Author: Tomi Adeyemi
Published March 6, 2018 by Henry Holt Books
Genre: YA fantasy
Date finished: April 3, 2018
Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zelie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.
But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.
Now, Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.
Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers—and her growing feelings for the enemy.
My thoughts (spoiler free)
This was just the fast-paced epic fantasy quest that I needed in my life.
Seriously, this book is over 500 pages but it goes by fast. So much happened in the course of those pages, but I kept whizzing through them so it felt like it was over in the blink of an eye! Not that that’s a bad thing. On the contrary, I love it when I book grabs me and doesn’t let me go. Who doesn’t?
I listened to a couple of interviews from Tomi Adeyemi before reading this and she seems like the coolest person, which made me all the more eager to pick up this book. There’s been so much hype around it and it seems like everyone who’s read it has loved it, so naturally I was a bit nervous going in, but it lived up to my expectations. In my opinion, the hype is well deserved. Everyone should go pick up this book!
Here we have your basic quest plot – the discovery of the mission to be completed, the heroes taking up the task, the villains in pursuit, the many obstacles and setbacks. It’s a fairly straightforward plotline and it doesn’t deviate much from that outline, but it works for me. There’s a reason this story is told over and over again. There are so many possibilities and variations within this framework that there’s basically an infinite number of new stories to tell. Even though this plot doesn’t break out of the mold, it’s exciting and fast moving enough, as well as new in other ways, that it works really, really well.
(Also, if you replace “magic” with “Luke Skywalker” in the plot summary, it’s remarkably similar to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Which is my favorite Star Wars movie, so.)
Holy worldbuilding, Batman!
I’m certainly not the first person to be blown away by the world of this story, nor will I be the last. It’s incredibly imaginative and fleshed out down to the smallest details! You can clearly see that the author put such care into constructing every aspect of the world. And the story has the characters moving all over, so we get to see so many different places and how they all work within this world. It’s one of those books where I’m constantly referring to the map (which, by the way, WOW, is beautiful).
The land of Orïsha is based on West African mythology, inspired by Tomi Adeyemi’s heritage and research. It’s so cool to see a fantasy world not rooted in European mythology! I’ve seen this described as a mixture of Avater: The Last Airbender and Black Panther, which I would say is accurate. And wonderful, since those are two things that I love which both have INCREDIBLE worldbuilding.
The whole landscape is seeped in history and magic and clearly influenced by cultures that aren’t often represented in media. I loved being pulled into this world and learning about its gods and traditions and geography and everything about it through the eyes of the characters. While it was a lot to take in, it felt so rich and fleshed out that it didn’t take me long to get the hang of it.
Zélie Adebola is the center of this novel, with the most POV chapters and the most riding on her shoulders. A clear Gryffindor, she is confrontational, reckless, self-sacrificing, and incredibly brave and resilient. She has faced so much loss and pain in her life, but she remains determined to push forward even when all the odds are stacked against her. She’s just the kind of gutsy, scrappy, big-hearted hero that you love to root for. Her resolution to bring magic back and keep the people she cares about safe is wonderful to read about.
Amari, the princess of Orïsha, inarguably has the most character development over the course of this novel. Starting out as fearful and pretty helpless, she grows so much through her experiences and learns her own strength and ability. Which is just the kind of character growth I love to see!! She goes from someone I’m constantly frustrated with to someone who I really love. And her development feels natural and right, the result of the plot and not just conveniently there. I can’t wait to see how she grows more!
Tzain Adebola is Zélie’s brother and the only one of the main four who doesn’t get POV chapters, so we don’t get to see inside his head much. Still, we get to see that he is protective, a natural leader, and definitely not someone you’d want as an enemy. He loves fiercely and will do anything to protect the people he cares about. Though he himself doesn’t have magical abilities, this never seems to bother him and he more than makes up for it in his other skills.
Inan, the prince of Orïsha and Amari’s brother, is an incredibly complex character. Throughout most of the book, he is torn between loyalty for his father and the urge to turn away from his rule. Watching him waver and form relationships and try to figure out the right path was fascinating because it offered such a contrast to the other characters. Ultimately, I was satisfied with how his storyline played out.
There are so many other side characters that we meet along the way, all of whom played important roles and were memorable in their own way. King Saran was a truly terrifying villain. Clearly, I loved all of these characters and I can’t wait to see where the rest of the series takes them!
This ultimately comes down to personal taste, but for me, the writing style wasn’t my favorite. I enjoyed parts of it, but some of it just wasn’t to my taste.
The action scenes, I thought, were incredible. They were so fast-paced and tense that my eyes just flew over them – they were impossible to look away from. I actually found myself holding my breath at times. And since there were lots of action scenes, this was a huge plus! I also thought that the scenes describing Inan’s internal moral dilemmas, particularly at the beginning, were extremely well done.
Other parts of it, though, like the quieter, more character focused moments, weren’t as strong, in my opinion. I’m not a huge fan of the “new paragraph for every new thought to give the sense of tension” technique. (That’s not very well described but I don’t know how else to put it.)
I also don’t love changing first person POVs, as I mentioned in my Tropes That I’m Tired Of post. Although, my last two non-school reads (this and They Both Die at the End) have both had this, and I haven’t minded it as much in them. So maybe my opinion on that is changing. *gasp* Real life character development!
But seriously, this is practically my only complaint about the book, and it’s ultimately just about personal taste. So I’d say that’s a good sign.
In case you couldn’t already tell, I LOVED IT! This book was such a masterpiece and I could tell the love and care that went into every word. Tomi Adeyemi has said that this book was inspired by the constant news of unarmed black people killed by police officers in America; she wanted to tell a story of resistance and fighting back against injustice. I would say she succeeded beautifully. This book may take place in a fantasy world, but it has so much to say about our own world and it’s such an important story for these times. So please, if you haven’t already, go pick up this book and fall in love with it just like I did!
So how long do we have to wait until book 2?