Tomi Adeyemi's debut novel, Children of Blood and Bone, is 600 pages of meaty fantasy set in a world shaped by Nigerian culture. In a true display of talent, this big book reads as quickly as if it were half the size, the chapters flying by as characters and the issues they face become increasingly layered and complex. Besides the unique world she's built, Adeyemi sets herself apart by addressing themes straight from the headlines—discrimination, injustice, unrest—within the thrilling plot of an action-packed fantasy that is beautiful, dangerous, and totally absorbing.
The Amazon Books editors chose Children of Blood and Bone as one of the ten Best Books of 2018 So Far. It also topped the Young Adult list and placed in the Science Fiction and Fantasy list for best books of 2018 so far as well.
We asked Adeyemi about the genesis of her first novel and her own experience with risk taking. This piece was originally published on March 6, 2018.
Seira Wilson: What led you to write Children of Blood and Bone?
Tomi Adeyemi: I wanted to say something about the racism, injustice, and police brutality that I saw in the world around me. While my book is set in a fantasy world, I chose to tie the obstacles the characters face to things real people of color have faced or are facing today. This book was written from a place of pain for me and was a very emotional experience, but I’m glad I did it because now people can learn things about our reality as they’re experiencing the epic adventure in the story.
What aspects of Children of Blood and Bone were influenced by or taken directly from your Nigerian heritage?
My Nigerian heritage was the foundation for the world of the story, and that was really gratifying for me because I got to make magic out of my wonderful culture. The kingdom the story takes place in is named after the orïsha, the West African spirits from the Y and control fire and gave that magic to Sàngó’s worshippers. Readers will also see magic over life and death in the novel, inspired by Oya, the orïsha of cemeteries, transition, and wind. I followed this process for eight more orïsha, so that ten orïsha and ten corresponding maji clans are featured in the book.
Which orïsha’s power would you NOT want, if you had a choice?
Hmm...I think a Lighter, just because it doesn’t mesh with my personality? Lighters in this world are literal sources of light and darkness. They’re able to do really cool and beautiful things with their powers, so I would want to watch them work! But I think I would need something that could strike more physical damage. (Can you tell I like to box?)
There is so much action and adventure in the story; the characters risk so much. Are you a risk taker? What’s the scariest thing you’ve done?
Quit my job to write this book! I actually hate taking risks! Before writing this book, I had a stable, well-paying job with career opportunities that could’ve been of interest to me. But I knew I really wanted to be a writer, and I learned that nothing in life that’s worth having comes without risk. I wasn’t happy at my job, so it felt like I had no choice but to make a big move and try to change that. It wasn’t easy, but it was definitely worth it.
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