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"Children of Blood and Bone"
Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut. Learn more
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The author creates a world where the city center is separated from the rest of London. The city is the playpen for the ambitious, the power hungry and the wannabes who are willing to trade sexual favors for advancement. In this world, that is the norm rather than the exception, and wearing (showing) sexually transmitted viruses indicates that you have ambition. Scabs supposedly makes you desirable.
The plot had me guessing, not knowing where it would go next, and sometimes it wandered off the path entirely, but strengthened later in the book when the viral terrorism began. Though the world is different, the behaviors and motivations of the people are the same as those we see around us every day. Power, money, religion, prestige, fame and jealousy are the motivators, but set in a world where sexually transmitted diseases are a fashion statement these passions come across as more than decadent, they seem sick, as sick as the people who willingly infect themselves with viruses just to look cool.
On a personal level, I found the whole idea of the culture rather distasteful, but the very yukkiness of it gives the social comment a lot of power. As well as sex, power and work place politics, the book explores what happens when proving a point of religious dogma becomes more important than ethics and issues involved in funding scientific developments.
The characters are complex and generally well-drawn, and their relationships and dialogue realistic, (though when we write it, it's better not to use quite so many filler words such as `well' and `listen'), but some of the character motivations weren't clear enough. Dee's actions seemed pretty extreme to me. I didn't understand her motivation until Alexes explained it to Kestor at the end, which I felt was a little late for the reader to get it. I may be simply slow, though. It may be obvious to others. Cherry would also have been easier to understand had the reason for her wanting to be in the city been explained earlier in the book.
The author also left important parts of the world building too late. We enter a culture where scabs, sores and rashes are cool. That's a pretty big leap from present day reality, where such things are avoided and seen as the symptoms of disease. I felt that the motivation for this behavior needed to come out more clearly early on. I could understand what appealed about the designer viruses, but until the reason why people wore the natural viruses became clear, the story sat on shaky foundations. About 3/4 of the way through, or maybe later, this was well explained, but it would have been much better had it come in the first 25%.
In general, the author expresses his ideas in confident and sometimes insightful, prose, but occasionally the sentences read like a kind of short hand due to missing prepositions and often the descriptions are long winded and the prose peppered with excessive adverbs. There are also a few too many copy errors.
The ending, though possibly unsatisfying for some, makes a statement. Despite everything the Church has done to bring down the pervading culture of decadence, the seduction of money remains and even though who oppose it are not immune. The question is, how far are you willing to go to get what you want?
This book is conceptually awesome, but a little flawed in delivery. The potential is great and I would love to see it fully realized.
I received a free copy from the author in return for an honest review. I reviewed it on behalf of the Awesome Indies.
The version I read had a few silly editing errors, but a word of concern to the author has led to the knowledge that these are being dealt with.
The timeline on the story, set in 2080, seems feasible. This is important because at first the hedonistic world she portrays seems to be a vast distance from where norms of social behaviour are today. There are always extreme deviants, individual cases, but those deviant behaviours rarely and only slowly become mainstream. But sometimes they do, and especially when as in this book they are centred on a particularly powerful subset of people. We see then, generally unacceptable social practices sometimes escaping cloistered sectors of society, such as religious establishments and `cultural' minority groups, into a wider world. For proof that such rapid changes in normal behaviour are possible we don't have to look back as far as 70 years in London's society.
Smith has brought together some interesting possible future science, none of which is too outlandish. Micro-biology and virology may well have made possible the future she has fictionally speculated for 2080, long before that real date. I find the idea of sexually transmitted diseases becoming socially sought after badges to be rather sickening, especially in the light of the terrors of AIDS and historical devastations to society caused by sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis, hepatitis and gonorrhoea. However, we all know just how far people will go in challenging their bodies for the sake of the next fashionable kick. I cannot deny the apparent plausibility of the science.
Smith has pulled together a very interesting bag of characters with familiar enough behaviours. I had no trouble in measuring them all up against people I know. Her views on big business, financially crippled public funded science, social inequalities, sexual politics, cultural divisions and human rivalries are all easily spotted today. So then, I am sure that most mature readers will find a convincing enough anchor with Smith's thinking to be drawn into her 2080.
What a shocking and shockingly good book. There is a very high level of sexual content without the script ever holding the spotlight for so long that it becomes purely pornographic. The reader with a wish for spice will have to paint in their own deviant pictures, which with the help of Smith's well-chosen prose requires little effort. Many lesser writers seem to miss this balance.
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