This post is again about Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood & Bone. Unlike last month’s post, there’s going to be quite a few spoilers. Proceed with caution.
Have you ever read a book where two characters become friends or fall in love or whatever, and then things go wrong, and they’re surprised to find the other person doesn’t share their point of view? Then there’s the betrayal, and anger, maybe some literal or metaphorical fighting, et cetera, and you can’t help but think what did you expect? You literally just met.
How about this. Have you ever read a book where you think this sort of thing doesn’t happen in the real world, and the book feels a little bit more like it’s about a philosophy than an actual story?
It may look like I love to hate on books when I do these reading reflections, that I enjoy picking out what’s wrong with a book rather than look at what’s right about it. That’s not true in the slightest. Some books, I really enjoy reading, and I use these posts as an opportunity to look at what could have made it better (or perhaps even “what made it so good in the first place.”). Other books… I mean, you want to like them, you really do. I wanted to like Children of Blood & Bone when I first picked it up.
The thing is, when I write, I do it for the same reasons that Tomi Adeyemi writes. Books are a powerful thing. They can change the minds of readers, make them more understanding, more empathetic. For writers like us, it’s less about telling a story and more about using points of view to make a point. But novels are still stories. They must still have a plot. And I’m the kind of reader who wants a realistic novel. That’s why my own story hasn’t been sent to the publishers yet. It was full of philosophy and a little empty on story. I’ve had to revise it countless times while I tried to figure out how I could still hit all the plot points I needed to without making it contrived.
Oh boy was Children of Blood and Bone built off of contrivance. Inan was the son of an abusive father, the prince of a tyrant king. He hated Zélie because she was the embodiment of the magic his father had killed. When he discovers he has developed an ability to wield magic, he becomes both afraid for his life and disgusted by it. Those chapters were difficult to read because they were full of self-loathing, but it was almost better than the chapters following his meeting with Zélie, because his abilities allow him to read people’s minds, and when he reads Zélie’s, he learns of all her hurts and pains, knows everything about her, and suddenly he feels sorry for her and angry at the world for hurting her, blah blah blah.
Look, wouldn’t it be lovely if people became so kind and thoughtful when they learned about other people’s suffering? But that never happens, especially not by people like Inan, who hurt his own sister to make his father proud. After trying to live through his father’s anger for so long, he’s got a survivor’s instinct. It’s displayed most believably during Zélie’s torture scene, when he fears she’s about to make him angry, but the effects of his father’s anger is clear throughout. I guarantee you that no amount of pain on Zélie’s part would change that. Rather, he would likely point out the awful things he had to suffer through by his father’s hand, and it would become a competition about who has suffered the most. Don’t believe me? Read Shakespeare’s Richard III. There’s a scene where the three major female characters of the play all get up in arms and try to out-tragedy the others. That’s what really happens when people start talking about their own pains.
Instead, we get the most cringe-worthy romance I have ever read. Because Inan can read Zélie’s mind, he falls head over heels for her, and because Inan suddenly has hopes and dreams about making the world safe for maji like Zélie, she falls head over heels for him. I saw the romance from five miles away, and that didn’t make it any easier to bear. (If you want to know what a proper mind-reader/non-mind-reader romance looks like, read Graceling by Kristin Cashore.)
Anyway, Inan ends up being the sort of figurehead for the themes of the book about brutality against a minority population, racial slurs, and so forth. Inan comes from the majority culture, and initial loathes the minorities because it’s what he’s grown up believing. Yes, a person can shed that sort of limitation, but it doesn’t happen suddenly. It doesn’t happen just because they learn of the minority group’s pain. The problem usually isn’t that the racist majority doesn’t realize the minority are in pain; the problem is usually that they just don’t care, or that they find ways to blame the minority culture for their own problems (which, to be fair, Inan did to a certain extent, but it was a bit hard to believe he actually thought this way when he was making heart-eyes at Zélie). So it wasn’t that I was surprised when Inan turned against them in the end. I was really just surprised that he turned towards them in the first place, or that he held onto their beliefs for so long.
So, in sum, sorry if you liked this book. Feel free to tell me in the comments that I just don’t know what I’m talking about, or whatever. It won’t change my mind. This book, I think, could have been something better, and I just don’t think it was given a proper chance.