Blood Debts – a mixed review

Blood Debts is an urban fantasy novel set in present-day New Orleans where magic is openly practiced and managed by different organizational bodies. I would describe the plot as a two-fold murder mystery, one from the past and an attempted murder of the present. 

Clement & Christina are twins whose family has a dark history. Their grandmother was accused of murder many years ago which resulted in not only her fall from Queendom of their magical community but a family lynching from a local mob. In the present day, the twins’ mother falls ill and when they discover a hex doll in her room, the teens decide to figure out who is attacking their family and why. As the reader moves through the plot, they stumble upon information surrounding the notorious grandmother as well as complicated politics plaguing the magical and non-magical communities of New Orleans at present.

I finished reading this book yesterday and have been struggling with how to rank my final review for this book. On one hand, it contained many elements I loved but then it also included a lot of shortcomings as well. I suppose the best place to start is to share what this book left me wanting.

First off, I felt like the plot twists and outcomes were not overtly surprising, so I was missing the shock factor. The novel weaves a decades-old murder as well as a present situation, and therefore the cast list was incredibly long. As the climax approached and it was revealed who was tied to which plot points, I realized just how overwhelmed I had been with the numerous characters. I had a hard time connecting who was who and how they were interconnected to others in the mass web; to me, the many threads of characters convoluted the story. I was also missing information about the motivations behind the opposing communities and their overlapping relationship with the gods. 

The story contains information about two main warring families in this magical community, and we see a generational cycle of targeted abuse from one to the other. This toxic vengeance carried the theme of, “an eye for an eye,” and I kept hoping for a character of good conscious to stop the cycle. This volatile relationship felt unsustainable and gives the reader a sense of hopelessness that there will never be peace amidst the community. My last critique ties into the previous one as well, which is that I felt like elements of the story lacked depth. The main characters didn’t show substantial character growth. If anything, they spiral more into chaotic choices and traits than finding strength or growth. 

Okay, I know that seems like a lot of issues and you may be asking why I was struggling to review this book. Well, that’s because there were many elements I really enjoyed in this story! The setting of modern-day New Orleans was very atmospheric, and I loved seeing how magic was performed on the page for each of our character’s POVs. The reader gets to witness several instances of conjuring and the resulting aftermaths. I loved the simplicity of the objects needed for the spells and how when tied with their generational gifts, it brings magic into the world. 

I also felt like the family dynamics were a highlight. I love a good sibling bond, where twins add a double layer of tension. I felt like Clement & Christina had a realistic sibling dynamic and their relationship was one of the most interesting for me to see unfold. The extended family was a messy element in the best of ways; I bask in dramatic family relationships like we see in this story. 

A theme explored in Blood Debts surrounded the sexual activity of the teens. I personally like seeing this in young adult books, because it would have been the type of story I’d of sought out during my adolescence. There are mentions of sex workers, safe sex practices, consent, and LGBTQ+ representation with one of the main characters. All of which I felt were handled beautifully and included important messages for the reader.

Finally, I listened to the audiobook format of this book and absolutely loved the production. The story contains multiple POVs, and the narration includes a full cast of voice actors for each one and included some of my favorites such as Bahni Turpin, Joniece Abbott-Pratt, Torian Brackett, and Zeno Robinson. Jazz music was an appropriate and fun special effect that opened the book and served as an interlude between each section of the novel. 

So, you may ask, what’s my final review? I decided to settle on 3 stars. I’m glad I gave this book a chance and though it had many elements I enjoyed, there were too many faults to ignore. Blood Debts will be a series, and this first book ends on a cliff hanger with many elements needing to be explored in the sequel. I don’t see myself rushing to pick up the next book, but if raving reviews poor out – I may reconsider. So it isn’t a hard no, but just unlikely. Coming to this decision is what moved me to keep my final review at 3 stars instead of bumping it up to a 3.5/4 star review.

Blood Debts comes out on April 4, 2024

I’ll be incredibly curious to see more reviews poor out for this novel. If you grab a copy, let me know what you think of the story!

Reviewed by Coco

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