Blood Scion: This Might be the Most Brutal YA Novel of All Time

Other than the amazing cover art, I honestly don’t know why I decided to read Deborah Falaye’s Blood Scion. Sure, I’ve read many books that deal with the topic of racism. However, with the exception of Tristan Strong, I can’t tell you if my glowing reviews of books like Legendborn and Blood Like Magic were based on the actual quality, or the guilt-stricken White man who’s tried to run from his American heritage his whole life. Also, I’ve been getting more and more into folk metal. Thanks to this sub-genre of music, I’ve begun to feel like these diverse books give off an understandable but grim rage and hatred that have caused me extreme mental anguish these past two years. Yet, here we are, with you reading my review of this book.

Why do I even bother going over the premises of these kinds of books? If you’ve read any of the aforementioned books, this’ll sound familiar: a girl named Sloane Shade is Yoruba, a race of innocent folk whose lives were turned upside down by the White supremacist Lucis menace. What’s worse is that she’s additionally a Scion, descended from Shango, the Orisha of Fire; Scions are an extra no-no in this world, and the Lucis do not hesitate to off them. She, like her mother before her, has stripped herself of her culture and heritage to keep her rinky-dink little village (and grandfather) safe from the Lucis, who tend to execute the relatives of those they deem criminals. And if it couldn’t get any YA-er, she gets drafted into the Lucis military to fight as a child soldier against the Shadow Rebels, who are Scions that refuse to hide. Cool. Might as well infiltrate their archives and get to find out what happened to her presumably dead mom!

Are people so P.C. that everything has to give a disclaimer warning? This is the third book I’ve read that’s done it, and the other cases came out in 2021 at the earliest. Anyway, if you couldn’t tell, Blood Scion checks off a lot of items on humanity’s laundry list of social issues that give me despair from the fact that they’re all still ongoing. In case you’ve never read a YA novel that deals with these issues before, let’s go over them thoroughly. 

The big one is racism. The Lucis persecute the Yoruba, and treat them as slaves. Some are taken from their homes to rot on literal plantations. This also technically counts as colonialism, since the Lucis are invaders who happen to have better technology. On top of that, we also have what I believe is called internalized racism, since the Yoruba have been brainwashed into hating their own heritages. There’s also mysogyny and sexual assault, since the Lucis are very much portrayed as rapists, such as one who tries to do such a thing to Sloane in the first chapter before he gets burnt to death by her power.

There’s also the child soldier thing. Yeah, that’s a bit messed up, especially since Sloane has essentially been drafted to kill her own brethren. Anyone who goes A.W.O.L. gets shot dead, plain and simple. Basically, it’s Divergent but harsher. The final cherry on top is cultural appropriation, which is shown when the Lucis queen, Olympia, is casually wearing Yoruba garb for shits and giggles.

Despite how fascinating West African culture is, I feel like a lot of authors who dabble in it paint a pretty bland picture. In fact, Tristan Strong paints the only picture I would call lively. Fortunately, Blood Scion isn’t “just take typical Western fantasy tropes and change the name” like a lot of other novels. There is a bit of a science fiction spin on worldbuilding, since the Lucins have electricity and whatnot, while the dark skinned villagers don’t have crap. *Sniff* Aaaaaah… the fresh reek of colonialism. Thanks I hate it.

Blood Scion is written as you’d expect any YA novel to be; verbose, full of adjectives, and in the present tense. It’s effective, but doesn’t at all stand out from its contemporaries, especially when compared to Xiran Jay Zhao. Nonetheless, “effective” means “effective.” Blood Scion sinks the dagger into your heart and twists for maximum laceration. Falaye hams in the brutality of how Sloane’s people are treated; a brutality that you don’t have to look too hard to find in the real world.

I thought that with COVID, the war in Ukraine, and this being the eighth-or-so book of its kind that I’ve experienced, that I would be desensitized to Blood Scion. Nope, that didn’t happen. I found myself overcome with the all-too-familiar, soul-crushing despair caused by White supremacy.

