Freedom of creation and imagination as well as telling our own stories, African stories by African writers, can shape a different mentality for young adults in the continent. Through fiction, fantasy Tomi Adeyemi, a Nigerian-American novelist, comes into her own in Children of Blood and Bone the first in the Legacy of Orisha trilogy. The second of her trilogy was released in December 2019, Children of Virtue and Vengeance. She is following footsteps of other Afrofuturism writers and opens a magical world as she takes us to Orisha.
There was an article that said, there is a Nigerian who has more influence that Burna Boy, Davido and Wizkid and, her name is Tomi Adeyemi. This caught my attention and I went on to read the article. The writer introduced Tomi Adeyemi who has recently garnered so much praise from her New York Times # 1 hit Children of Blood and Bone. The story talked of her being listed as one of 100 most influential people of 2020 according to Time Magazine, the list which none of the afore mentioned music powerhouse are yet to grace. The article concluded that, of course Tomi Adeyemi is not more famous that Burna Boy, Davido and Wizkid.
In Children of Blood and Bone published in 2018 to tremendous success, Tomi introduces a fictional country in West Africa called Orisha. The main character is Zelie, she is a sixteen years old girl who has never known Orisha to be the land of magic but does know it used to be one. Unfortunately, the evil King made it his mission to eradicate magic from the land of Orisha, and Zelie’s own mother was brutally murdered Infront of her for possessing magical powers. It is this this anguish, curiosity and sense of vengeance that takes Zelie in a riveting adventure that is captured in an easy to read format told in first person and narrated through three key characters. Through the mentorship of Mama Agba, the young girls who are outcasts have an opportunity to learn how to control and use their powers. Mama Agba a kosidan, an Orishan diviners who is the nurturer/trainer of the girls born of fallen majis. Mama Agba teaches Zelie, our main characters that, “...When your enemy has no honor, you have to fight in different ways, smarter ways”. Being under the cruel leadership of a militant king Saran. Being the king of Orisha, the father of Princess Amari and Prince Inan, King Karan, destroyed magic and killed “maji” during the raid after he knew they were vulnerable without magic.
The writer is adventurous in exploring power structures and conflicts between groups in the community and most importantly, the book has women in positions of influence as change makers. In Orisha, the magical powers only become active only once the one who has possessed such power become of a certain age. Her inspiration and introduction to West African Mythology and Culture came from her fellowship in Salvador, Brazil and that experience launched her career.
As you read the book, just on the first few pages, you notice how the writer has manage to weave current affairs and struggles in the story using characters who through their own experience makes the reader reflect on our world today. The writer shows how class and privilege are blind. For instance, when Amari, the princess, said that her father killed her best friend Zelie questions her, “Your best friend or your slave, do your best friend cook food and press your cloths without pay?”
As a reader, you fall in love with characters, then you hate them, a few pages later you get to understand them, and eventually you forgive them as the plotline unveils or you hope they burn in hell. The writer carefully keeps hope alive through Zelie, a diviner, our main character who fights to control her anger and fights to live another day as she grows stronger under the tutelage of Mama Agba. Zelie possess a certain type of power that can bring back magic to the land of Orisha.
Throughout the pages, the writer reminded me of the Marvel Cinematic blockbuster, Black Panther. Women are not on the sidelines watching destruction in their community, women are the force that fights smart and organized, with a lot to protect and fight for reminding me of the Dola Milage, an all-female army in Black Panther.
Tomi Adeyemi shows the brilliance of a seasoned writer by having complex characters with layers upon layers of ‘skin’ for lack of a better word, like an onion, you peel one layer only to find another one. Through the life of our main character, the writer digs deep into issues such as childhood trauma, since she witnessed her mother who was maji, brutally killed. Abuse of power is shown through the tyranny of the King, bloodshed, and miscarriage of justice by the king’s soldiers are common throughout the book.
Although Orisha is a fictional kingdom, the pain and challenges that are faced by the community in the book are real. Police brutality, abuse of power and politics of division are far too common in our societies today for the reader to not notice the struggles faced by characters in the book. What is happening among minority groups and African Americans is vivid in the pages of the book. The persecution of majis feels like the reader is holding a mirror through which we can see the Black lives matter movement.
Staying true to her roots, the writer makes Yoruba language, the language of the gods. Yoruba language, a dialect in modern Nigeria, is used as the language of the ancestors that can summon the divine and shower the powers of magic. Mama Agba and Zelie, represent our heroic African mothers and daughters, our warriors. As is in the book, African women built strong family structures upon which current and future generations will stand. They refuse to be victims and fight to create a better world for their children.
This book tells us the story of a struggle in Orisha, story of hope, a story of restoration, our story. As James Baldwin said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced”.