Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone ends on a paradigm-shifting cliffhanger. The Crown Prince of Orïsha, Inan, saves his father, King Saran, by using his forbidden maji powers. Saran inserts a sword into his son’s gut as a reward, scorning his otherwise docile daughter, Amari, into slaying him in retaliation. Lovely family, yeah?
The main protagonist, Zélie, who spends the majority of the novel magically impotent after a brief spectacular showing as a reaper while commanding dead, channels the spilled blood of her slain father to restore magic to all divîners. This seance yields an unexpected side-effect: the spell bestows Amari, a kosidán, with a white streak of hair—the kind her fallen brother hid from his father. In other words, Zélie has restored magic not only to the divîners, but to literally all of Orïsha, including the royals! The quest to overthrow the oppressive regime continues.
Children of Virtue and Vengeance is the second of a three-part series. Because of this, I would advise to check out the content guide of the previous novel, Children of Blood and Bone, to gain further insight concerning the material in this series, especially the spiritual nature of the Yoruba pantheon of gods.
“Are you decent, Your Highness?” The oak door cracks open, and Ojore’s bearded jaw sicks through. “I’ve heard the legends of what greatness lies beneath your robes, but I fear I’m far too pure to see it for myself” (78).
Despite the pain in my side, my cousin never fails to make me grin. He laughs as I wave him over, smile bright against his dark brown skin.
As for Virtue and Vengeance, increased levels of violence accompanies the all-out war. Expect people to be burned, gassed, or bled to death from weapon wounds. During one sequence, a plague kills an entire city.
“You’d better be sneaking out to meet a girl.”
I jump at the deep voice, nearly tumbling from the windowsill. Ojore stands in my doorway, arms crossed with a sly smile on his face.
“If you are, I’ll look the other way,” he says. “You could use a nice lay.”
“Then that’s where I’m going.” I look back out at the jump. “You never saw this.”
“Oh, give me more than that.” Ojore closes the door behind him. “you’re about to risk death. At least tell me her name” (130).
A few characters enjoy a celebratory libation after sacking a key territory, and the worst word I can remember begins with a “d.”
“Must you put on a show? Khani arches her brow. Nâo grins and kisses her girlfriend’s freckled cheek.”
“Don’t pretend you don’t like to watch.” No one else speaks as Nâo closes her eyes and spreads her arms out wide. “Omi, tutú, omi mì. Omi wa bà mi—” (170).
The main element in Virtue and Vengeance that I find noteworthy is its sexual tension and playfulness. More than a few ships consummate their relationships. In one scene, a couple takes off their clothes, and the scene fades to black. The other couple fumbles during their intimate moment, and instead settles for skinny-dipping with some marine life (which, readers may remember, is a call-back to a scene in Blood and Bone). This novel even provides a girlfriend for a newly-introduced female character.
“That was incredible!” I scream. “The most amazing thing I’ve ever seen!”
Röen smiles as I yell. “That’s usually what my lovers say about me.”
I splashed water at him and he laughs, true joy crinkling his nose. It catches me off guard. He almost looks like someone else (304).
In Blood and Bone, had Zélie restored magic to only the divîners so that they would become maji, then the combined might of her people could have easily usurped the Orïshanthrone through Amari. But as its cliffhanger projects, the elite kosidán are now also armed with their own version of magic wielders—tîtàns. The result in Children of Virtue and Vengeance is an all-out civil war.
The mercenary Roën’s reports that Amari’s mother is also dead. This inspires the cast to return to Orïsha so that Amari may lay claim to her birthright as the last surviving royal, and bring peace to the land. Foiling her plans, a once-thought-dead family member assaults her self-coronation, and another haunts her dreams. Zélie’s squad then retreats, licking their wounds, in disbelief that both old and new foes stand between them and victory.
I don’t know if I’ve ever cried as hard as I do in Mama Agba’s arms…Another sob breaks free as I cling to her, terrified that if I let go, this dream will end (88).
The moment I place my head against his chest, I don’t know who weeps harder. Me, or him (238).
Even with remedial reading comprehension, one can discern the identity of at least one of those emergent villains. The identity of the other is similarly predictable, because Adeyemi retains the style of a three-character narrative delivery as seen in Blood and Bone. Likewise, many of the flaws in her previous novel remain in Virtue and Vengeance. The frequent crying is not only irritating, but also an indication that Zélie and Amari in particular have yet to grow out of their childish naiveté despite their war veterancy. This retardation of their maturity is a confounding authorial choice. Zélie hates Amari at the beginning of Blood and Bone, and despite her contributions, including killing her own father, Zélie still loathes Amari.
Even though Zélie herself fell in love with Inan, Amari is guilty by association for the deaths that her family line brings. The more maji fall during the Orïsha civil war, the more Zélie despises Amari. This drama between them becomes even more ridiculous as Amari grows closer with Tzaim, to Zélie’s dismay.
A wise woman once told me that indecisiveness is not sexy in a man; I believe it to be unattractive in women, too. The passivity of the maji revolutionaries—the Iyika—frustrates, and makes the Virtue and Vengence feel longer than it actually is. At least this dysfunction drives Amari to do something. Thankfully, she and another character independently choose to take action so that I can read about something besides tears and deliberation.
Where Virtue and Vengeance shines most is through its exhibition of magic. Fans salivating at the list of the ten maji clans at the beginning of Adeyemi’s novels will not find this novel’s magical showcase disappointing. The number of Yoruba incantations in this novel is both bewitching and vexing; I have to remind myself that if these spells were in Latin or fabricated gibberish, I would accept them as normal. Adeyemi’s expression of the Dark Fantastic through the Yoruba pantheon still has that new smell, and readers will have to adjust what they have come to expect from high fantasy accordingly.
Because of the increase in action and magic as well as further revelations concerning the history of the conflict between the divîners and kosidán, I do find Children of Virtue and Vengeance an improvement over Children of Blood and Bone. As this text is the second part of a trilogy, it expectantly ends on a cliffhanger, yet it is far more satisfying than the previous novel as agents here are less passive. My relief might be attributed to my detachment from these characters. I will stick around for the third and final to see who, if anyone, ascends the Orïsha throne.
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+ More Magic! + Roën mans-up + Amari stops acting like a punk + Someone finally "gets a room already"
- MORE teen drama! - Moustache-twirling villainy - MORE predictable star-crossing - Zélie still has not used her staff
The Bottom Line
An incremental improvement from her first novel, Children of Virtue and Vengeance is an indication of the potential for black fantasy, though I am not completely sold.