REVIEW: New Blood by Gail Dayton
Dear Ms. Dayton,
Unlike some of my fellow reviewers here at Dear Author, I don’t try books by new-to-me authors as frequently as I probably should. A lot of that is simply due to the fact that I am a slow reader and it takes a lot of my reading time to keep up with new books by authors whose previous works I’ve liked. But another piece of it is that although I can enjoy books in a wide variety of genres, I am, even so, a finicky reader with very specific tastes. Nine times out of ten, when I try an author I haven’t read before, those tastes go unsatisfied.
Such was the case with New Blood, which I decided to try after hearing it was steampunk and reading an excerpt that intrigued me. I don’t feel that New Blood was a bad book–I have certainly read much worse, and the fact that I made it to the one-third point shows that it is stronger than many of the other books I’ve tried, only to put down much earlier. But for me, New Blood also wasn’t a very absorbing book. It was very easy to put down and I ultimately decided not to finish reading it.
New Blood is set in alternate version of nineteenth century Europe, one in which some men practice magic while women are forbidden to do so. There is one type of magic, however, that women have particular affinity for: blood sorcery.
The story begins when an Englishman known only as Jax finds the object of his long search in a Transylvanian forest. Amanusa is the daughter of a Romanian woman and an Englishman. She lives alone in her cottage and practices healing and the minor spells which women can get away with casting in Eastern Europe.
Amanusa has suffered loss and abuses in the past, so when Jax appears in her garden she is reluctant to trust him, even after he introduces himself as the former blood servant of Yvaine, a deceased blood sorceress from England. Before she died, Yvaine commanded Jax to find her successor, and that is what Jax believes Amanusa to be.
Jax becomes possessed by Yvaine’s magic, and the dead sorceress communicates with Amanusa through him, telling Amanusa that a great evil is rising and that blood sorcery will be needed to combat it. Amanusa begins to feel sympathy for Jax, but she is afraid to accept his offer to teach her blood magic. She knows that to learn true sorcery is to risk the persecution of the Inquisition, which hunts down women who practice powerful magic.
Still, Amanusa is hungry for justice, so when Jax explains that blood magic is the working of justice rather than evil, it does not take Amanusa long to change her mind. She is only beginning to learn how to use her abilities when a group of anarchists whose camp isn’t far from her cottage insist that she come and heal one of their wounded.
One of the anarchists, Teo, clearly wants to rape Amanusa, but Jax, who pretends to be slow-witted so that the anarchists will allow him to accompany Amanusa to the camp, is determined to protect her.
At the anarchist camp, Amanusa and Jax encounter an insectile machine made of metal that has injured a man and exudes evil. They manage to contain the thing, which they sense is anti-magic, in a box.
Eventually, Teo pushes his luck and Amanusa’s blood magic is set loose. Jax and Amanusa escape the camp, but rumors follow them, and they soon find themselves in the hands of the Inquisition. They must attempt another daring getaway, and hope that they reach England safely.
Meanwhile, in France, English wizards are investigating the appearance of a patch of evil space inhabited by insectile machines which have killed children. A similar patch has appeared in England. One of the wizards, Henry, thinks blood magic will be needed to combat this evil. But only women have an affinity for blood magic, and the other wizards think no good can come of teaching magic to women. Not only that, there are no blood sorceresses left…
I began New Blood with high hopes. I love the concept of the steampunk genre which blends fantasy, science fiction or paranormal elements with the setting of our own nineteenth century or a world which contains nineteenth century level technology (I believe that the “steam” part of the term “steampunk” refers to the nineteenth century railroads and boats which were powered by steam engines).
In this case, though, I felt that I didn’t get as much of a feel for the setting as I had hoped. Occasionally there was a mention of some period item such as hoop skirts or railroads, but there was not enough period detail for me to feel transported a century and half back in time. There was also not as strong a regional and cultural flavor to the depictions of the Romania and Paris settings as I would have liked.
Another problem for me was the characters. Amanusa and Jax are both sympathetic characters who gradually grow to care about one another, but neither one was compelling to me. I felt that I could stop reading without wondering about what happened to them in their future.
When I tried to figure out why I felt this way, I realized that, in the section that I read, neither one of them had conflicted feelings for very long, nor did they badly want anything that they could not attain.
