#REVIEW: CHILDREN OF VIRTUE AND VENGEANCE, by Tomi Adeyemi

I liked, but did not quite love, Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone when I read it a couple of years ago. I am pleased and a little bit surprised to note that I stayed up much later than I wanted to last night to finish Children of Virtue and Vengeance, the sequel, and that in general I found it a much more satisfying read than the first book in the series. The first book suffered from what felt like (to me) too much recapping and too much YA-ness, for lack of a better word, and …

…well, this book is basically entirely about genocide, so, uh, it doesn’t feel nearly as YA as the previous book did. It follows the same characters, not all of whom are on the same side, and the general plot throughline of the book is you and all your friends and everyone like you should be dead vs no we shouldn’t vs a couple of people who think “you should all be dead” and “no we shouldn’t” are merely differences of opinion that can be sorted out through peace talks.

Hint: nah. And here’s the interesting thing, right? I read through some of the Goodreads reviews of this book, and there are some folks out there complaining about how some of the characters are occasionally not making the smartest of decisions, or sometimes they trust when they shouldn’t, or sometimes they’re inconsistent in how they handle things from one chapter to the next. And what’s weird about this is that those are strengths of the book for me.

These characters— every single POV character— are in enormously over their heads, and not a one of them has the slightest idea how to navigate the world they’ve found themselves in, and most of them are terrified through basically the entirety of the book, although they’re not always scared of the same things. And Children of Blood and Bone spent enough time setting up the relationships between the main characters that the fact that they’re reluctant to kill each other (while at the same time very much feeling like they might need to kill each other, to stop or win the war, depending on which character we’re talking about) that when they’re not always perfectly consistent from chapter to chapter it makes them feel like people, not like a list of character traits that the author didn’t bother to check before writing that particular chapter.

And if someone told me they didn’t like the book for precisely those reasons, I don’t know that I’d argue with them about it, but it definitely made the read more compelling for me. So adjust your expectations accordingly for how often my recommendations are in line with your own ideas about reading.

And then there’s the ending, which left me precisely suspended between “Oh, shit, that was awesome” and “Oh, fuck you, book” and I’m still kind of there? So we’ll see how Adeyemi pulls out of what she wrote herself into in the final book of the trilogy. I was looking forward to reading this, definitely, but my anticipation for the as-yet-untitled Book 3 is considerably higher than my anticipation for this one was. Check it out.

Two brief book #reviews

annihilationReviewlets, anyway.  I’ve had Jeff Vandermeer’s ANNIHILATION on my Kindle for what seems like forever– several months, at least, and I either got it at a scandalously low cost or actually for free.  One way or another, I don’t remember when I downloaded it, but I finally decided to start reading it the other day– mostly prompted by hearing some good things about the movie.

I don’t know what the hell I just read, guys.  On one hand, I blew through the thing in like two days, finishing the last 40% or so of it this morning while my son celebrated Spring Break by watching iPad videos and playing Mario Odyssey.  That’s actually a hell of a thing– reading, for me, is a very solitary activity, and the idea that I can get sucked into reading a book while there’s someone else in the room who is doing something that makes noise is pretty damned impressive.  And the weird thing is that most of the time while I was reading it I was vaguely annoyed by it.  I’m usually pretty quick to put down a book that annoys me, especially if I’m reading it on my Kindle and I don’t have to look at it staring at me from a shelf and mocking me with its unfinishedness.  There’s something just very offputting about the way this book is written that reminds me of a college lecture about Bertolt Brecht.  I know that sounds wankerish, and it probably is, but the prof (whose name I don’t remember) talking about how Brecht deliberately wrote his play (I don’t even remember the name of the play) to annoy and push away the audience really stuck with me for some reason.  I think Vandermeer wants you to feel a bit alienated by this book, which is both good and bad.  I mean, none of the characters have names, and they refer to each other only by their jobs, like “the biologist” and “the psychologist,” and if The Surveyor is talking to The Biologist, she’s going to call her that.

Also, and I feel like this is going to come off really weird, and I can’t explain it other than to hope that you’ve read the book and you understand, but all of the characters in the book are women, including the narrator, and there is nothing remotely feminine about any of them.  Which sounds like I think that Women Should Be Like This and Men Should Be Like That and isn’t the case.  It’s just … hell, the whole book is inexplicable.

Also: I watched the trailer for the movie after finishing the book and the two appear to have not a whole lot in common.  Part of me wonders if the movie is pulling in bits from the other two books in the series.  Which, despite having written this and not having much good to say about the book, I might buy anyway.

… someone, please tell me you’ve read this damn thing and know what I’m talking about.


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On the other end of things, I’ve been really excited to read Tomi Adeyemi’s CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE since I first heard about it, and I actually timed finishing the book before it to be able to start it as soon as possible once it got into my house.  I spent most of the book thinking it was supposed to be a one-shot (it’s not, it’s the first of a trilogy) and feeling simultaneously like it needed to be a bigger story and it needed to be pruned down a bit.  I like Adeyemi’s writing quite a lot and the broader story of BLOOD AND BONE, about a persecuted minority who used to have access to magic and for most of a generation has lost it, and the group of young people who are working to bring their magic back– is compelling as hell.  My problem with the book, and what made it a three-and-a-half-stars-rounded-up-to-four instead of the five-star I wanted, is that the book is just a touch too YA for my tastes. Which, y’know, it’s a YA novel, so that’s my reaction and not a flaw with the book, but the book employs four different POV narrators and has short chapters (five pages or fewer, most of the time) and so there’s an awful lot of recapping and restating and reminding the audience of the specific angst of this character as opposed to that character.  One character in particular discovers he has magical abilities he was unaware of and hates himself for it, which is great except that he has to hate himself anew for it in every one of his chapters, and it gets to be a bit much for me.

That said, the book’s unexpected ending and approach to the inevitable romantic entanglement of the characters wins it an extra star, Adeyemi’s wordcraft is solid throughout, and I want to know more about where this world is headed, so despite some reservations I’m definitely in for the second book.

tl;dr: I want you to have already read ANNIHILATION and tell me what you thought, and I want you to go read CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE despite the fact that it isn’t quite a home run for me.  The end.