An exciting science-fantasy adventure that tackles some serious issues while still being incredibly fun – The Blood Trials is definitely one to get your hands on!
Book: The Blood Trials by NE Davenport
Publication date: 14th April 2022
Ownership: Bound manuscript sent free of charge by Harper Voyager. All opinions my own.
Content warnings: violence, injury (including healing/medical scenes), death and murder; death of family members; racism and xenophobia; misogyny; warfare.
Blending fantasy and science fiction, N. E. Davenport’s fast-paced, action-packed debut kicks off a duology of loyalty and rebellion, in which a young Black woman must survive deadly trials in a racist and misogynistic society to become an elite warrior.
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.
Wow. I requested this book based solely on the fact that I really enjoy a competition structure in fantasy books, thinking it would be an okay read, but this really blew me away! It did absolutely deliver on the contest, with the Praetorian Trials offering an exciting, bloody set up that keeps the pace moving and the stakes high (like, really high), but there’s also a huge amount of clever worldbuilding and character development that takes the book from being a cool concept to being something I’m still thinking about weeks later. Ikenna’s world is a dark one, steeped in not only physical brutality, but also racism and sexism that Ikenna, as a Black woman aiming for an elite military position, suffers the brunt of, even before you get to the magic she’s hiding. These prejudices aren’t just window-dressing for the world – Ikenna’s constantly in danger because of her identity, and it forms a fundamental part of her character and the way she interacts with everyone. It’s as well-integrated into the world as the Roman military influences or the interesting mix of tech and magic. The second half of the book really dives into Ikenna’s struggles with her identity in a way that was fascinating and believable. It’s all just really well done.
Somehow, though, even with all of the darkness and nuance, this book is sheer fun. The high drama of the trials keeps the pace fast, and there’s so much action that it’s impossible not to get swept away in it – not to mention how fun the irritations-to-lovers romance is – and the mystery bubbling under everything transforms really well into political intrigue by the end, which is one of my favourite things. I know reviewers often say ‘I couldn’t put this down’, but I really couldn’t, it was so much fun (which is impressive, because a bound manuscript is not the easiest thing to hold)! It’s a little bit Battle Royale, a little bit Ender’s Game, and a little bit classic rebellion story, all while being something that feels very fresh. It’s not a YA book, but I think the fast-paced, stripped back style is something that will feel familiar to YA readers, so it would be a good stepping stone into adult books for a new reader – particularly if you’re looking for something to follow up The Hunger Games.
My only negative thought is about the structure, namely that perhaps this would have made more sense as a trilogy, rather than a duology. The last third of the book shifts hugely away from the trials as a plot, into that almost courtly intrigue – I would have been tempted to make this a separate book’s storyline just for the sake of flow. That being said, I loved this section and how it widened the world and upped the stakes – it definitely filled the role of what you would normally expect from book two! However, obviously I have yet to see how the actual book two will go, so maybe this won’t feel true after I’ve finished the story up. It feels like a long time to wait until April 2023!
I can’t recommend this enough if you like books that blend science fiction and fantasy, if you want dramatic contests, or if you like high-octane, high-concept stories that still tackle real-world issues. Five out of five cats!