Despite how brutal Blood Scion is, it still has a lot of the tropes that occur when the main protagonist is sent to some kind of disciplinary facility to train in some form. In order to make an underdog story, Sloane starts out as a bad apple in a bunch of cosmic crisps. On top of that, we have the “impenetrable fortress” with the most convenient blind spots. It takes suspension of disbelief when they have spotlights, guards, and trained jaguars patrolling the place, yet they magically don’t get caught when sneaking out one night. Also, everyone and their grandma has smuggled some kind of weapon into the camp, meanwhile when they see Sloane they’re like “Oh my god, TEA LEAVES?! Nope, we gotta confiscate that.” 

The biggest flaw of Blood Scion is its cast, in that if you’ve read any YA novel besides Iron Widow, you’ve seen them all before. Sloane is literally Bree, Zélie, Rue, and Voya; yet, to my luck, she’s probably the weakest among them. Like many YA girls, she’s all talk and next-to-no walk other than random, arbitrary spurts of badassery. Like I said before, she gets pummeled in camp in order to make her an underdog. On the other hand, Best Girl Zetian would’ve just torched the place and been done with it. Sure, there is an actual stipulation in that Sloane can’t risk getting caught, but she still ends up using her power at least once, to save someone who just so magically happens to be Yoruba as well. Most notably—minor spoilers—there is no catharsis with her character arc, at least not at present since there is a forthcoming sequel and all. The training regimen is meant to strip kids of their humanity, and sadly, that’s inevitable with Sloane. I don’t even want to say any more about this, lest I puke.

On to all the other relatable and wholly unremarkable characters! Malachi is a bully who at least has a believable motive to hate Sloane; his parents died in a fire she caused by accident. However, all that does for him is make him a Saturday morning cartoon bully who is interchangeable with literally any YA male of his kind. Sloane’s supporters are relatable teens named Izara, Nazanin, and Jericho. Beyond their tragic backstories, they’re kind of deadweights.

Among the White supremacist Lucis, we have the somewhat human Dane Grey. He isn’t the most racist guy at camp; instead of killing Sloane, he just humiliates her instead. The rest of the Lucis? From Lieutenant Faas Bakker, to Queen Facism herself, they’re monsters, and I hate them. I hate them because they exist in this world, and are running it to the ground.

There is a silver lining here. Blood Scion really goes off the rails toward the end. Falaye legitimately caught me off-guard with a lot of developments, and pulled off things that I didn’t think any YA author had the gall to do. It also really showcases how convoluted the issue of race has become.

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Final Verdict: 9/10

Is this even an impartial score? Despite its flaws, Blood Scion was pure pain and suffering for me. It was full of such sadness and rage, and Sloane didn’t even feel like a particularly empowering character (although that could be because any YA protagonist other than Zetian feels like crap). In all honesty, I don’t even know if I have the mental fortitude to read the sequel, let alone any more books on this topic. Is this really supposed to help with racial healing? If you wanna try and find out, then be my guest.

Tristan Strong: The Only Rick Riordan Presents I.P. I Truly Love

I’m a big ol’ weeb, but even then, I acknowledge that West-African culture is no slouch. Disney’s Animal Kingdom introduced me to how beautiful and creative it is. Naturally, I would be all for reading Kwame Mbalia’s Tristan Strong trilogy, published under Rick Riordan Presents.

The titular Tristan Strong is stuck at his grandparents farm out in the boonies when a weird doll thingy steals the journal of a dear friend of his. He chases it, and ends up punching a tree, which releases a demon into the magical world of African folklore. Oops. Now, he has to find this dude named Anansi and fix this mess.

In every YA novel I’ve read, it felt like there was a PSA about how bad racism is on every other page. In Tristan Strong, it definitely rears its ugly head, but in a thoughtful and creative way, such as a living slave ship as the antagonist of the first book. And relatively speaking, that’s the LEAST brutal it gets! Book two deals in violent protesting, which was very impactful during its initial 2020 publication. The final book gets unapologetically brutal; it is straight-up nightmarish (I don’t use hyperbole, so I literally mean that word by definition). 