True, Amanusa did resist accepting the role of blood sorceress at first, but it didn’t take her long to change her mind. And yes, Amanusa did want justice for her loved ones, but it didn’t take her that long to attain it. And even there, Amanusa kept thinking of her need in terms of justice, but since we weren’t given specific memories of her dead loved ones, nor her feelings of sorrow for them, it was hard for me to feel invested in seeing this justice attained.
As for Jax, he was a fairly muted character and after the opening scene, in which he feared Amanusa, he did not seem to have deep feelings beyond his liking for Amanusa and his occasional anger or worry when she was threatened. I understand that his feelings were sublimated partly was because he was under Yvaine’s spells for so long, but still, it made it hard for me to care deeply about his fate.
The part of the book that I read had an episodic feel to it. Amanusa and Jax seemed to go from one situation to another but these felt more like separate incidents that happened to the same characters than like a whole, connected story about the two of them.
The main, overarching plot wasn’t the story of Jax’s mission to find Amanusa in the nick of time, or of Amanusa’s quest for justice; it was the story of the evil patches rising across Europe and of Amanusa’s training in the use of blood magic. This story failed to compel me for two reasons. The first is that stories of the rise of a dangerous evil shrouded in mystery which threatens the land and must be combated through magic have been a mainstay of the fantasy genre at least since Tolkien, and therefore, it’s not a premise that feels very fresh to me.
Secondly, I fully acknowledge that I am probably not a member of the target audience for this book. I read more for compelling characters than I do for dramatic plots (though I love it when I get both in the same book). I was also hoping for more romantic development than I got in the first third of the New Blood. The book is labeled “Paranormal Romance,” but to me, the fantasy elements seemed more pronounced than the romantic ones.
I suspect that readers of epic sword-and-sorcery fantasy might enjoy this book, though. The prose is solid, the characters sympathetic and I also appreciate that in their relationship, Amanusa and Jax don’t fall into typical gender roles. I wish that the section I read had gelled better for me, and kept me turning the pages. I also wish the book luck in finding its audience. For me, New Blood is a DNF.
This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon. No ebook format yet.
I’ll trust your feelings on this because I’m always leery of titles from TOR that say paranormal romance. A few I’ve purchased have been more fantasy then romance and that’s not what I want. The writing can even be sublime but if it says romance then I want the characters and their feelings for each other to be the center of the story.
And because I’m absolutely loving the Omega series from Patricia Briggs that you recommended here (thank you, thank you, thank you!) and I agreed almost completely with your review of Angel’s Blood I’ll give this one a pass for myself and buy it for my niece who is a Fantasy Fangirl.
Thanks for the review.
Thanks Joanne. Keep in mind that I only read the first third of the book so that is all I am describing and all I can base my opinion on.
I feel the same way — I have a certain set of expectations that goes with the romance label.
Thanks for letting me know that my other reviews worked out for you! I really appreciate it. Patricia Briggs’ “Alpha and Omega” series is another example of how labels can defy expectations. Cry Wolf was labeled “Fantasy” but to me it was very romantic. What I read of New Blood was less so.
I hope your niece enjoys New Blood, Joanne. I haven’t read Dayton’s series beginning with The Compass Rose but from what I recall, those books were well-received. I know that Smart Bitches’ Sarah gave that book an A- grade, so obviously it worked very well for her.
Just to add: I went to SBTB to check that I had my facts right re. The Compass Rose (I did), and while I was there I saw that SB Sarah has reviewed New Blood. She seems to have found the characters more compelling than I did, and gave it a B. So that’s something else for readers to consider.
My comments are ending up in the spam filter. Very weird.
I’ve been eying this at amazon, but somehow I came to the conclusion that this was YA. I have no idea why that happened, but this part:
is something that can and often does enrage me. It seems to me that a lot of authors use these and other locations as some kind of a shortcut for exotic/interesting (and as someone who used to live in Romania, and still lives really close, I just wish these authors would try a bit harder when setting up their stage…).
Sorry about the rant, I guess it’s a hot button. This book probably wouldn’t work for me…
I commented about this book on my blog over the weekend. This was the kind of book I would read some then put it down and pick up later. It had a “Perils of Pauline” feel to it.
