Spells of Blood and Kin by Claire Humphrey

Synopsis:

26114389When her beloved grandmother dies suddenly, 22-year-old Lissa Nevsky is left with no choice but to take over her grandmother’s magical position in their small folk community. That includes honoring a debt owed to the dangerous stranger who appears at Lissa’s door.

Maksim Volkov needs magic to keep his brutal nature leashed, but he’s already lost control once: his blood-borne lust for violence infects Nick Kaisaris, a charming slacker out celebrating the end of finals. Now Nick is somewhere else in Toronto, going slowly mad, and Maksim must find him before he hurts more people.

Lissa must uncover forbidden secrets and mend family rifts in order to prevent Maksim from hurting more people, including himself. If she fails, Maksim will have no choice but to destroy both himself and Nick.

Review:

Spells of Blood and Kin should be right in my sweet spot with the urban setting, supernatural creatures, and an interesting magic system.  I kept waiting for the book to pick up and get going… but it never did.

My dislike might be born in unfulfilled expectations – from the jacket copy I thought it would be straight up plotty fantasy, or maybe a more “literary” paranormal like Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf.  Instead there’s a lot of talking, a bunch of flashbacks, and action that feels inevitable instead of exciting.

The good:

  • The monsters are never named.  I like this – it prevented me from squishing the bad? guy into a neat, pre-labeled box.
  • The magic system is interesting, and I would have liked to learn more about it.  The underpinnings are never touched on (where does the power come from?) and Lissa only follows recipes.  She’s a short order cook of a witch, sticking to the same five spells and pouring over grimoires of those who came before.  No improvising, no Emeril bam.

The not-so-good:

  • While individual characters are fairly whole their relationships don’t evolve or grow.  The only exception is Lissa and Stella, who go from virtual strangers to the half-sisters they actually are.  Everyone else is stuck in a holding pattern – boyfriend and girlfriend, best buds, mentor and protege.
  • Secondary characters hover around the edges, serve their purpose, and bow out.  Nothing more.
  • The stakes are high but no one grapples with them.  They just float.  A big reason for that is…
  • …people have (and make) precious few choices.  The whole story feels like it’s set on a track, lumbering along.  Nick is slowly going mad and all anyone can do is shrug.  Lissa hears about a way to help Maksim and does it without thinking about consequences.  Gus’ novel-ending hurrah shocks slightly in method but otherwise feels inevitable.
  • I love that the book is set in Toronto but I never felt like I was actually there. Now and then I’d picture a place clearly, like a bar, just to realize it was the bar from another book I was reading at the same time.

In short – the story didn’t keep my interest, I didn’t care about the characters and their inescapable fates, and while the magic system is innovative (eggs!) it’s thin (only eggs).  After reading the blurb I was hoping for so much more.

Thanks to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for providing a review copy.

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