Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi (Fantasy Novel, 2019).
Children of Virtue and Vengeance is the immediate sequel to Tomi Adeyemi’s debut novel, which won the 2019 Hugo Award for the Best Young Adult novel and was a New York Times #1 best-seller. I should mention first-off that I haven’t read that previous book, Children of Blood and Bone. i would advise picking up a copy of that one first, though diving in Virtue and Vengeance I was soon up to speed as to the plot and, in time, the main characters.
Oriska is a strife-torn nation in an alternative version of west Africa, based on our Nigeria and surrounding regions. The Maji are a repressed people whose ten clans practice various forms of powerful magic; many of the non-magical people of Oriska are suspicious of those with these extraordinary powers and the royal family is particularly hostile to them. The level of brutal prejudice against the Maji is reflected in the way others routinely call them ‘maggots.’
A vicious campaign, referred to as The Raid, killed off most Maji leaders (including the mother of one of the book’s central characters) and somehow stripped away their magical protections. Zelie is a young Maji woman of the Reaper Clan. In the first novel she struck up a pair of unlikely yet potent relationships with a pair of equally youthful royals: Princess Amari and her brother Prince Inan. The ruthless King (and father of Amari and Inan) is killed by Zelie and a ritual brings magical powers back to the surviving Maji. In an unexpected twist, a number of the noble families (whose ancestors apparently intermarried with the Maji long ago) likewise gained strange new abilities–only they have no experience in controlling their new-found powers. And Inan betrays Zelie, causing the death of the young Maji’s last surviving parent.
The second book open with the country on the verge of civil war. The widowed queen sucks her conflicted and weak son into taking the throne and continuing his late father’s brutal policies. Meanwhile, Zelie and Amari join and eventually become leaders of a Maji resistance movement. Oriska suffers violent clashes and outright atrocities, shifting loyalties and multiple betrayals. All three of the young characters take turns narrating chapters from their own evolving points of view and there is plenty of emotional turmoil for each of them, as well as the people around them.
The profound friendship between Amari and Zelie proves the one dependable constant throughout the novel, despite being tested repeatedly by the murderous circumstances surrounding them and their own missteps. Without revealing the details, by the end of this middle book in the trilogy it seems the rebels, led by these two women, have triumphed. Inan doesn’t exactly switch sides, but is willing to accept the inevitable.
But then a final chapter changes everything, when the intervention of an unidentified new threat puts everything into question. The point, of course, is setting up the concluding third volume in the series. But the incomplete feel of it all I found disappointing. Cliffhangers are all fine and good, but I would’ve preferred a bit more information as to who or what has spirited away the three central characters.
Nonetheless, this is a mostly compelling middle book in Adeyemi’s Legacy of Oriska Trilogy.