Howdy! We were supposed to post a review of Spider’s Bite by Jennifer Estep today but unfortunately, we will be unable to do so because the book has yet to reach me in the UK even though Thea has shipped it over three weeks ago. At the moment we suspect that the UPS and the Royal Mail have come together in a Conspiracy to Drive Us Mental. (It is working.) We plan to post the review as soon as we possibly can.
Meanwhile, we decided I should post my review of New Blood instead – as an introduction to our upcoming Steampunk Week.
Author: Gail Dayton
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Publication Date: March 2009
MMP: 512 pages
Stand alone or series: Part of a series but the romance is stand alone
In 1636, the last blood sorceress was burned at the stake. More than two hundred years later, her blood servant Jax has found her successor. Amanusa at first turns down the opportunity to learn what she perceives as an evil art. But she craves justice, and innocent blood cries out for justice.
When Amanusa looses magic on those who’ve harmed her, she must flee for her life across a devastated Europe with Jax, who is inescapably bound to her by blood and magic. Their journey takes them through zones where everything—including magic—has died, zones populated with strange creatures cobbled together of things left behind by the dead.
Needing each other for their very survival, Amanusa and Jax grow ever closer on their journey to discover answers – about magic, blood sorcery, the dead zones, and even love.
How did I get this book: I Bought my copy (but the author sent a copy to Thea when she sent us ARCs of the second book.)
Why did I read this book: I bought this book as soon as it came out. I loved the cover and the reviews have been mostly positive. I kept it aside for a Steampunk week all this time. Yes, I did.
WARNING! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!
New Blood is a book I have long desired to read and had great expectations for. I bought it as soon as it came out last year and because I saw it described as Steampunk in a few places (including the author’s blog), I set it aside as a Must Read for an eventual Steampunk Appreciation Week, an event we had been planning for a long time. As we finally set the date for the event ( shameless plug: March 7th – 13th) , New Blood was the first, out of a long list of books, I read for the event. Why then, you must be asking yourself, do I review it before Steampunk Week?
Because this book is many, many things – a Paranormal Romance / Fantasy and a giant mess of frustrating disappointment but not, and I cannot stress this enough, Steampunk.
Because it is not enough to set a book in the 19th century and to have a couple of machines that go clankety clank around and that’s it, let’s call it Steampunk! Woohoo! Not when the book is first and foremost about magic, when the characters know nothing about the aforementioned machines, which means that the technology, if we can even call it that, is not an elementary part of their world – it is something that scares and befuddles the characters because it is something that is anti-magic and unnatural to the point that the book almost reads like an example of anti-Steampunk.
Now that I got this off my chest, what is the book about?
Magic. And truth be told, it starts well enough. It’s Europe, 19th century and there are four types of magic: alchemy, wizardry, conjury, and sorcery and only men are allowed to practice them. The first three are the most commonly used and sorcery, or Blood Magic, has been lost to the world ever since the last known sorceress Yvaine has been murdered. Turns out, Blood Magic has only ever been practiced by women because well, women are used to bleed every month and therefore are less squeamish about it. (Yes, seriously.) A Blood sorceress uses blood magic (by using blood fluids – any of them) to practice magic. They can cure people by riding the blood (it involves making them drink a bit of her blood so is able see inside their bodies for injuries) for example. But Blood magic can also be used to bring justice as the sorceress can ride their blood to see the crimes they committed.
As the book opens, Yvaine’s (the last known sorceress) blood servant Jax – who had been tasked to find her successor – finally finds the woman worthy of the position. And that is our heroine Amanusa. Living all by her lone self, deep in the woods of Romania, Amanusa is a healer who uses the little magic she knows she possesses to cure villagers and is happy to stay where she is. When a man comes out of the woods telling her that she is a Blood Sorceress and he is her servant, her first reaction is to freak out. For starters, women are not allowed to practice magic and the Inquisition might kill her for it. Secondly, everybody knows that blood magic is Teh Eviiiil, blood magicians kill children for their blood; plus, all men are brute rapists, and she can never ever trust Jax, because she fears and loathes men because she has been gang raped and abused for years by the band of anarchists who live in the woods who are also the band of people who killed her entire family.
