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New fantasy book ‘Children of Anguish and Anarchy’ shows the dangers of being divided


"Children Of Anguish And Anarchy" is the third and last book in writer Tomi Adeyemi's fantasy series based on West African mythology and cultures. The series centers on the fight between people with magical powers and the oppressive nonmagic monarchy that rules over them, a fight that has exploded into a kingdom-wide civil war. Though there is magic and gods, the series is also rooted in reality. NPR's Mallory Yu caught up with the author to talk about how.

MALLORY YU, BYLINE: Like the title suggests, "Children Of Anguish And Anarchy" begins at a low point for main character Zelie, who has already experienced a lot of lows. As a child, she had to watch as her mother was killed in front of her for possessing magic. Then, years later, Zelie had to risk her own life to bring magic back to her people. And this sets off a brutal fight against the monarchy for control over the kingdom.

TOMI ADEYEMI: Our characters are battered from everything they just experienced and the wars they just fought, but they are also desolate.

YU: It doesn't help that Zelie has just experienced a physical trauma that's cut her off from her magic.

ADEYEMI: We meet her at a place where she doesn't have her powers as she has come to know them.

YU: Tomi Adeyemi says this mirrors her own life.

ADEYEMI: I'm finally at a place to tell people, like, I actually got really sick between Book 2 and Book 3. And for about two of those years, I was recovering.

YU: And her personal path back to health is felt through Zelie...

ADEYEMI: ...And her fight to not getting her magic back as she knows it, but sort of breaking through to this force within her that she didn't even know.

YU: Adeyemi says she began writing "Children Of Anguish And Anarchy" in 2020.

ADEYEMI: And I just felt like my country was falling apart. You know, we felt like the world was falling apart with the pandemic.

YU: The first two books in the series were set in Zelie's home, the kingdom of Orisha. This latest one begins outside of the country because Zelie and her allies have been captured by a previously unknown enemy.

ADEYEMI: They're taken. They are taken and stolen from their lands and trafficked across the seas by an enemy that they didn't even know existed. And they're just seeing their people die around them every day.

YU: After a daring escape, they realize they have to convince the warring magic and nonmagic factions in Orisha to set aside their prejudices and work together against this powerful oncoming threat.

ADEYEMI: I didn't just want to expand the world from a creative standpoint. I really wanted to make this commentary on how we spend so much time fighting each other, so much time destroying each other, so much time trying to get bigger than the other one and all the while, there's someone there ready to capitalize on that weakness.

YU: Adeyemi wanted her fantasy world to illustrate the real dangers of being divided.

ADEYEMI: For these first two books, the enemy was the other. The enemy was the magi. The enemy was the monarchy. So to have this new powerful enemy steal them from their lands and have them have to protect their kingdom as united force, I think that's really resonant not just within the African American community, but, like, if we look at the country of America right now, like, I see that.

YU: Tomi Adeyemi began writing this trilogy in her early 20s. Now, she's in her 30s, looking back on who she was when she began.

ADEYEMI: All that intensity and all that dreaming and all that passion and all of that, like, I'm going to bring a franchise to life even if it kills me, that's what I see when I look at the beginning of this journey. And then I look at the middle, and I see a girl who was really going through a lot of things in life, like, professionally and personally and had to learn and grow. And now I look at this conclusion, and I'm like, there's a sense of calmness that I've never known before. There's a sense of joy and peace.

YU: The best part she says as a recovering perfectionist? That sense of joy is no longer tied to her work.

ADEYEMI: That used to be exclusive to my career and my professional achievements. And now it's, like, my life. It's like I feel that joy, like, singing in the kitchen while I'm making eggs in the morning.

YU: Now that doesn't mean Adeyemi's resting on her professional laurels. She's just finished her fourth book, she's begun modeling, and she's collaborating with Gina Prince-Bythewood, who's directing an adaptation of Book 1, "Children Of Blood And Bone," for the big screen. So while this may be the end of the trilogy, there's still more to see from the world of Orisha and it's magic.

Mallory Yu, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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