Spells of Blood and Kin
Spells of Blood and Kin: A Dark Fantasy is author Claire Humphrey’s first full-length novel. According to Amazon, her short fiction has appeared in a number of publications and I can’t help but think that I would have this a lot more if it had been written as a short story or a novella. There simply isn’t enough material here to fill up the 320 page count.
There are three characters in the book whose lives intersect – Maksim Vokov, akin – who possesses extraordinary strength and a need for violence that he cannot control; Lissa Nevsky, the granddaughter of a Russian witch Iadviga Rozhnata; and Nick Kalsaris, the young man Maksim infects with his “”disease””. Fifty years ago, Maksim rescued Iadviga from the gulag, and in return, Iadviga cast a powerful spell that allows Maksim to control his violent nature. At the beginning of the book, Iadviga has died and Maksim can feel the spell dying with her. When he loses control one night and turns Nick into a kin by licking a wound on Nick’s cheek, Maksim turns to Lissa for help. Luckily, Iadviga has left Lissa detailed instructions on how her spirit can be summoned each month during the full moon, so Lissa is able to get directions from her grandmother on how to re-enact the spell for Maksim. The catch? All magic comes with a price for those who makes it; and the stronger the magic, the steeper the price. Iadviga’s spirit then departs before Lissa can ask about the price she will have to pay. With Maksim on the verge of descending into madness, waiting another month until she can talk to her grandmother again may not be an option. But what exactly will Lissa have to sacrifice for the spell?
First of all, the author is a talented writer who has created a world that is a bit different from the setting typically found in an urban fantasy. This story is darker and grittier. There are no well-groomed, millionaire werewolves who, despite their inner wolf, still manage to lead a normal life and become very successful. Instead, we have Maksim, who’s spent the last hundred years or so seeking out wars across the globe just so he can let free his violent nature from time to time. Nick is a drunken college student who is most often seen drinking and doing drugs at seedy dive bars. None of the leads, male or female, are described as particularly attractive or financially well-off. The characters here are isolated from the human world because of the baggage they carry, and the uniqueness of the setting and the characters initially had me engrossed. The writing here is also top-notch.
Unfortunately, the novelty of the setup ends long before the book does and the story really doesn’t end up going anywhere. As far as the plotline goes, we have Maksim asking Lissa for help, Lissa procrastinating for a couple of days, Lisa casting the spell for Maksim. And that’s it. The end. There is no dramatic last-minute twist, no villains or obstacles to prevent Lissa from helping Maksim, and the price Lissa ends up paying turns out to be kind of lame. Also, for a book whose central theme is violence, the most violent act that occurs on the page is Maksim giving his friend Augusta a black eye. The book does refer to acts of violence committed by Maksim in the past, but those are only alluded to and not described on the page. In a nutshell, for a book that is billed as “a Dark Fantasy”, there is just not all that much going on and the result is a not very exciting read with very little tension.
Yet in a way, I can see that the book may have been intended as more of a character driven story that a plot driven one. But with the way the characters and scenes are written it simply didn’t work for me. The only likable and well-drawn character is Lissa, who is described as having led such a sheltered and isolated existence that she can’t even carry on the simplest conversation with people. I enjoyed watching her coming out of her shell to form a tentative friendship with her step-sister; and there is an understated romance that develops between Lissa and a bartender that is kind of sweet. But all other characters – Maksim, Nick, and Augusta – are too messed up to be likable and appear to spend the better part of the book being mean to each other while drunk. So we get scene after scene of Nick getting drunk, Nick picking a fight with his friend Jonathan, Maksim passed out on Lissa’s couch, Maksim punching Augusta, etc. None of these scenes contribute anything to furthering the character or the plot. Nick has the most complete story arc with a subplot involving his succumbing to the violent side of a kin’s nature. But since he started out the book as a narcissistic prick, I didn’t feel like his character changed all that much.
As I write this review, I am struggling with giving it a grade. It’s a well-written book that brings something new to an over-saturated genre, and giving it anything less than a B feels wrong. But on the other hand, I became bored about a third of the way through and remained bored until the end. If you are someone who likes lyrical poems and do not care about things such as plot development and likable characters, you may like Spells of Blood and Kin: a Dark Fantasy. For me, an action-packed fantasy featuring a handsome millionaire werewolf sounds just like the thing right now.