Rating: 2/5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, YA
First published: 2018
Author: Tomi Adeyemi
Synopsis: 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.
Before I get into this review, a disclaimer of sorts. I wrote a discussion about this a while back, if you’re interested, but here are the cliffnotes. In my opinion, this book suffers from what I call diversity hype syndrome: where a book is hyped for no other reason than being diverse. This is something that I don’t like at all. Diverse books should still strive to be good books. And I am convinced that if this book were about a bunch of white people, most people would have found it mediocre at best.
That said, let’s talk about the book itself. I was excited about it. It had great potential, terrible execution. The underlying themes, so very relevant and important could have made this a powerful book. West African mythology and culture? How cool, right? Sadly, it just fell flat.
Don’t even know where to begin. What I found most enjoyable was the setting. It was different from what most fantasy settings are like. It had a very strong Avatar: The Last Airbender vibe to it, which I thought was a bit too much. I thought it more than just toed the line between inspiration and imitation. The hybrid animals, the statues on the solstice… if you’ve seen TLA, you can’t miss these things and it’s a bit much. But it was still the most enjoyable aspect of the book. The magic was a bit vague, I still don’t really know how it works, but there was potential there for a cool magic system.
The story was a bit boring and cliche. Nothing new, nothing too excited, the ending was somewhat unpredictable though again… it was a little much. Because nothing that had happened before really led up to it, so it just felt like it was there for shock value. Overall, the plot was just… meh.
And that brings us to the worst part. The characters. With 2 exceptions, I hated or at most was indifferent to all of them. I liked one little girl whose name I can’t remember and who wasn’t in it for long and one guy whose name I can’t remember, who showed up towards the end. So you can imagine how much I disliked or didn’t care about these characters if I can’t even remember the names of the two characters I liked.
The four main characters were stupid, immature, whiny and obnoxious. I wanted to punch Zelie in the face every other page. She was stupid, impulsive, never thought about the consequences, thought she was always right and she was the most judgmental and hateful character. I know she’s meant to have been through a lot. But the book failed to make me care, basically. She didn’t come across as someone traumatised by oppression and an awful past. She just came across as a selfish, hateful child.
Amari was just… kind of tedious and insipid. I don’t have much to say about her besides that she was boring, uni-dimensional and just sort of… there.
Inan was inconsistent. He was meant to have this inner turmoil, existential crisis kind of thing going. But it was done so poorly that he just came across as mentally unstable.
Tzain was overbearing, self-righteous and just all around annoying. Also, kind of pointless to the whole plot? Like, I can’t think of anything that he actually did that made a difference to the story?
I won’t even get into the mess that the romances were because I could rant forever. I will limit myself to two words: insta-love. All the other relationships were kind of insta as well. Which is why I didn’t care about the friendships either. They just didn’t seem believable. These characters went from being mortal enemies to being bosom friends in like 3 days.
Overall, this book was just… not good. I’m not sure it deserved the two stars I gave it, but I guess even I’m not entirely immune to the diversity hype syndrome. It was not a good book at all, but it could have been. And I’m sad that it wasn’t. We don’t only need diverse books, we need good diverse books.