Desert Isle Keeper
Blood Like Magic
Blood Like Magic is filled with richly-plotted worldbuilding and complex magical hierarchies. Overall it’s quite a satisfying and engrossing read, with a few minor issues that kept it from getting a full-on A grade. It’s a full-tabled banquet loaded with treats – most of them of a rather chilling flavor.
This book opens with our heroine taking a soak in a tub filled with her own menstrual blood-stained water. It’s her Bleeding, and at sixteen she is a late bloomer, and its arrival means that Voya Thomas has entered into her Coming-Of-Age and she is now a fledgling witch. The next day she will take part an amplifying ceremony to trigger her Calling – a trial which every witch must go through in order to receive her powers. The Calling tends to have dire consequences for anyone who fails it – and if Voya does not succeed, she’ll remain a non-magical person. For people without uteruses the process is rather more gross – you bleed out of your eyes, your nose and various other orifices.
This definitely sets the tone for Blood Like Magic, which is the right kind of matter-of-fact about its gore and portrayal of racism and gender issues. Blood magic is the sort the Thomas family practices, and the sort that governs the entire universe in which they live.
Every post-pubescent member of Voya’s family has powers. Her cousin Keis can read minds, her mother is a blood bender, her Granny, the Matriarch, rules over them all, and her bones are made of iron. No one in her family has failed a Calling in over a hundred years, so the Pressure Is On for Vo. It intensifies when the ancestor who answers Vo’s Calling turns out to be Mama Jova. Mama Jova tells Vo she must accept her chosen task, or every living Thomas and every member of her bloodline born after her will lose their magical abilities. When Vo says she wants to talk about this with her family first, Jova says she has failed, but Vo begs for a second chance – and receives it. Mama Jova tells her she must destroy her first love or suffer, and she has until the upcoming Caribana Carnival – where the ancestral ghosts of the living reveal themselves once more – to complete the task. Since the Thomases are pure witches – they do not murder for their magic, unlike impure magic wielders – this seems odd and suspect to them.
Voya – who does not date – has never been in love. But a face pops into her mind. While at NuGene trying to score an internship opportunity – NuGene being a company which grew out of a DNA testing ancestry website and now provides matchmaking, gene therapy and other services based upon manipulating a person’s genetic material – Vo catches sight of blue/gray-haired Luc Rodriguez, who is being mentored by the head of the company. Luc is not popular with his peers – in fact he humiliates Vo during their first meeting – but Vo is instantly interested in him. She volunteers for beta testing a new meet-your-soulmate-via-genetic-testing kit, and learns that Luc is her match to nearly a hundred percent. Setting about trying to figure out a way out of the complex knot of ancestral expectations and new feelings, Vo, her family, and Luc try to work through the complexities of it all without shedding Luc’s blood. But Will Vo have to do so if she’s to save her baby sister Eden?
Blood Like Magic is a big, complex, brutal, violent, intriguing, dazzling book. It could have used a couple of extra editing passes and maybe been tightened up by dropping a quarter of its page length, but really, what is page length when you’re being fed a spread like this one?!
Sambury does a good job of setting up a star-crossed romance between Voya and Luc, one that makes sense and evolves out of some understandable anger and bitterness. Voya is not a perfect protagonist, and her humanity makes her quite relatable. Her cousin and mother encourage her to create a back-up plan in case she never gets her Calling, but Vo has one big problem – she’s bad at making a decision and then sticking to a course of action. This carries through the book and echoes very well. Much of the story is about family and the weight of what we bear as we explore our connections to the older generations. Sambury explores this through a Trinidadian lens. Voya slowly but surely comes into her own.
Blood Like Magic is not an easy book to read, but it’s an incredibly strong tale with a very memorable heroine
Note: The author provides a list of content warning in the forward to the book – be sure to read it before you delve in. She does not mention the period blood bathtub scene, so I took care to mention it above.