A little late due to work and tech issues, today I am delighted to be part of the Random Things Blog tour for The Blood Trials by N.E. Davenport, the first book in The Blood Gift Duology. This was a fantastic read, and I hope you will check it out along with the rest of the blogs helping out with the tour.
Disclaimer – I received a copy in exchange for an honest review, all thoughts are my own.
It’s all about blood.
The blood spilled between the Republic of Mareen and the armies of the Blood Emperor long ago. The blood gifts of Mareen’s deadliest enemies. The blood that runs through the elite War Houses of Mareen, the rulers of the Tribunal dedicated to keeping the republic alive.
The blood of the former Legatus, Verne Amari, murdered.
For his granddaughter, Ikenna, the only thing steady in her life was the man who had saved Mareen. The man who had trained her in secret, not just in martial skills, but in harnessing the blood gift that coursed through her.
Who trained her to keep that a secret.
But now there are too many secrets, and with her grandfather assassinated, Ikenna knows two things: that only someone on the Tribunal could have ordered his death, and that only a Praetorian Guard could have carried out that order.
Bent on revenge as much as discovering the truth, Ikenna pledges herself to the Praetorian Trials–a brutal initiation that only a quarter of the aspirants survive. She subjects herself to the racism directed against her half-Khanaian heritage and the misogyny of a society that cherishes progeny over prodigy, all while hiding a power that–if found out–would subject her to execution…or worse. Ikenna is willing to risk it all because she needs to find out who murdered her grandfather…and then she needs to kill them.
Mareen has been at peace for a long time…
Ikenna joining the Praetorians is about to change all that.
Magic and technology converge in the first part of this stunning debut duology, where loyalty to oneself–and one’s blood–is more important than anything.
I love science-fantasy, and in The Blood Trials Davenport has embraced that blending of genres beautifully to create a fascinating and well-realised world. While we are dropped into the action at the beginning, it isn’t long before we find the world taking shape – primarily through our POV character Ikenna. There is a wonderful meshing of futuristic technology and magic, military sci-fi and political machinasations, against the backdrop of a well-realised society with faultlines that shape not just the story but our main character. This is a book that doesn’t shy away from confronting the issues within that society from racism and misogyny, to the terrible decisions that come from searching for vengeance and being under the pressure from those faultlines.
I will say there were a few places where the worldbuilding did slow the pacing a little, especially when it came to the politcal machinations, as Ikenna had to think through them – although this is primarily towards the first part of the book before those elements are firmly established.I did however like that our view and knowledge of the world, is limited by Ikenna’s and her focus – it was a nice touch that worked well, and supported the fact that Ikenna was focused on her goals and her own place in the world, although there were places where I did find myself wanting to see more.
The action scenes were a highlight of this book. Davenport has a talent for creating vivid, edge-of-the-seat fightscenes, and as much as I enjoyed the worldbuilding, I found myself looking for the action. It must also be stressed that this book does not shy away from the blood and gore, and while it is a reflection of this world and the society, it will not be for everyone. For me, it felt like an integral part of the world, a realisation of what Ikenna was facing – by choice in her search for vengeance, but also in a society that was set against her, with the threat of people outright wanting to kill her. Without that brutality, the full weight of the Praetorian trials as well as her own journey would have had less weight.
Ikenna was a character that left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, she is compelling, and considering what has happened to her, and the world that she faces – where society itself is against her, and she is having to fight for her life – it’s impossible not to find yourself rooting for her, especially as we are very much within her head. On the other hand, there was a reactiveness and selfishness to her, that was a little fustrating in places and I certainly questioned some of her decisions. However, that is why she is so compelling, because those aspects of her personality and actions are very much a product of the situation she finds herself in and therefore self-preservation in a world that isn’t fair and isn’t safe, and those flaws and the fact that they impact on her behaviour and interactions is great to see and both understandable and believable, especially as it is not without consquence. Ikenna doesn’t always get her way and her actions do have consequences, and I think that is why even when I strongly disagreed with some of her choices, I was invested in them.
Beyond Ikenna, there is a large cast of side-characters. This is a epic, complex world and that is reflected in the characters Ikenna encounters, and while we don’t spend as much time with them as Ikenna, they were all well-realised and added both to the world and the machinations around her, from those undertaking the trials with her, to the Praetorians training them, to those in power. Ikenna’s relationships with them was varied and reflective of the external stresses, whether from the trials, Ikenna’s suspicions and lack of trust, and those elements all played through. The only place that slipped for me, was with the romance subplot – and even then only at the beginning, as it felt a little too rushed – but this mellowed and became more like the other relationships, taking the time to devlop and being influenced by trust issues etc.
The Blood Trials is bloody, brutal and brilliant. A very strong debut, and a fantastic start to a duology and that ending has left me on the edge of my seat waiting for the next one. The perfect book for anyone who loves science-fantasy, epic worldbuilding and isn’t faint of heart when it comes to the blood and fore and violence.
Nia “N.E.” Davenport is the Science Fiction/Fantasy author of The Blood Trials and its sequel (Harper Voyager). She attended the University of Southern California and studied Biological Sciences and Theatre Arts. She also has an M.A. in Secondary Education. She teaches English and Biology to amazing students. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys vacationing with her family, skiing, and being a huge foodie. She’s an advocate for diverse perspectives and protagonists in literature. You can find her on Twitter @nia davenport, or on Instagram @nia.davenport, where she talks about binge-worthy TV, killer movies, and great books. She lives in Texas with her husband and kids.
If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.