The tension between responsibility to family and being true to oneself runs through Children of Blood and Bone. Connections between family members are undoubtedly some of the strongest in the novel. At the same time, blind commitment to family can get in the way of a personal sense of right and wrong. Ultimately, learning when to prioritize personal belief over duty to blood family is one of the most important lessons for characters in the book. For example, the young adults in Children of Blood and Bone slowly come to learn that they must prioritize their own needs alongside—and sometimes over—those of their families. Commitment to family should not overshadow the need to protect and fight for oneself.
Because they have lost so much, Zélie’s family members prioritize protecting one another at all costs. Zélie is plagued by fear that she’s letting her family members down and believes that she is a failure because of this self-critical voice. As a result, she constantly loses faith in herself and believes that she is not capable, when in reality she is extremely strong and resourceful. In contrast, Inan and Amari’s father, King Saran, demands absolute loyalty—a call that Inan has taken to heart. Inan puts aside his own desires and concerns to fulfill his father’s endless demands, becoming a soldier and committing atrocities that he feels sick about in order to remain loyal to his father. Inan also suppresses the magic he feels growing within him in order to please his father, but doing so slowly poisons him. Both Zélie and Inan demonstrate that fixation on being faithful to family over protecting and advocating for oneself can be harmful.
Similarly, at many points in the book, characters have to choose between doing what they personally know to be right and doing what they believe their family members wish them to do. Their actions demonstrate that commitment to family should not overshadow a personal sense of right and wrong. After Zélie angers the guards, she believes that she has let her family down and must try to do what they would think best from then on. When a desperate Amari asks Zélie for help escaping, Zélie hesitates, even though she personally believes that she has a responsibility to help those who clearly need it. Even as she imagines her father’s disappointment, Zélie wisely decides to follow her own morals. Zélie decides to help Amari even though she knows it will hurt her family, because she believes she has a bigger responsibility—to do what is morally right. In addition, Amari realizes that she has been letting her connection to her family cloud her sense of right and wrong when she sees her father kill her friend Binta, a divîner. Amari realizes that there is no justification for such violence, even when committed by a close family member. Trusting her own integrity, she immediately leaves the palace and begins a quest to avenge Binta. As they travel across the country of Orïsha, both Amari and Inan slowly realize the horrors that their father, King Saran, has committed. They see divîners suffering under the harsh economic conditions he has imposed and hear stories of faiths and families ripped apart by the violent Raid. Although they both struggle to turn against their family, the siblings soon realize that the suffering they see in the kingdom far outweighs the loyalty they once felt to their father. They begin to work against King Saran, choosing to follow their consciousnesses rather than bending to their father’s will.
In addition to demonstrating why it may sometimes be necessary to question or go against the wishes of family, Adeyemi shows that forging new families outside of the limits of blood can be healthier than blind commitment to literal relatives. By building new bonds, characters are able to form strong connections with one another while still prioritizing their own senses of right and wrong. In this way, the characters become stronger. For example, it is only after teaming up to save both of their siblings that Zélie and Inan are able to succeed. Even though their families would reject the alliance, Zélie and Inan understand that teaming up makes them more powerful. Indeed, the new alliance allows them to begin to understand each other more fully, and form a deep connection that would have been impossible if they stayed within the confines their families demanded of them. In addition to becoming closer to Zélie, as Inan moves away from his father’s harsh demands, he begins to see how he could find a new family among other divîners. By rejecting his father and allowing Zélie to help him embrace his identity as a maji, Inan begins to harness his power and understand more about the world. The divîner community itself exists outside the confines of family ties, but is very strong because it consists of a group of people who are committed to helping one another and fighting for what they believe is right while maintaining individual integrity.
Even as it celebrates the strong bonds of family, Children of Blood and Bone pushes back against the idea that connections based on blood alone are the most important factor in any decision. Instead, Adeyemi demonstrates the dangers of prioritizing family over self-worth, the wisdom of acting based on morality rather than family obligation, and the power of choosing new families not necessarily based on blood.
Duty to Family vs. Self ThemeTracker
Duty to Family vs. Self 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.
Growing up, Father led me to believe that those who clung to the myth of the gods were weak. They relied on beings they could never see, dedicating their lives to faceless entities.
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.
“Those are Father’s words, Inan. His decisions. Not yours. We are our own people. We make our own choices.”
“But he’s right. Inan’s voice cracks. “If we don’t stop magic, Orïsha will fall.”
Zélie’s memories don’t hold the villains Father always warned of. Only families he tore apart. Duty before self. His creed rings through my ears. My father. Her king. The harbinger of all this suffering.
This pawn was the only piece I managed to salvage. Shame ripples through me as I stare at the tarnished metal. The only gift he’s ever given me, and at its core is hate.
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.
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 […].
I stare at the blade; the inscription gleams in the moonlight. Its words simplify my mission, creating space for my pain. A soldier. A great king. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to be. Duty over self. Orïsha over Zélie.
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.