Going off of Tristan Strong alone, I’ve found African mythology to be one of the most interesting in the world. Tristan Strong really caught me by surprise. I get that there must be some creative licensing, but the African folklore assets felt like more than just “Oh, some gods of such-and-such element.” The implementation of it has more creativity and personality than any of the other Rick Riordan Presents books I’ve read. Anansi the trickster becomes a smartphone app, for example, and there’s a rapping vulture in book two. That’s only the tip of the iceberg!

If there’s any flaw, it’s that the cast isn’t 100% stellar. I wasn’t too big of a fan of Tristan himself at first, but after reading Legendborn, I’ve come to appreciate the fact that he’s got more to him than just the P.C. culture trope of “Hey, I’m Black! Love me or you’re racist!” He has a compelling character arc, a lovable enough personality, and one of the more unique superpowers in the Rick Riordan Presents imprint. Tristan starts off as generic, but he eventually has to deal with trauma and his own anxieties. 

Sadly, most of the other protagonists feel kind of there, such as female lead Ayanna. Most of the gods, while very cool because of how some of them are historical figures, fall under the Rick Riordan trope of being exposition dumpers who can’t do anything and leave saving the world to a twelve-year-old. There are silver linings, though. Gum Baby, the aforementioned doll thingy, is amazing. She’s sassy, sappy (literally; she vomits tree sap), and memeable. Of course, Anansi is a great supporting protagonist. I felt it fitting to picture him as Miror B from Pokémon Colosseum.

Most Black empowerment novels I’ve read had a cartoonishly evil White supremacist as its main antagonist. Of course, Mbalia can write a truly evil villain without having to grab us with an easy hook like that. Tristan’s foe is simply named Cotton. That sumbitch proves himself to be one of the deadliest in any Rick Riordan Presents book—scratch that—in any book with Riordan’s name on it; including Riordan’s own books!

Tristan Strong did to me what few other books I’ve read have done: moved me to tears. While other books are appropriately brutal, they never once made me cry. Tristan Strong did. At some point in the middle of the third book, I just put it down and sobbed uncontrollably for several minutes. It was a necessary meltdown, because Tristan Strong only scratches the surface of the real injustices that have occurred throughout American history.

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Final Verdict: 10/10

Tristan Strong is awe-inspiring. Although the first book can be a bit of a slow burn, the series as a whole is practically perfect. It’s so good that the other Rick Riordan Presents books don’t remotely compare. There is only one franchise of Western literature that I enjoy more than Tristan Strong, and I mean that literally. I highly recommend this trilogy for anyone who has the heart to care about humanity.

Heavy and Colorful: A Look at Diversity in Metal

Metal has come a long way from leather-clad men with crazy hair. It’s a living entity that’s constantly growing, and has even come to welcome those in marginalized cultures. With all this color mixed in, the genre has exploded into a rainbow of infinite creativity. Let’s go over a small trickle of these diverse bands.


Wagakki Band

As a weeb, I have to start by discussing a Japanese band. Early on, all my music posts were exclusively about Japanese bands. And if I had to pick one for this post, it would be Wagakki Band.

Since the early 2010s, this group has combined the gentle beauty of traditional Japanese folk music with that of Western rock and metal. Despite the duality, this combo works really well. They’ve gotten enough acknowledgement to be allowed a collab with Amy Lee from Evanescence in 2020 (even though I think Wagakki Band is better than Evanescence and the honor should be Lee’s). 

The problem is that they’re a bit inconsistent with their style. Even during the course of the same album, their musical style has ranged from folk metal to folk pop, the latter of which completely abandons Western instrumentation and has simplistic, easy melodies. Their newest work, 2021’s Starlight EP, is the lightest thing they have ever released. As they become more popular internationally, I worry that they will be forced to sell out and not be metal in the future. But I guess we’ll never know until their next full-length album comes out!


