Children of Blood and Bone tells the story of a kingdom tarnished by a violent past and the ongoing acts of cruelty that oppress divîners (those with the potential to do magic). Yet even some of the characters who have suffered the most under this system, like Zélie, are compelled to use violence as a path to possible peace. Rulers believe they must use violence to keep violence at bay, while revolutionaries hope to overturn the violent regime with bloodshed of their own. Ultimately, Adeyemi demonstrates that imbalanced power is irrevocably tied to violence, and that violence often exists in a self-feeding cycle.
In the hardscrabble world of Orïsha, with the memory of the Raid still lingering, many characters are deeply concerned with protecting themselves and those around them at all costs. Many characters equate violence with strength, and they see violence as a path to protecting themselves from those with more power. Although she abhors violence and is scarred by violent memories, Zélie commits herself to training to fight. She practices long and hard with the staff, because she believes that the only way to be strong is to be able to hurt others who threaten her. When she feels threatened by the guards, her first impulse is to physically fight them. In contrast, Zélie judges Amari because she does not initially resemble someone capable of violence. Even though she, too, has been trained as a fighter, Amari often chooses not to commit violence or behave in a way that showcases her fighting abilities—something Zélie interprets as a weakness. King Saran is the ultimate example of someone who believes violence is a virtue and strength. Saran is obsessed with training his family to fight, because he believes that this will keep them safe. He even forces his children to hurt one another to show that they are strong, believing that experiencing and committing violence will make his children better rulers.
On a larger scale, however, such attitudes lead to widespread cycles of violence. The only way to break the violence of oppression is by committing more violence. As long as there is imbalance of power, quests for peace will likely result in more violence. The Raid itself, an incredibly violent stain on Orïsha’s past, and a stinging memory for many people, grew in part out of a desire to combat the rise of power and violence. Saran believed that he could put an end to the maji’s powerful and sometimes violent magic, but he did so by enacting widespread violence himself. Zélie, Inan, and Amari wish to create a more just kingdom by putting an end to the violence and fear that runs rampant in the country. However, throughout their quest, they leave casualties in their wake. Sometimes, as when they participate in a large gladiator-style competition to gain tools they need for the ceremony, hundreds of innocent lives are lost. They rationalize such losses because their end goal is peace. In their plan to bring peace, Zélie and her friends repeatedly commit acts of violence, a fact that leaves Zélie deeply unsettled even as she recognizes that it is the only way to overthrow the oppressive monarchy.
The history of magic in Orïsha perfectly demonstrates the way that imbalanced power gives rise to cyclical violence. After some maji began to exercise their power to gain control over those who could not do magic, even killing the king’s first family, the king believed that the only way to correct the imbalance was by killing all adult divîners. Then, in their quest to restore diviners to a better place to society, Zélie and her friends themselves leave a wake of bloodshed. Finally, even Zélie begins to question the danger of giving magical powers to others and contemplates limiting the numbers of those with magic powers. Magic, after all, has the potential for great and horrific violence. This is why some characters, including Inan and even Zélie, start to believe the only way to prevent violence is by abolishing magic altogether. The struggle over magic shows that struggles for power almost always lead to violence.
However, the novel also suggests that there are more ways to be strong than simply by committing unrestrained violence. Unconventional forms of strength may be ultimately more productive in the end. Furthermore, when violence is tempered by restraint, it becomes a more effective tool in the quest for justice than when it is used recklessly. For example, Zélie realizes that divîners derive strength from their status as a community more than their ability to commit violence. Her fears about the potential of divîners to hurt others with their magic are quelled when she sees the strength and organization in the divîner refugee camp. There, divîners heed orders, listen to one another, and use their magic with restraint. Although they use violence, it is only a last resort to protect each other and further their quest for peace. Similarly, Zélie begins to recalibrate her assessment of Amari as she gets to know the princess better. Although Amari is reluctant to fight, she uses violence when she absolutely has to. She is brave and caring, and ultimately strong enough to turn against her family in order to do what it is right. Rather than drawing strength from the ability to hurt others, Amari is strong because of her commitment to those she loves and her refusal to commit violence blindly. Although there is much bloodshed in Children of Blood and Bone, as Zélie learns, the mere ability to commit violence is not an indication of strength, nor does it provide a path to peace.
Cycles of Violence ThemeTracker
Cycles of Violence Quotes in Children of Blood and Bone
I arch my eyebrow at Amari and think back to her mention of a training accident. I assumed the scar came from her brother’s sword, but was she holding a sword, too? Despite her escape from Lagos, I can’t imagine the princess locked in battle.
Though the royal seal is etched into the clay wall, it waves in my mind like the velvet banners in Father’s throne room. After the Raid, he abolished the old seal, a gallant bull-horned lionare that always used to make me feel safe. Instead, he proclaimed that our power would be represented by the snow leopanaires: ryders who were ruthless. Pure.
After I perform the ritual and bring magic back, after Baba is safe and sound. I’ll rally a group of Grounders to sink this monstrosity into the sand. That announcer will pay for every wasted divîner life. Every noble will answer for their crimes.
I don’t know what disturbs me more: that I killed him, or that I could do it again. Strike, Amari. A thin whisper of father’s voice plays in my ears.
Zu’s tears make my own eyes prickle. Kwame’s face pinches with pain. I want to hate him for what he did to Tzain, but I can’t. I’m no better. If anything, I’m worse. If Inan hadn’t stopped me, I would’ve stabbed that masked divîner to death just to get answers.
A pit of guilt opens in my chest, tainted with the smell of burning flesh. The fires I watched from the royal palace resurface, the innocent lives burned before my young eyes. A memory I’ve pushed down like my magic, a day I longed to forget. But staring at Zélie now brings it all back: the pain. The tears. The death.
“I thought things could be different. I wanted them to be different. But after what we just saw, we have no choice. We can’t give people that kind of power.”
In that instant it hits me: Zulaikha’s death. Zélie’s screams. They don’t mean a thing to him. Because they’re maji, they’re nothing. He preaches duty before self, but his Orïsha doesn’t include them. It never has.
Binta’s voice rings loud. The sight of her blood fills my head. I can avenge her now. I can cut Father down. While the maji take out the guards, my sword can free Father of his head. Retribution for all his massacres, every poor soul he ever killed […].
Minutes stretch into hours, an eternity that drags like death. Each second that passes is another second my mind tumbles in guilt What if they’re captured? What if they die? I can’t have more people perish for this. I can’t have more blood stain my hands.
As long as we don’t have magic, they will never treat us with respect, Baba’s spirit booms. They need to know we can hit them back. If they burn our homes—I burn theirs, too.
I cannot end it like this. If I do that, I’m no better than him. Orïsha will not survive by employing his tactics. Father must be taken down, but it is too much to drive my sword through his heart—Father pulls back his blade. Momentum carries me forward. Before I can pivot, Father swings his sword around and the blade rips across my back.