I’m glad I read reviews before reading this one and had some idea of what to expect and could just enjoy the dramatic, blood-drenched goodness. And I do mean blood-drenched. These characters were always covered in blood, or dripping blood, or slicing open themselves and others. And most of the time, they did so without even flinching. Anyone who works in the clothing industry in this country must make a shit ton of money because these characters’ clothes are constantly getting ruined. Forget magic; textile-making, sewing, and dry cleaning—THOSE are the skills to have in this world. Wow, I’ve only just started this review, and I’m already WAY off topic.
Jokes aside, I actually did think the magic system was pretty cool, or what I understood of it, at least. The blood mages would get special spellbooks made, then they’d cut themselves open and bleed onto a page they ripped out with their chosen spell, and then *poof* magic! The spellbooks provided some balance and limitation to the power of blood magic and were almost a unique kind of weapon the blood mages kept with them at all times. There was also Nadya’s magic, which was completely different because she got hers from communicating with the gods, asking for help, and then maybe receiving it. But her magic was only limited by what the gods were willing to grant and could be done more on the fly.
I was also into how religious the story was, which surprised me because I’m usually not into that. It’s all fictional religion, but it plays a huge part in the story, not just because there are actual gods communicating with the main character, but because different beliefs around religion are such compelling forces for the characters, whether it’s faith in gods, no belief in gods, belief that the gods are cruel, etc.
I have mixed feelings about the characters though because, on the one hand, I found them interesting enough while reading about them, but on the other hand, they had a kind of forced complexity/edginess to them, and I was more told than shown what kind of people they were. (And also continually told they were “just teens” or “just a boy,” etc.)
Nadya was maybe the most realistic. She had strong morals and beliefs because of her communication with the gods, but that didn’t necessarily mean she was all good and perfect, just that she believed everything she was doing was right because it was the will of the divine. She also struggled with doubts as she experienced more and learned some truths.
Malachiasz was kind of a scary soft boy. He was a powerful blood mage with a lot of sharp edges, but he seemed to care about the well-being of his friends and just wanted to save his country. He was a monster because monstrous things had been done to him. Except, was he really a monster? I feel like I was just continually told he was a monster and anxious and scared and in over his head.
Then there was Serefin. High prince. Blood mage. War general. Villain-turned-ally. I have mixed feelings about him because he did something early on that was unnecessarily cruel, and it clearly wasn’t the first time he’d done something like that, but when he wasn’t being awful, he was… just a normal guy hanging with his best friends. (Well, as normal has a high prince blood mage can be.) And considering how he was raised, what his life has been like, I can see why he turned out that way. He at least cared about his own people and country.
Serefin also had some sort of visual impairment that would probably be considered low vision in our modern world, so shout-out to that inclusion of disability rep. I’m not sure if it was just in his scarred eye or in both eyes, but he mentioned blurry vision, bad night vision, and being kind of blinded by brightness sometimes. He might’ve had a drinking problem as well.
I enjoyed the plot about sneaking into the country and trying to stop the war, but I started to get lost and confused about some things as we got closer to the end. Some of it may have been things I missed, but I think some of it was just vague and abstract. *SPOILER* Were the Vultures people who chose to become Vultures, or were they just forced into it as kids? What happened to Nadya when she was taken by the Vultures and woke up in a pool of blood? And what happened in that whole scene after when she communicated with the not-god in the pendant? What was the truth the not-god revealed to her about her gods? (Was it just that she could do magic without them?) How did Serefin survive/come back to life? What’s the significance of the stars and moths and songs? *END SPOILER* I don’t know if some of my questions even have answers, but maybe we’ll learn more in the next book.
I listened to the audiobook for this, and the narration was great. It was dual narrated (Natasha Soudek for Nadya’s chapters, Tristan Morris for Serefin’s), and both did a great job at making the narration sound natural with accents to fit the Polish and Russian inspired settings (at least I assume the accents fit, I’m not super familiar with those accents myself), doing different enough voices for characters that I could always tell them apart, and doing voices for different genders.
Overall, though I did have a few issues, I enjoyed listening to this enough to continue the series. The magic systems are cool, the bloodiness is kinda fun, the fictional religion aspect is interesting, and I want to know where this story is going to go and what’s going to happen to these characters.
Anyone who likes high fantasy, magic, fictional religion, teenage characters who are broken and sometimes monstrous but also soft, and lots of blood.