The Blood Trials – 3.5 Star Review

CW: violence, blood, gore, death, torture, cannibalism, rasicm, sexism, strong language

I want to start off by saying that this book is, I think, being marketed as young adult/ upper YA. It’s not. There is a lot of violence and gore, there’s a sex scene, and other adult themes. Although the main characters are around 18-19 years old, it’s really not a YA book. Thus the content warnings above. I feel like that’s important to start off with so people do go into this book with different expectations. 

The main character, Ikenna, lives in a military republic (Mareen), where magic is outlawed and everything is run by a panel of generals. She finds out that her grandfather, who held an office of high power, has been murdered and that the government was likely behind it. So she decides to become an elite soldier called a Praetorian in order to investigate her grandfather’s death. She faces countless obstacles, such as severe racism and sexism, as well as the brutal trials that kill many who attempt to become Praetorians. 

“We do not bend. We do not break. We do not bow. We do not yield.” 

N.E. Davenport

This book was wildly entertaining from start to finish. The action barely lets up for the entirety of the book, and I truly never knew what was going to happen next. It’s a delicious blend of sci-fi and fantasy, with a lot of magic and a lot of technology and the clash between the two. I’ve never read a book quite like it, and I loved how the author mixed genres to create something unique. Another part of this genre-mixing was having a complex magic system (that could do with more clear rules/ explaining in my opinion). The book also has slang and cursing the likes of which we would see from teenagers and young adults today. The way the characters speak makes the fantasy world more accessible. 

The world is definitely the best part of the book. I loved the idea of a republic that is wholly focused on military might and power, who puts their elite soldiers through brutal training. There is a lot of death in this book, and it’s made to seem like it’s a totally normal part of this country. I also loved seeing various parts of the larger world outside of Mareen, like a huge forest full of nasty creatures and the colorful country of Khanai. The end of the book has much more of the world, religious system, and magic system than the rest of the book, and it seems to be setting up for the second book to have even more exploration of the world.

Another thing I loved is how fierce Ikenna is. She’s a strong warrior who doesn’t put up with any of the racism and sexism thrown her way (and it’s a lot). She chooses violence more often than not, which makes for an exciting heroine whose strength you can really root for. In a world full of morally gray characters, Ikenna fits in. However, her upbringing in a world that wants to put her down means that she has a strong moral compass. She is constantly, loudly calling other characters out on their BS, fighting them, or both. She does not put up with people looking down on her or on others for any reason. While she’s morally gray in some ways, she’s easy to root for in her compassion and empathy for those who aren’t seen as equal by those in power in her world. I really enjoyed reading a character like her who isn’t afraid to stand up for herself and for others no matter the circumstances. 

Despite the strength of Ikenna’s character, the other side characters really aren’t as interesting as she is. The stakes in the book are really high–there are characters literally dying left and right in the Praetorian trials–but the investment was low for me. The characters are really two dimensional for most of the book. Part of this is also just how cheesy and arrogant some of the characters speak and behave. There’s a lot of posturing, smack talk, and characters who are beating us over the head with their mentions of how they think they’re better than everyone else.  However, I do think that the characters that are left by the end of this book will be a lot more interesting and developed in the next book. 

That’s part of the main reason the book doesn’t get a higher rating from me despite it’s interesting world and plot–the lack of investment in anything other than Ikenna’s character. It was hard to care about the really high stakes when I simply wasn’t invested. 

Another thing that was tough for me was some of the worldbuilding. A lot of the politics–which were important to the plot–were hard to follow. It also seemed like the last quarter of the book was much different than the rest, and a lot of the plot threads seemed like they weren’t introduced until later in the book. There were also a lot of pacing issues for me personally, including the fact that the last portion of the book felt so different. The author doesn’t give a lot of insight into things that happen before the beginning of the book. I would definitely have been more invested if there had been more backstory given to multiple events and characters throughout the book, including Ikenna’s past. 

Overall, I recommend giving this book a read. I think it set up a strong foundation to have a really great second book. It’s a lot different from other fantasy books I’ve read recently. If you like strong heroines, a lot of action and violence, and unique worlds and magic systems, then this would be a book you would enjoy. 

Reviewed by Shelby

Releases April 5, 2022* 
I received a free electronic copy of this book from NetGalley 
Review also posted to Goodreads and NetGalley

Leave a Reply