Book Review: Blood Like Magic

Synopsis from Goodreads:

A rich, dark urban fantasy debut following a teen witch who is given a horrifying task: sacrificing her first love to save her family’s magic. The problem is, she’s never been in love—she’ll have to find the perfect guy before she can kill him.

After years of waiting for her Calling—a trial every witch must pass in order to come into their powers—the one thing Voya Thomas didn’t expect was to fail. When Voya’s ancestor gives her an unprecedented second chance to complete her Calling, she agrees—and then is horrified when her task is to kill her first love. And this time, failure means every Thomas witch will be stripped of their magic.

Voya is determined to save her family’s magic no matter the cost. The problem is, Voya has never been in love, so for her to succeed, she’ll first have to find the perfect guy—and fast. Fortunately, a genetic matchmaking program has just hit the market. Her plan is to join the program, fall in love, and complete her task before the deadline. What she doesn’t count on is being paired with the infuriating Luc—how can she fall in love with a guy who seemingly wants nothing to do with her?

With mounting pressure from her family, Voya is caught between her morality and her duty to her bloodline. If she wants to save their heritage and Luc, she’ll have to find something her ancestor wants more than blood. And in witchcraft, blood is everything.

This was the June Fantasy Crate offering and is book 9/20 in my #20booksofsummer reading challenge.

I had read a fair amount of positive comments about this book and it does have a lot to recommend it in the YA/Fantasy genre that’s unique and different. I ultimately did enjoy reading it (and devoured the last 8 or so chapters because I couldn’t put it down) but right upfront I want to mention a couple of things that might not make it suitable for everyone.

  1. There are a lot of triggers in this book. The author lists them all at the very beginning just after the title page, so I would take a look at those before starting to read. They include blood/gore/violence, slavery issues, death, substance abuse/addiction, eating disorder, and mention of child neglect. If any of those are an issue for you, these are integral parts of the story so I’d make sure these will not be overwhelming triggers for you before starting.
  2. I had a really difficult time with the first chapter. To the point I almost put the book down and did not finish it. (And if you know me, I almost NEVER DNF a book.) I’m glad I stuck with it, but while I am not someone who has trouble with blood (descriptive or IRL), there’s enough of it in the first chapter that I could barely get through it.

So after those two caveats, what did I like about it? Lots of things as it turned out.

Characters: The main character, Voya, has a great growth arc throughout the book. She learns to question the things she thinks she knows (not just about her family but about relationships and, most importantly, herself). She grows into her personal strengths and powers (both muggle and witch-y), and I loved watching her take that journey. The author has done a great job of creating real people in Voya and her family and friends. Many are members of the LGBTQ+ community and the seamless inclusion of them in this story was a refreshing change of pace. All of the characters were well-rounded people with actual problems of life, some with good coping skills, some without, but all of whom I could picture in my mind and hear their sassy comebacks or feel their sadness.

The setting/world-building: I haven’t read a book set in Toronto, Canada, that highlighted people of color from Trinidad; it was unique and engaging and wonderful. It was a picture of an environment I knew almost nothing about but it’s obvious it is an area and culture the author knows (and loves) intimately. While the book has a sci-fi feel to it, as it is set about 10 years in the future with lots of different technology – some of which helps drives the plot line- the author’s descriptions of neighborhoods, festivals, shopping and the culture of the city really shine through as if you could visit the locations today. A skillful blending of futuristic things (like retinal chips and gene enhancement) along with long-standing Trinidadian heritage and traditions that was a unique but welcome twist to the story. This includes the menus and descriptions of food Voya makes for her family or enjoys from street vendors. I left wanting to rush out and search for matching recipes online to make myself!

The plot: While this has aspects of a typical YA coming-of-age tale with a strong heroine, it reads as so much more because of the inclusion of the character and world-building details noted above. It also has enough twists and turns as Voya tries to figure out how to accomplish the task set to her to complete her Calling to keep you engaged and interested. I appreciated the fact that, while there is a love interest, it’s not the main focus of the story (that being Voya herself) and while I liked getting to know Luc, the story is definitely about Voya and her journey.

Overall rating: 4/5 stars for the smart writing, unique characters and setting, and great pacing of the story. 1 star for the above two points mentioned at the start of the review.

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