I don’t know if I’ve ever been more saddened and frustrated while reading a book. Maybe saddened isn’t the right word to describe my feelings… melancholy might be better. Children of Virtue and Vengeance was a rough ride for each and every character; it felt like they would finally reach a breakthrough in their fight to bring peace and justice to the maji, only to be pushed back several steps by each other’s actions. This was not an easy read, and I even felt bitter while reading it. I’m NOT saying this was a bad book by any means… it was still beautifully written with such vivid descriptions. However, towards the middle of the book I became exasperated with Zélie, Amari, and Inan, and how they constantly fought against each other when they all ultimately wanted the same thing. Though, as frustrated as I was, I knew there was gravity to their actions, and I think the point of the novel was to make the readers feel as hopeless as the main characters.
At the beginning, I was very excited to see that Inan was alive. His story definitely came to an odd end during Children of Blood and Bone. I actually enjoyed Inan’s character development more during this book, but I was frustrated that he kept pushing the metaphorical boulder up the hill only for it to fall back down on him throughout the story (like my Sisyphus reference?). We all know he truly meant to be a better ruler than his father, and he wanted to put an end to the hatred fueling this war. However, every single time he tried to do something good, something equally bad had to happen at the exact same time that negated his actions, or that made him look like the bad guy again. I honestly kept wondering if it would just serve the story better to have him die off, because he truly wasn’t getting anywhere with the maji or Zélie.
Speaking of which, Zélie totally ticked me off during this book. The whole tension triangle between her, Amari, and Inan drove me insane. They all wanted the exact same thing in the end, which was freedom for the maji. I get it… she was hurt badly by Inan. Several times. Her pain shouldn’t be dismissed. But couldn’t she see that it was never his intent to hurt her? I know she blames the death of Baba on him, but he truly believed his father wouldn’t hurt Baba. I guess Baba’s death could be traced back to Inan, but the remorse he feels is genuine… and sadly, only us readers know this. He always acted with good intentions, even if those acts sometimes brought pain to Zélie. And she would constantly lash out at Amari for things she knew were never Amari’s fault! Amari shouldn’t be held accountable for her parents’ actions, yet it felt like Zélie would continue to put the blame on her even though she knew better. Amari and Inan were only trying to rectify the situation in ways they didn’t know how to, but everyone still thought justice would be served only when Amari and Inan were dead. Her anger and rage made her more fearful and vengeful… which I don’t think was ever the solution.
Poor Amari got the short end of the stick during this book, and it truly pissed me off to watch Zélie and the other maji hate on her for things outside of her power. She wanted peace from the start, and she was the only person who knew Inan acted with good intentions at heart. Yet every single time she suggested anything, the maji tore her head off. She even killed her own father… what more did she need to prove that she didn’t condone his actions? When Mama Agba took her aside to finally let her talk, I was so relieved that someone out there knew Amari fought the good fight. I actually felt like a weight had been lifted off my own shoulders, because Mama Agba was the only person who treated Amari like a human. And yeah, she made some pretty shitty choices on occasion, but it was only because she thought she had exhausted all other options. She was trying her hardest to staunch the blood flow and suffering.
I had a bad feeling about Nehanda, Amari and Inan’s mother… she was too powerful and too blasé with the death and destruction of so many people. Turns out she was the worst of them the whole time, after she twisted the maji’s image in the name of power. I still don’t trust her, and to be honest, there were ample times for either Inan or Amari to kill her… they should have just done it, knowing what a bad person she is. I also do not trust Roen… I know Zélie has feelings for him and often feels like he understands her pain. But he continually acts with his own interests front and center, AND he was working with Nehanda as a spy. I kept waiting for him to be exposed, but it never came to fruition… making me think that it will happen in the next book. He was the last person Zélie saw before she woke up on the ship at the very end, so he’s pretty suspicious to me. I know Zélie thought it was Inan, but I don’t think so… we shall have to see.
Once again, the social justice theme played a huge roll in this book, making me think long and hard about our own society. Like Mama Agba said, what is “right” and what is “wrong”, or “good” or “bad” for that matter, is very difficult to draw boundaries on, especially where pain and suffering have occurred. Right and wrong ideals are much too beholden to the individual; there’s often too much grey area around what can generally be classified as good or bad. For example, Amari was going to sacrifice the entire village of Ibadan to end the war, plus her mother, Inan, and Zélie… and she knew that she would forever be responsible for those deaths. Was that wrong of her, when she truly felt she had no other option? And Zélie at the very end of the novel, fighting her way into the palace and sucking the life force out of the hundreds of royal soldiers? Was either action better than the other, when countless deaths were involved? Sigh… I’ll leave you with that sip of rhetorical tea for now.