Living Colour

I was reluctant to listen to this band, considering the searing nature of their lyrics; however, I gave them a try. Living Colour, known for their first hit single ‘Cult of Personality’, is an iconic example of a band consisting entirely of Black men, which was very rare at the time, since a lot of metal bands only had White guys. Beyond that song is a discography spanning six full-length albums in an ongoing career of over three decades, and they’re working on new music right now. 

The band combines funky fresh beats with hot n’ heavy metal. Naturally, a lot of the lyrics are sociopolitical commentaries on America, and—of course—racism is involved. The lyrics are brutally honest and, well, brutal. Living Colour is the only band to have me break out into uncontrollable sobbing. The song in question is ‘Flying’, their tribute to the 9/11 attacks. Of course, the rest of their stuff doesn’t slouch. Their newest album, Shade, is my favorite work from them thus far. Given the past couple years, expect their next outing to be brutal.


The Hu

Due to my anxieties discussed in the New Year’s update, I might have BS’d myself into loving this band. In fact, you probably heard of them, since they are hugely popular worldwide (based on what I read about them). Regardless of if I should like this band, I’d rather listen to The Hu than any popstar.

The Hu are from Mongolia, and incorporate the corresponding folk traditions into their music. However, the fusion between Eastern and Western is very loose; there really aren’t any electric guitars at all. Despite that, the musical style—using the Mongolian instruments—is undeniably that of Western rock. Although considered metal, The Hu really aren’t “heavy.” The songs are very catchy, and definitely feel a lot more like Mongolian rock n’ roll than folk metal.

But for whatever reason, I find myself captivated by the band, even though, as a pure metalhead, I shouldn’t be. The singing techniques sound really cool, and the instruments are neat to boot. Maybe they’ll get heavier when they follow-up their debut album, The Gereg, but we’ll never know until that next album comes out! 


Myrath

I had zero African bands on my docket for the longest time. The only African band I had heard of was South Africa’s Vulvodynia, a super duper violent death metal outfit; no thanks! I wanted African folk metal, but there were slim pickings. Of those pickings was Tunisia’s Myrath, and while not exactly what I was looking for, I ended up developing an interest in them all the same.

Incorporating Middle Eastern instruments, Myrath is a brilliant progressive folk metal band, although they lean toward the Western end of the fusion. Their style gradually shifts toward power metal (as shown in the embedded MV) which might be off-putting for some, but the songs are still fire, so it really just shows the band’s versatility. 


Alien Weaponry

Alien Weaponry is one of the more recent examples of metal being used as an instrument to fight for civil rights, and quite a successful one at that. This New Zealand outfit is descended from said nation’s native people, the Maori. Sadly, New Zealand’s British-run government has been systematically stamping out what little of the Maori remain (read this article for more details). With metal, Alien Weaponry seeks to represent their heritage and raise awareness of racism.

Unfortunately, I found them to be my second least favorite band on this post. The songs in which they incorporate their Maori language are great; they have a tribal and barbaric sound (which is exemplified by the fact that they perform with no shirts on). However, that’s only half the battle. A lot of their music is sung entirely in English, and when they do this, Alien Weaponry seems like a completely different beast. While the lyrical theme of racial injustice is still part of it (albeit in a different language), the all-English songs feel very contemporary and garden-variety by comparison. I usually do a three album rule if I can at least see potential for the band to grow (a rule that may or may not have been inspired by the notorious three episode rule for anime), so I’ll keep my eye on them for now. As it stands, Alien Weaponry is a pretty typical Western-style outfit with a Polynesian paint job.


Voice of Baceprot

This young Indonesian outfit seems to be the most popular band out of everyone on this post. Of course, they happen to be my least favorite as well. However, that’s not a particularly fair assessment since they have only two singles and several covers of early 2000s metal songs that I don’t like. 

What makes them attractive is that they are seriously young; I think they’re still teens. They’re also all girls who practice Islam, which apparently forbids music (at least where they’re from). VOB has become insanely successful, not only gaining a large swathe of metal fans, but the favor of political figures as well. Their critics, on the other hand, are so passionate as to threaten the girls’ lives. I don’t mean they are Internet trolls; these people have made actual, cruel attempts to murder the members of VOB.

