As promised by the cliffhanger ending of Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi is back in the second book of her hit YA Legacy of Orïsha series. The sequel, Children of Virtue and Vengeance, picks up one month after the world-changing events of the first book. After overturning the status quo, the sequel delivers more of what made the first book so successful with its young adult target market. For those who have not read the first book and are interested in this series this review will contain some mild spoilers.
Zélie has managed to bring magic back to the Kingdom of Orïsha but at great and traumatic personal cost. Her father is dead as, it seems, is her frenemy Prince Inan who ended up betraying her. And while she has been successful in returning magic to the common people who can be recognised by their white hair, the spell has also given magic back to members of the aristocracy who now have a white streak in their hair. So rather than redressing the existing power imbalance in her country where the magic users (or maji) were reviled, a new, magic-fuelled imbalance has arisen. Her comrade, former princess Amari, who now also has magic abilities, believes she can heal this rift and become a queen who unites all of the people. But her first major speech to the people is disrupted by her mother Queen Nehanda (who turns out to be as black a villain as her dead husband) who’s aim is to use the new power of the ruling class to finally put an end to the maji.
The stage is then set for huge set piece magic battles as the two sides dig in against each other. Each time it feels like some progress will be made towards peace, the weight of historical animosity comes to the fore and the battle intensifies another notch. These battles keep getting bigger, the range of magical powers (power over air, water, fire, earth, spirits etc) give this volume even more of a Last Airbender/Legend of Korra feel than the previous volume. But the magic-fuelled battles are epic and well handled by Adeyemi.
While it once again wears its YA fantasy influences on its sleeve, this series stands apart due to its well realised African setting. Much like Tade Thompson’s recent Wormwood trilogy, Adeyemi does more than just locate the action in an alternative Africa. She uses the continent’s often bloody colonial history as the basis and template for her fantasy world. She uses this world to explore the often violent imbalance between rich and poor and, in particular, the pervasive nature of cycles of violence. When this book opens it is the newly awakened maji who have turned to violence to take their resentment out on the aristocracy. After that each step is just another escalation of historical grievances leaving plenty of bodies on both sides.
But this is still a YA book where the main characters are teenagers. This means that much of the action is driven by young people having to step up and make hard decisions. There is plenty here about loyalty to your friends, to your tribe, to your people. This is particularly the case for royal Amari who tries to find her place among the maji but also to follow her greater vision of ruling a united Orïsha. Her boyfriend, and Zélie’s brother Tzain, is particularly torn between his sister’s quest for revenge and Amari’s sometimes questionable methods for achieving peace. Zélie herself, still hurting from her relationship with Inan, also finds herself a roguish Han Solo-esque new love interest just to complicate matters a little further.
Children of Virtue and Vengeance continues to flesh out and test the limits of Adeyemi’s world anchored by engagingly flawed characters and plenty of thrilling moments, huge battles and major revelations. But after all that, there is little resolution here. This is the second book of a trilogy and given the first book ended on a cliffhanger that upended the world it is no surprise that this book does too in a way that will leave fans hanging for the final instalment.