I thought that Children of Blood and Bone was a fantastic book, but Children of Virtue and Vengeance takes things to a whole new level. Keep in mind, this is a review for a sequel, so there are some small spoilers for Children of Blood and Bone ahead.
At the end of Children of Blood and Bone, magic is restored to the land, but not quite in the way that anyone was expecting. Children of Virtue and Vengeance explains to us that the change in the ritual to return magic to the land means that the divîners who have become maji are not the only ones who have gained magical powers — there is a population of kosidán royals, now called tîtáns, who have magical powers of a different kind. At the start of Children of Virtue and Vengeance our protagonists are in the throes of grief, stranded in Jimeta, on the opposite side of Orïsha from the capital, Lagos, where Amari needs to be to claim her place as Queen of Orïsha. But as the story ramps up, we realize that there is much more going on behind the scenes than our protagonists realize, as many tîtáns, led by Queen Nehanda, go to war with the Iyika, the maji rebellion against monarchical tîtán/kosidán rule.
After reading Children of Virtue and Vengeance, I feel that author Tomi Adeyemi was much more ambitious in her writing than Children of Blood and Bone, and it pays off well. The writing is much tighter in the second book, which I think is partially linked to not needing to provide as much background world building, and partially linked to maturation as a writer. As another example, despite the fact that Children of Virtue and Vengeance is shorter than Children of Blood and Bone by a little over a hundred pages it contains just as much action and plot. This keeps the pace of the story faster, and creates an immediacy that wasn’t there in the first book. Although the protagonists were working on an objectively stricter deadline in Children of Blood and Bone, the stakes were raised so much higher in Children of Virtue and Vengeance and the characters were so fleshed out and present in the narrative that I felt myself drawn more fully into the text. Even the arc of the romance didn’t bother me as much, because it felt so much more natural in this context. Everything that happens in Children of Virtue and Vengeance feels like it is happening for a reason and that reason is fully realized in the text, or has the potential to be in the next book.
I’m not saying any of this to knock Children of Blood and Bone, which is also an excellent book; I’m just saying that Children of Virtue and Vengeance is an even better book, where you can truly see a writer flourishing in her prime. Even my previous critique of the first book regarding how the alternating first person narratives felt like a third person narrative, is for the most part erased in this book, because each character did feel like they had their own voice here, while still managing not to clash, which is a great improvement on Adeyemi’s part.
One critique I’ve heard of this series is that the oppression of the maji/divîners is problematic because it is an oppression of a group that is proved by the narrative to be legitimately dangerous, and the tîtáns/kosidáns have a purportedly ‘good’ (that is to say, understandable) reason for being wary of the maji and having suppressed their rights for so long. This has also made me uncomfortable, which is why I’m glad that there is a revelation in Children of Virtue and Vengeance (which I am proud to say I suspected/predicted) that turns that narrative on its head, and no spoilers, but it made me much happier with the way that things are portrayed. (Not that I am ever happy with the oppression and systematic murder of a subset of the population, I just mean that this is a more satisfying and reasonable premise for the war.)
Overall, Children of Virtue and Vengeance is a fantastic follow-up to Children of Blood and Bone and I simply cannot recommend it enough.