Our reread of Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi continues with chapters 53-60, in which the quartet fractures into couples. Amari falls in love, Tzain intensifies his feud with Zèlie, Zèlie fears the unintended and uncontrollable consequences of her revolution, and Inan plots the reunification of Orïsha under his crown.
The morning following their arrival in the guerilla camp, Tzain is barely speaking to Zèlie. He’s still sulking over Inan’s acceptance into their group and is taking out his frustrations on his sister. Zu gives Zèlie, Inan, and Amari a tour, and Zèlie is overwhelmed by how happy the divîners are. Not since she was a child has she seen so many of her people together in one place. Not only that, but they all appear happy, jovial, and eager to share their culture with each other once more. Among them is Roën, a handsome, mysterious stranger from the lands beyond Orïsha. We’ll be seeing a lot more of him soon enough, if for no other reason beyond how jealous he makes Inan when he flirts with Zèlie.
Inan and Zèlie sneak off to practice controlling his powers. In his dreamscape, they come to a deeper understanding of each other; their blossoming romance sparks with attraction. Unfortunately they’re cut short when Tzain breaks up their dreamscape by attacking Inan. He’s furious at Zèlie for training Inan. The siblings hit each other where it hurts, verbally and magically. Tzain storms off for, like, the zillionth time.
That night, the encampment is bursting with excitement in anticipation of the ceremony to celebrate the impending return of the maji. During the procession of divîners, Inan and Zèlie sneak off into the forest outside the camp for a little alone time. There they agree to work together—politically, magically, and romantically—to reunite Orïsha and the maji. Amari and Tzain nearly have their own sexy times moment, but when he spots his sister and her brother canoodling, he loses it. Tzain decides he’s done with the whole rebellion—but before he can ditch and run, King Saran’s soldiers attack the camp.
On one hand, Tzain is kinda right for distrusting Inan. The prince has a lot of pain and destruction to make up for. You can’t spend your life supporting a genocidal maniac, then switch teams and expect everyone you victimized to immediately be cool with it. He hasn’t been privy to the same conversations Zèlie has had with Inan about his moral evolution, so he neither knows nor cares about Inan’s motives. Although Zèlie and Inan agreed to work together before their mutual desire set it, it’s certainly sped their alliance up. Tzain has a right to be angry when he screams at Amari that Inan “destroyed our home! … People drowned. Children died. And for what? That monster’s been trying to kill us for weeks and now she wants to forgive him? Embrace him?” Zèlie and Amari may have let go of their anger toward Inan, but Tzain is well within his rights to hold onto his as long as he needs to.
On the other hand, Inan loses a lot of ground when he turns to crude accusations. He distrusts Zèlie’s opinions on Inan because he distrusts Zèlie. Because he doesn’t respect her. To Tzain, she’s just some reckless kid making yet another in a long line of stupid mistakes. He’s unwilling to see her value. The arrogance of it is shocking, and Zèlie is right to push back. Who is he to think he’s better than her? Zèlie didn’t forgive Inan easily, and she definitely won’t forget his actions, but she is holding him accountable, just as she did Amari (whom Tzain was happy to forgive just as quickly).
More importantly, so what if Zèlie wants some action? And so what if she wants it from Inan? It’s her body, her choice. Tzain’s opinions have nothing to do with it. To turn on his only sibling, degrade her intelligence and accuse her of throwing away the revolution so that she can get laid is a cruel thing to do. I also don’t care for the debasement of sex work implicit in his insults.
Speaking of Zèlie and Inan, we’re definitely in insta-love territory with those two, as well as with Tzain and Amari, much to my chagrin. I’m also not a fan of romances that seem to occur because they’re the only available partner close in age to the protagonist: Zèlie could do a lot better than Inan, and Amari better than Tzain. I don’t see what the appeal is in the case of either boy, to be honest. The girls have taken most of the risk and done most of the hard work throughout the narrative, while the boys had to be dragged along kicking and screaming. The boys are full of self-importance and inflated egos, while the girls spend all their energy worrying about how to protect everyone else.
I guess what my real gripe here is that Children of Blood and Bone is sorely lacking in queerness, which is surprising given the degree to which the story is grounded in and focused on resisting oppressive social traditions. So far all the evidence shows that Orïsha is a cis-heteronormative patriarchy. What better way to deconstruct that than through a romance between the warrior princess and the leader of the revolution?
Zèlie and Amari have a far more interesting relationship dynamic as a potential couple than they do with their respective beaus. I’d rather Adeyemi put Amari as the political savior of Orïsha than Inan; then her romantic pairing with Zèlie would kick the thematic elements into high gear. Compared to their sisters, Inan and Tzain are weak and unfocused. Amari is a lot wiser than people give her credit for. First she calms Zèlie down and reaffirms her role as the bringer of magic, then she charms Tzain back into a good mood. And she does it all with “her back straight and shoulders back,” looking “like the true princess she is, regal in a borrowed golden dress.” Coupling her with Zèlie—a girl who is so overwhelmed about planning for what happens after their rebellion that she almost gives up out of fear of getting it wrong and making things worse—would consolidate their power into an unbreakable force.
This novel is great as is, but leaving out the queerness and letting the patriarchy run more or less unchecked leads to a lost opportunity for excellence. Maybe this is my dislike of Inan and Tzain talking, or maybe it’s my disappointment in how cis-het this book is. Or maybe it’s both. I hope the sequel, Children of Vengeance and Virtue, will critique the larger contexts surrounding the two romances.
- Baaji: Yorùbá for “badge.”
- Jimeta: a western, seaside town. Inspired by Jimeta, a city on the bank of the Benue River in Adamawa State, western Nigeria.
Love is in the air, but trouble is on the horizon. We end on a major cliffhanger, so I hope to see you back next week with chapters 61-73.
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 on Twitter and Insta, or follow along with her reading adventures on her blog.