I did however enjoy it and also I judged it on the basis that it IS the start of a new series so cut it some slack. It was something different, it wasn’t overwhelmingly “steampunk”, maybe if it were some of you who didn’t like it as well would have been more engrossed but it worked for me because I’m not real familiar with the genre.
Mara, I understand. It does sometimes frustrate me because I get excited to learn more about an unusual setting and then I don’t learn all that much about it. In this case, I don’t know enough about Romania to say whether or not the depiction was accurate, and in any case the Romania of New Blood is not supposed to be the same as that of our own 19th century, since the book is set in an alternate world with magic in it.
But I ended up feeling that, in the section I read, the setting could almost have been any fantasy setting, and didn’t really have enough detail to connect it to the 19th century or Romania that would make me feel as though I had been transported there. I didn’t see why it was set in 19th century Europe.
That was how I read the section I read, too. I picked it up then put it down, picked it up then put it down, picked it up then put it down, and finally I decided I’d rather read something with more narrative drive. I tend to be an impatient reader with a short attention span; I really want to be grabbed by the throat for the entire read. It was that epidsodic, disconnected feel that disenchanted me, as well as the fact that I wasn’t grabbed by the characters.
I’m glad you enjoyed it. As I said in my review, I can imagine that other readers might, and I do hope those readers find the book. I just came to the conclusion that it wasn’t for me and I decided that a partial review was better than none.
I think that might have helped me because I love historical settings that make me feel immersed in a different time and place.
Re. steampunk and other kinds of historical fantasy — I would love some recommendations for good romances with those types of settings. I haven’t read that many myself, but one that I enjoyed recently was Ginn Hale’s m/m romance, Wicked Gentlemen.
@Janine: Episodic, the word that was somewhere in my brain but refused to come out . LOL
You made it further than me. Like rebyj said, this book had a pick it up and then put it down again quality to it. But because I’m easily distracted, I put a book down one too many times and I never pick it up again.
You and me both, Jia! Let me know if you come across any steampunk romances or historical fantasy romances that keep your attention riveted, though.
Thanks for your thoughts about your experience with the book, Janine.
I didn’t read the entirety of your post since I plan on reading this book (I love steampunk even if it’s just a slice), but I really think it terribly odd that it’s billed as a paranormal romance. That’s an injustice to both the readers and the author imho.
I’ve only read the excerpt but even that short part has a strong fantasy flavor (at the time I didn’t know about the paranormal romance label). I don’t see why it couldn’t have been categorized as fantasy or fantasy romance. I suppose the hope is that more sales will result by using paranormal. But I worry about such a strategy backfiring.
CLOCKWORK HEART by Dru Pagliassotti has been getting some great buzz as a steampunk fantasy/romance.
While a few steampunks have whispers of a romance (WHITECHAPEL GODS, MAINSPRING), they are far, far from traditional romances.
I enjoyed Nathalie Gray’s erotica romance MECHANICAL ROSE which is steampunk through and through.
The bad news is that there are precious few steampunk romances. The good news is that the subgenre is ripe for exploiting, and a few authors have some works in the pipeline.
I just did a post about forthcoming books. Here’s the link:
@Heather Massey I’ve heard other people talk about Dru’s book. I’m going to go buy the Gray book.
Heather, I agree with you about the labeling of this as a paranormal romance. The section I read, at least, didn’t read like one to me. I also worry about that backfiring as a marketing strategy.
Thanks so much for the steampunk recs. I just read an excerpt of Clockwork Heart and it looks like it has potential. I will have to look for one of the Nathalie Gray book as well.
Besides Ginn Hale’s m/m steampunk romance Wicked Gentlemen, I also really enjoyed Sharon Shinn’s Jovah’s Angel. Maybe not precisely steampunk (more like fantasy romance — this one m/f) but it has some elements of it IMO. It’s set on a world of angels and mortals and this particular book is the only one in the series to take place when that world reaches the development of 19th century level tehnology, including factories and an early prototype of an automobile.
Not steampunk, but for historical fantasy romance (18th century Europe setting) I really enjoyed Shana Abe’s The Smoke Thief and sequels. The heroes and heroines shift shape into dragons.
I really recommend all these books to you if you haven’t read them. Off the top of my head, those are the only ones I can think of. I know Emma Holly has some steampunk erotic romances, but I haven’t read those.
