In Blood Scion, Deborah Falaye has written the kind of unputdownable YA novel that is destined to become a classic. Sloane is a young Black woman descended from the Orisha gods. Hiding her powers and lineage, she must survive under a tyrannical government that wants to kill her. But when she’s enlisted at just 15 to their brutal army, she realizes she may be able to break them from the inside. Melding Yoruba folklore and the horrors of war, this is a unique addition to the literary landscape, and marks Falaye as a powerhouse author. She’s also absolutely lovely as we found out when we chatted with her to celebrate the book’s release!
Nerdist: I’d love to know the origin of Blood Scion. Could you tell me about its creation?
Deborah Falaye: I started working on Blood Scion 10 years ago, back in 2012. At the time, I had just wrapped up a YA contemporary, and I was trying to figure out how to edit it. And I got this idea of a young girl who was descended from the Orisha gods—that’s like rooted in my Yoruba culture. At the time, it was a big moment for me because I’ve always loved the stories around like the Orisha pantheon. I grew up in Nigeria, I spent 12 years in Nigeria, and while I was there my grandmother would constantly tell me these stories about like the Orisha gods. And in 2012 there were no other YA stories really digging into mythologies outside of Western cultures.
It was a bit scary, like, how is this going to be received? Would people be interested in this? But I was really excited to write a story about a culture that wasn’t at the forefront of the YA sphere at the time. So that was my number one inspiration. I wanted to dig into my culture and bring this beautiful culture to the forefront. I figured to myself, you know, you have Greek mythology and Norse mythology, so why not this, right? So that was my first inspiration.
Then I started working on the book and two years later I knew that there was something missing about the story, but I wasn’t sure what. I had the characters, I had the world, but the conflict was missing. Then in 2014, there was this incident that happened in Nigeria that caused this huge global frenzy and it was the Bring Back Our Girls campaign. A bunch of girls had gotten kidnapped in a school in Nigeria. I remember being in class and we were talking about it with my professor, and it was a lot more difficult for me because I’m Nigerian and a lot of these girls are so young, like 12 or 15 being turned into child brides and child soldiers and suicide bombers and whatnot. It really hit home for me.
So I really wanted to understand this whole idea of the war on children. How is it that a group of people can take children and turn them into these weapons? So I started doing my research on the war on children, child soldiers, and that was a moment for me when I realized the conflict of the story. This is what I want this book to be about!
These are the topics that I wanted to touch upon because we don’t hear enough about the atrocities and the horrors that a lot of young kids go through outside of the Western world. But it’s a reality. So I just figured if I was able to merge my love of my culture and my whole idea of the Orisha gods and bring in this really painful reality, just sort of blend that together, what’s that gonna look like? I feel like Blood Scion evolved from there.
The story centers around a young woman called Sloane who’s descended from the Orisha gods and ends up getting conscripted. Could you talk about crafting her?
It’s a bit personal to me. When I came here in 2012 the first thing that you hear as an immigrant is, ‘Be careful not to lose your culture. Do you still remember how to speak Yoruba?’ My family would be asking me those questions and I’d say, ‘Of course I do.’ But I was 12 when I came here and one of the first incidents that happened was going to my school, I was in grade eight at the time. And the principal said, ‘Hey, does she have an English name? You know, something to help her assimilate better with the other kids because I think her name is going to be a bit difficult for people to pronounce.’
My mom and I were shocked by that. But then we said, ‘Yeah, of course, she’s got a Christian English middle name.’ So the switch to me being Deborah, that happened so fast, so quickly that I went up the stairs and I got to class and I was introduced as Deborah and at first I was like, ‘Wait, who is Deborah? No one calls me that!’
So when I first met my main character Sloane, she was also struggling with those things. She was struggling with that aspect of her identity and having to hide her culture and that part of herself. I didn’t know at the time that a part of her journey was also my journey. That rediscovery of self, rediscovery of identity, rediscovery of culture. It got to a point in time when it was a bit difficult for me to admit that yeah, I’m Nigerian. I’d be in class and kids were asking me these really terrible things. The idea of being African was seen as very inferior. I struggled with that as a kid. I didn’t want to tell anyone that aspect of my identity.
Fast forward to meeting this character and seeing that, hey, she’s actually going through this too. It really meant a lot to me. The moment when I figured that out, I was like, ‘Okay, this is it. This is my main character because I understand very well the journey that she’s going through.’
Something you touched on were the Orisha gods. How much fun was it for you to get to delve into Yoruba folklore and play with it?
Oh my god, incredible! Like the most incredible feeling! To go from the moment where I remember as a kid hearing the stories from my grandmother, and then being like, ‘I’m writing these stories myself and I’m playing with them.’ Back home, my mom was a teacher. She studied Yoruba in University and she taught Yoruba in school as a teacher. Getting to go to her and be like, ‘Mom, what do you think about this?’ was the most incredible feeling for me and I speak Yoruba very fluently. So it was almost like I had to also stretch myself. I had the most fun writing the prophecies because I was like wait a minute, oh, I can actually still write Yoruba!
The whole idea of all the different aspects of the mythology and the culture that was brought into the storyline; some of them as a non Yoruba person you know, okay, you’re dealing with mythology. But then some of them are also very subtle. Perhaps if you were not Yoruba, if you didn’t grow up in Nigeria, you wouldn’t pick up on these things. The games that the kids play. The forest scene, that’s a really big one for me because that’s so much steeped in the spirituality of my culture. Back home. I remember I’d be walking through the forest and making a mad dash because there’s fear like, ‘Oh, there’s spirits in the forest. If they get you, they get you!’ So to get to bring that back into the story and then just twist it in my own way, that’s incredible!
Another thing I loved about Blood Scion is the prominent and powerful female friendships. Even in the midst of all the brutality, that’s something so vital and vibrant. Could you talk about that?
There was a movement a while ago where some readers and authors started to speak out against the lack of female friendships in books. We already go through a lot! And we have a safe haven in our friends and girlfriends. I have a lot of positive women in my life that are my little bubble, like these are the people that I go to when there’s something going on.
So for me, it was a no-brainer that there would be this female friendship in the book. That was what made sense to me because that’s what I know. I think for a world that’s so dark and so brutal, she needed that. And it was important for her to have these girls in her life.
With Blood Scion out in the world, is there anything you want readers to feel and take away when they pick up this book?
Honestly, I’ve thought about that question a lot. When I was writing this book there was a moment in time when I actually wondered to myself, ‘Could I write this Black character? Would anyone want to read about this Black character?’ Because this started in 2012. At the time, I didn’t see any books that had people who looked like me, especially as main characters. I thought about that, but then I still pushed through because that was the story that I wanted to tell.
So I think for a reader to pick this up, I wanted them—especially Black girls, African girls. Nigerian girls—to feel seen in Sloane. I want them to read this and be like, ‘I understand that. I understand why she did that. I understand why she chose that specific story or why she chose that specific detail to describe.’
I think it’s so important as a reader to feel seen in the books that you’re reading. I think in YA especially we’ve gone through this journey with diversity in books. I love the fact that we’re seeing more books with true representation in them. I’m all for that. Let’s keep going! So I think that’s what’s most important for me. First and foremost, to have these readers pick it up and think, ‘I feel seen in Sloane. I can be Sloane.
Blood Scion is available to purchase now.
Featured Image: HarperTeen