From GoodReads: 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.
Back in January, I read The City of Brass, a fantasy based on Middle Eastern culture and folklore. My feelings were mixed – it was not the book I’d hoped for, either because of the book itself or because of the mood I was in while reading. (Still, judgement reserved, as I said then – I’ll return to it one day.) This book, a fantasy based on west African culture and folklore, was everything I wanted The City of Brass to be. The characters were well-drawn. The ethical conflict regarding magic and how it could be used to destroy or help was splendidly laid out. The world-building and magic-building were phenomenal. The integration of magic and African culture was perfect. The suspense was killer. This was the sort of book that took ten days to read because each chapter was so stressful that I had to put the book down afterwards. By the end, reading through the climax chapters, my shoulders were stiff and my heart was racing and I was gasping aloud. I almost never react to books this way. I may love them and hug them and race through them; I might sometimes cry when that rare book that deeply affects me – but I almost never get so pulled into a book that I’m drawn nearly into a panic attack while reading. It was just that good.
My favorite thing about reading fantasy is that the genre allows for exploration of modern-world conflicts on a background enough removed from our world that the exploration doesn’t feel preachy. The author’s note at the end of the book talks about the police brutality against black Americans and how that influenced and inspired this book. But because the book is set in fantasy-Africa and 99% of the characters are black, the theme is played out between who has magic and who doesn’t, who could never have magic and who could potentially develop it, who is in power and who can be brutalized in every possible way because of a random physical feature (in this case, white hair). Adeyemi presents many sides to the story – this isn’t a case of everyone on one side is innocent and everyone on the other is guilty. She lets honesty flow through, the case that people can be gentle or brutal on both sides, and that in a changing world, there are no simple answers.
I loved this book so much. Back in January, I’d read a five-chapter sneak-peek on Kindle and just couldn’t wait to get my hands on the book come March. The library wasn’t fast enough, so I finally bought an ebook version, and after I was done with that, I went ahead and ordered a physical copy. It’s possible I’ll queue it up on Audible as well, because this is definitely a book that deserves multiple readings. And the ending – let’s just say that it’s heartbreaking that it’ll be some time before the next book in the series comes out! I. Can’t. Wait.