But soon Amanusa realises that there isn’t much she can do about Jax – he can’t leave. Once he has found her, he is connected to her. If he tries to leave, he ends up always coming back to her door. Then, she decides to hear what he has to say and learns that Blood Magic does not involve killing anyone, much less babies – it is mostly done with her own blood or with blood freely given (and magically stored by Jax, who is like, a familiar) and all of a sudden the prospect of being a Blood Sorceress doesn’t sound that bad especially when she thinks she might get justice after all. Then, the anarchists show up: Amanusa has a deal with them – whereupon they will leave her alone if she concedes to visit their camp when someone is sick. She and Jax have to make a trip and at their camp, she starts to learn about Blood Magic. But first Amanusa needs to ride Jax’s blood so that he can be bound to her as a servant. Please bear in mind, that this has been only a few days after they have met. Amanusa is supposed to be a deeply scarred woman, who fears men and sex, who always thought Blood Magic to be evil, who just met this bloke out of nowhere. So she not only trusts his words but also, she finds that she has to link herself to him by way of blood and the way to do that is to have him drinking a bit of her blood so she can ride it. Now. I can think of a gazillion ways of having someone drinking someone else’s blood and here is a novel thought, it doesn’t even have to involve touching. How about, gasp, a glass? For someone who fears to be touched it looks like Amanusa got over her deep seated scars and trauma very quickly. Behold:
“She couldn’t move, couldn’t speak, could only watch as he squeezed a bit more blood from her finger and curled his tongue around it, caressing long after the blood was gone. He trailed his tongue down the length of her finger and probed the crease where it joined her hand. She shivered, whether from his touch or his gaze, she didn’t know.
Jax sent his tongue swirling across her palm where blood had never touched and Amanusa let him, lost in the blue of his eye and the shivery sensation of his teasing caress. With one last pulse of his tongue, he pressed a kiss to her palm, curving her hand around his face as if she caressed him in return”.
That was just about the place where things started to get downhill and I still had oh, 400 pages left?
They spend a few weeks in the camp, but they guys want her for a plaything again, she kills most of them (Justice!) and they have to flee. They carry with them a machine that one of the anarchists found (a spider thingy who feels like anti-magic to Amanusa). They are captured by the Inquisition, they escape and end up in Paris where they need to convince the Council to allow Amanusa in – but they don’t want to because all women are horrible, and magic is not something they can do, and Blood Magic is Teh Evil. Meanwhile, the Council is conferring in Paris because evil dead patches that are related to the mechanical insect they have found in Romania and which are spreading to Europe and might well bring the end of the world.
I mentioned that the start of the novel was good enough and it was. The two characters and the setting pulled me right into the book and I thought the two protagonists were very compelling to start with – both being damaged and broken. Their complex relationship of master/servant only serving to extrapolate those problems until they were able to overcome them. But. By God, soon it becomes clear that there is lack of a cohesive character development for both protagonists. Amanusa is too quick to trust Jax, to overcome her sexual trauma and to accept the Blood Magic; and their repetitive internal monologue was almost enough to drive me insane – cut 1/3 of those and 100 pages of the book could have been removed and the book would have been better. There is no reason for the numerous:
Amanusa: “men are evil. I don’t trust them. But I trust Jax. Why? “
Jax: “I am a servant. But she sees me as a man. Did she truly see me as a man?”
And so on and so forth.
My other main problem with the novel was the lack of inherent logic regarding the magic system which in all honesty, made no sense to me. Why only women would do Blood Magic?
The inference that men are squeamish when it comes to blood doesn’t compute – aren’t men the ones to go to war, or to fight in duels and carry out death sentences? Why did it take Jax 200 years to find a successor to Yvaine, more to the point, if Blood Magic was so important to the balance of magic why didn’t she have apprentices? Although the misogynistic view of women with half of the characters in the book running around like lunatics yelling that women are Evil grew tiresome and was ridiculous I do have to wonder if they didn’t have a point when it came to Blood Magic since the last known Sorceress did use to torture Jax and made him be raped to collect Sex Magic (yes, seriously ). So yes, I can sort of see how people would think that Blood Magic was not that good. Since we mention Jax – what is the point of blood servants? If the blood needed is mostly of the sorceress , she is the one with the power, she is the one with the blood, I don’t really see the point of a blood servant, but then again…there would be no book without one.
Then, there was this silly coincidence in which Jax, who did not know his true name for most of the book (he was so old, he suffered of memory loss) suddenly remembers it and realises he has a relative sitting right next to him. Yes, seriously. The ending is a pure melodrama: there is a kidnapping, the villains run around like girls screaming women are evil, only to when faced with one of them, believe her word when she tells them she will do something they ask. Why would they? And then it all ends with the amazing discovery that the bond of luuurve is more powerful than any other bond and then the two protagonists decide to go traipsing to Scotland leaving their friends behind even though she is the only known Blood Sorceress and THE WORLD MIGHT BE ABOUT TO END.
With all this being said, you might be asking yourself why in the world did I keep reading. I have read worse, but much worse in my life and I sustain that the characters are rather likeable so I kept reading in the hope for a good pay off. And it was downright frustrating that their story was not better developed. Alas, you win some, you lose some.
Notable Quotes/ Parts: In spite of the repetitive internal monologuing I quite liked most of Jax and Amanusa’s interactions.
Verdict: A magic system that does not make sense, a romance that had the potential to be awesome but fell flat. Unfortunately, this one misses the mark.
Rating: 4 – Bad but not without some merit
Reading Next: The Warlord of the Air by Michael Moorcock