The Book of Phoenix and Children of Blood and Bone

Remember that snow day in the middle of the week in DC last month? Well, I devoured Children of Blood and Bone that day. Seemed fitting.

I told y’all that without Mama Butler, there would be no Nnedi Okorafor. Well, thank God for Mama Butler, because Okorafor is so much yes. Since Mutha Butler, there have been several Black female sci-fi writers, and I would put Okorafor at the front of the pack. But, not just her. Another young Black sci-fi writer made her debut last month, and may have been the first to do so with the expectation of the reading world (and a movie deal already penned to boot!); Temi Adeyemi released her first novel, Children of Blood and Bone to both avid anticipation and rave reviews.

Hot off the heels of my Butler deep dive, it seemed only right that I read the progeny for whom Mama Butler set the stage. First was Book of Phoenix (Okorafor), which follows an engineered human living in the research facility where she was created and is currently the subject of research and experiments. Unlike the vast majority of sci-fi works, the majority of the characters of Black. What’s more, the parallels that are drawn between the plight of the research subjects and the colonized/darker people of the world feels natural and obvious as opposed to heavy-handed or even crass, as it so often can in sci-fi (think Planet of the Apes or Netflix’s Bright).

Okorafor’s work is also very accessible. The language is straight-forward and the length is perfect for young adults or those who don’t have a lot of time for reading. I noticed the same of Children of Blood and Bone (though it’s longer than Book of Phoenix). I wonder if this is a trend in sci-fi, to target a young adult crowd? Or maybe it’s a trend among Black sci-fi writers…do Black adults read sci-fi? I guess publishers may have the same question. Oh, I don’t know, this is all speculation. What I do know is that I think the hype for Children of Blood and Bone was justified. The book was great in the way that Harry Potter was great. It follows a young woman, born in a mythical land fashioned out of the building blocks of Western Africa, who seeks to restore the power of the Magi, while the ruling family seeks to destroy that magic forever. I knew, as the book progressed, that it would be the first in a series; but I didn’t feel, at the end, that I was robbed of something in anticipation of the next $23.99 I would spend on Book Two. There was obviously much research and care invested in creating the world and the characters here, and it paid off.

As for Book of Phoenix, I appreciated what Okorafor did, though I will say that I wasn’t engaged as I hoped to be in such a short book. The story was interesting enough, but I think that some of the characters were flat. I’ll repeat my oft-cited criticism here—characters must drive the circumstances of the plot, rather than be driven by the circumstances. Writing is so much more effective when a reader can understand a situation based on the characters involved. Yet, so many writers seem to dream up scenarios, then drop in characters. Every person does not behave the same in the same set of circumstances, and the feat of writing is to have the reader understand and empathize with characters’ decisions and outcomes, even where they would have done differently. Some of this sentiment is missing in Book of Phoenix, and at times, the story feels as if you could drop in most any different personality for the same results. Then again, in a book of this length it is difficult to nail down a character and develop that character’s individuality past a certain point.

Both Children of Blood and Bone and Book of Phoenix are engaging stories. Children of Blood and Bone benefits more from the more extensive character development and more in-depth scene-setting. Book of Phoenix is a shorter, but more serious read. Both are good reads for sci-fi lovers, and Children of Blood and Bone is a great read for just about any young adult who likes to read.

-Dij

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