On the road to Gombe, the trio leave the horrors of the arena behind, but Zèlie’s connection to Inan warns her of his impending arrival.

Amari nearly breaks through Inan’s obsession by appealing to his sense of familial love, but he’s too far gone. He and Zèlie go to war. Once again, an intense moment is interrupted by unseen invaders. This time, Amari, Tzain, and Nailah are dragged off by masked figures. Inan exploits Zèlie’s distraction by grabbing her, but his magic goes haywire and thrusts him into her memories, where he witnesses her mother’s torture and execution. Finally he sees the truth of his father’s cruelty. Haunted and guilty, he releases Zèlie.

Now free, Zèlie turns her attention to a captured raider with the same threat of violence Inan hurled at her and Amari. Peas in a pod, those two. This time, Inan stops her. His new lease on life happened so abruptly, she has a hard time believing it, but regardless they now both have the same goal: finding their siblings. Forming a reluctant alliance, they question the raider.

 

Commentary

Adeyemi is playing with some very complicated morality in this novel, and I’m not sure she fully gets her point across. As I see it, the trio’s actions in the arena put them on the same road as Saran and Inan. With 538 dead divîner slaves, it’s worth questioning whether retrieving the sunstone was worth the cost. In the long run—yes, of course it was. The cost of any revolution worth fighting for is blood and bone. But in the more immediate view, surely they could’ve formulated a plan that didn’t require the agonizing deaths of the very people their revolution is meant to save. Their actions blend Inan’s motto of “duty before self” and Zèlie’s go-big-or-go-home impulsiveness with absolutely none of Mama Agba’s warning to protect those who need defending.

They made a choice to pick Zèlie as their captain, thus leading to the increase in ticket prices and ship-bound slaves. If they had done some research first, they might have chosen Tzain instead. Or, better yet, found a way to avoid the gladiator arena altogether. That wouldn’t be as much fun to read, however. I guess I wish Adeyemi had added a scene of them debating various plans before settling on this one. As it stands, they went right from a single failed break-in attempt—in broad daylight no less—to “let’s directly cause the deaths of hundreds of divîners.” They have the decency to feel guilty about it… for a few minutes, anyway. And at least the surviving divîners will be able to buy out the contracts of a few hundred others. But is that where we’re at? Trading one life for another?

Meanwhile, Inan is a broken record, playing “Kill her. Kill magic,” ad nauseam, ad infinitum. If I sound annoyed, it’s because I am. I remember feeling this way the first time I read Children of Blood and Bone. In the previous installment of this reread I wrote about how Inan’s behavior is totally understandable, what with his terrible childhood and massive self-esteem issues, but it doesn’t make it any easier to read. We keep getting glimpses of an intriguing, multifaceted personality, but his one-track mind smothers any character development. Point is, Inan isn’t my favorite character. He does finally get some character development starting in chapter 39, but knowing where the book is going, I can safely say my disinterest in him isn’t going to change.

If Children of Blood and Bone wasn’t so engaging, Inan’s squeaky-wheel routine would likely overpower the narrative. Fortunately for us, Adeyemi is really good at writing action and adventure. She knows when to end a chapter—usually right at a nail-biting cliffhanger—and how to add just the right amount of description to keep the reader hooked without bogging down the pacing. That sea battle is easily one of my top five favorite action scenes from a YA book last year. It was visceral, intense, and emotionally devastating. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. I mean, look at this vivid description:

Now chaos surrounds me, pulsing through every breath and heartbeat. It sings as blood splatters through the air, screams as boats explode into oblivion.

I scramble to the back of the boat and cover my head as a boom rings. Our vessel shakes as another cannon strikes its hull. Only seventeen ships float, yet somehow, we are still in this fight.

Before me, everyone moves with unmatched precision, fighting despite the mayhem. Tendons bulge against the rowers’ necks as they drive the ship forward; sweat pours down the crew’s faces as they load more blastpowder into the breeches of the cannons.

Look, I know I’m being a little nitpicky this week, but the next reread will be more fun: There are some very exciting events in the offing. I hope to see you back here next week for chapters 42-52.

Alex Brown is a high school librarian by day, local historian by night, author and writer by passion, and an ace/aro Black woman all the time. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Insta, or follow along with her reading adventures on her blog.

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