“I teach you to be warriors in the garden so you will never be gardeners in the war.”
They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.
Now we rise.
Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.
But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were 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 an enemy.
CW: loss of a loved one, violence, implied domestic abuse, graphic injury, torture, genocide
It seems like the universe was conspiring to prevent me from reading this book, but AT LAST. I HAVE DONE IT. Even a lost package in the mail couldn’t stop me, and some 500-odd pages and nobody-needs-to-know weeks later, I’m so glad I’ve gotten the chance to read this.
For those of you who haven’t read CoBaB (admittedly, sometimes I feel like that’s basically no one at this point, given the hype), it follows Zélie Adebola, her brother Tzain, and Princess Amari as they face a new reality: one where the powers of the maji are returning, and one that requires them to race against the clock to secure that return. Along the way, Amari’s brother, Prince Inan, becomes interlaced with the group’s plans, serving as the hand of the king in preventing those plans from coming to fruition. And on top of all that, the book explores issues of class in a way that feels analogous to real-world issues of race, diving into matters of oppression and resistance. In her author’s note, Tomi talks about the impact that racial violence, especially police violence, had on her while she was writing CoBaB, so these analogies have real weight behind them.
CoBaB also draws on Western African culture, particularly Yoruba sources, and the way it all comes together creates a lively magic system divided into distinct and fascinating parts. It’s a system that often passes a type of magic down from mother to daughter (though not always; sons may become maji, and sometimes the parent’s magic is not the same type of magic the child will have), and it includes elemental magic as well as more ephemeral magics. Think fire and water magic versus magic of health or sickness and magic related to the mind and dreams.
Getting more into specifics, I really loved both Zélie and Amari. Zélie is headstrong and a little impulsive, which causes trouble more often than not, but she’s also determined to protect the people she loves, and I am ALWAYS a total sucker for protector characters. Not to mention she fights with a really stinkin’ cool staff that I’m ALSO in love with, but that’s just me being a certified staff bi. As for Amari, she initially comes off as soft and weak, but given the circumstances of her relationship with her father, and the choices she makes going forward, the fact that she pushes forward at all, I really came to love her by the novel’s end. She may not be rough and tumble and ready to fight in the same way Zélie is, but she has her own strengths, and she doesn’t back down in the face of a challenge.
Plus, I actually liked Amari’s romance. I’ve seen some people complain it’s very instalove and shallow on the character development side, but to me, it seemed like she chanced some flirting, and the end result is a soft, protective relationship. Frankly, I like those better than the combative, angry, could-turn-on-a-dime relationships.
And that’s where the half star off comes in, because I couldn’t stand Zélie’s romance. For a character so determined to protect her loved ones, to be strong and to defy the odds and to fight back against the oppression heaped on the maji, I still cannot stomach the relationship she ended up with. The fact that she went from ready to fight him to “oh no, he’s a good guy at heart” made me incredibly uneasy, and the fact that he could view her memories, particularly the traumatic ones, without necessarily getting her permission (and that he kind of waffled between “I understand her so well!” and “I can never understand her really…”) just didn’t sit right with me. It wasn’t a romance I could see working out so much as one I wanted Zélie to leave behind for her own sake. She can do better. She deserves better too, I think.
But hey, I’ll still read Children of Vengeance and Virtue when it comes out, because I’m soooooo eager to see where it goes! If CoBaB is about resistance and revolution, the ending makes me believe that CoVaV is going to center more closely on the hard work that follows, the “now what” stage when change has started, but it isn’t yet finished. I’m not exactly sure how this could shake out as a trilogy (in my head, it feels like this could be a two-book sort of affair, but hopefully that just means we’re going to get some incredible plot twists in CoVaV), but I’ll definitely be there for it.
Plus, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like the big cats they all ride. Zélie’s lionaire, Nailah, has bull horns and that protective cat instinct, and I love her a lot. A LOT.
I don’t care if it’s considered Mary-Sueish or whatever. Give me more giant fantasy cats. Please, publishing, I’m begging you.
So, have you read CoBaB yet? If you have, what did you think? Is there a particular maji clan you think has the coolest magic? And if you haven’t read it yet, do you think you will? Either way, let’s chat!