I wanna support them, but what they have put out so far doesn’t impress me. Voice of Baceprot sounds like a very basic hard rock band. Their lyrics are definitely heavy, but the music just doesn’t accommodate. Regardless of what I think, people love them, and I’m willing to bet that a potential full-length debut album will be the most anticipated metal debut of the decade; likely the one thing that can dethrone Spiritbox. You can give them a try I guess. If you watched the embedded music video, you’ll have already heard 50% of their discography anyway.


Whispered

Okay, so this is the most unorthodox band I have on here. I have included Whispered only  because I want to bring up the concept of “cultural appropriation”. Like Wagakki Band, Whispered incorporates Japanese folk into heavy metal. Unlike Wagakki Band, Whispered are from Finland. 

I read up on cultural appropriation, and I’m afraid that Whispered might fall under it, and their very underground status is probably what’s kept them from any upheaval. The music is really good, basically a more extreme version of Wagakki Band, with that over-the-topness of European metal. It’s actually a really, really good band. I’d almost say they’re better than Wagakki Band. They incorporate the rare fusion of melodic death with power metal, and have taught me that Wizardthrone was not at all the first band to do it (in fact, Whispered would make a perfect replacement for them if they were to disband).

Whispered is taking its sweet time, with only three albums out in the course of a decade, and no set date for the fourth album has been confirmed. The lyrical themes are mostly bushido stuff, and sometimes cover Japanese mythology, but both check out based on my own knowledge of the culture. 

I don’t really know the nuances of cultural appropriation. The first and foremost thing is that it’s supposed to be offensive, but how do you know for sure? When I read up on it, I saw one example of Justin Bieber being accused just for wearing dreadlocks. Maybe he was wearing it “wrong(?)”, but I don’t know how you can be racist by wearing a cool hairstyle. Whatever the case may be, I’m concerned that the current mindset on racism will make it so that only people of a given ethnicity can be inspired by the corresponding culture. That sounds like the opposite of what needs to be done to me.


Arka’n Asrafokor

Despite the massive burst of inclusive media, there’s still a long way to go. As I mentioned before, I wanted African folk metal, specifically that of West Africa; the kind that’s represented at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Animal Kingdom Lodge. Togo’s Arka’n Asrafokor is the first band that came up when I searched, and according to what I’ve read, they’re the only metal band from Togo to begin with.

Like many underground units, they need time. Since its formation in 2009, the band has only released one album—2019’s Zã Keli—under its old name, ARKA’N. The album isn’t just novel; it slaps. As it says on the tin, it is a fusion of metal, and those old-timey African vibes. Using English, French, and their native Ewe, there are a lot of different vocal performances you’ll hear. I particularly love when they harmonize in the latter. 

According to my research, Zã Keli was very well-received when it came out, and most people who’ve listened to the band are already devoted fans. However, the fact still remained that I needed to Google Search this specific type of music for me to find them by happenstance. From what I read about them, the process of finding the necessary equipment was exceptionally difficult where they’re from, and that would probably explain why the album took so long to make. I hope that the stars will align with them in the future, because this is a band I want to see become more mainstream. While a lot of the diverse stuff in the mainstream emphasizes how great each culture is, they don’t really showcase either of those cultures “together”, if you catch my drift.

Unfortunately, it really seems that Arka’n Asrafokor is one of a kind, not just in Togo, but the world. Like I said, this is the only result I got for “African folk metal”, and that makes me feel sad. I wish this band takes over the world going into the 2020s. PLEASE.


Conclusion

We have a long road to travel to reach racial tolerance. In the meantime, these bands—and many more—are here to stay and won’t take no for an answer. Maybe someday, metal will remind us that we’re all human beings. If not, then pop will probably take that mantle instead. Hopefully, you’ll have been encouraged to broaden your horizon of music!