I bought this book and Clockwork Heart because “steampunk” romance has peaked my interest since an article came out about it in the Romantic Times Book Reviews. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this book. I’m kinda scared, but I’m glad someone gave us a good explaination on what this book is about.
Alice, I didn’t find this to be a scary book, at least, not like a horror book might be (the cover makes me think of horror, but the book doesn’t). I too am intrigued by steampunk and like Heather, I am glad to see the romance genre moving toward this new frontier. I’m glad if the review was helpful and hope you enjoy New Blood.
OK, so I’m just trying to wrap my mind around this steampunk thing. So it’s paranormal elements/fantasy and scifi all in one? The idea sounds good as I love all those, but the elements mentioned here that were clearly the punk in steampunk (insectile machines in the 19th century) are just…odd sounding. Throw in the blood sorcery and I start to feel a little dizzy. What, oh what, should I be focusing on. On the surface it sounds like a hot mess.
So obviously I’m going to pull that annoying reader card whereby I say…I gotta read this (or one like it) for myself.
That cover is still pretty bad. I feel a nightmare coming on.
Kmont — No, steampunk doesn’t necessarily have both fantasy and SF in it. Sometimes it does, but often it doesn’t. It’s usually either fantasy or SF, but that speculative element is mixed with some 19th century element. Sometimes the books are actually set in the 19th century; other times they are set in a fantasy setting but one that uses a 19th century-like background rather than a medieval or pre-technological one.
There is a lengthier and better explanation of steampunk here on Wikipedia.
In the case of this book, I didn’t see science fiction in the section that I read — just fantasy in a 19th century Europe setting. I didn’t get far enough to know what was creating the evil insectile machines. The blood sorcery was a pretty major focus of the story.
I actually read through the entire book. I was looking forward to it because I had liked the compass rose series.
The initial chapters were interesting, but then we got bogged down in useless minutiae, and far too many choppy jumps. I think that the inclusion of events in another city, with secondary characters drew the attention away from where it needed to be. I wonder if it had focused more on the primary characters if it would have flowed better.
I am willing to read the next book, but I will not pre-order.
Thanks, Nikki. It is good to have your perspective and that of rebyj who also read the entire book.
OK, so I'm just trying to wrap my mind around this steampunk thing. So it's paranormal elements/fantasy and scifi all in one?
It’s Alternate Reality sets in the past that happens to have futuristic or modern technology part of the everyday life. It’s the pumped-up version of the Industrial Age during the Victorian era, if you like. The historical setting doesn’t necessarily have to be the Victorian era as it can set in any period era, such as medieval, the Roman Empire, the American West, and many more.
The *appearance* of the technology is usually Victorian, and that is what defines steampunk. The Victorian-styled technology in any period setting. Steam-based bullet trains, steam-epbased ships, motorcycles, cars, and so on, but it doesn’t essentially have to be steam-based. Technology or equipment that shouldn’t exist in a period era is an essence.
Film examples: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Victorian), The Mutant Chronicles (WWI), Captain Sky and the World of Tomorrow (WWII), Stargate (the film), The City of Lost Children, Wild Wild We st (American West), Sleeping Hollow (Johnny Depp’s character’s medical equipment didn’t exist in its 1890s setting), Hellboy (WWII), Van Helsing, and Brotherhood of the Wolf.
Some do include Back to the Future on their lists because technology used in the film didn’t exist in 1980s. I’m sceptical on this one, but hey, it’s there.
Sorcery (or magic) isn’t usually part of the classic sub-genre. If it dominates the story, then it’s a fantasy romance with a steampunk element, not a steampunk romance. The occult or paranormal (supernatural creatures and so on) usually is part of it. But that’s my personal definition. It’s a bit like determining the difference between a SF romance and a futuristic romance. :D
Sorry that it’s so long but I hope it answers your question.
Maili!!!! You’re back! I am so happy to see you!
:: doing a little happy dance ::
You are the same Maili who designed our Dear Author stamp, right?
:D Janine! Thank you for the lovely welcome! ((huggle)) Ah, the stamp. Yeah, I did. lol.
((huggle)) back. As you can see we still proudly wear it. You’ve been missed in the blogosphere. It is so great to see you again.
Thanks for the explanation of steampunk. Are you blogging or posting somewhere else?
Aargh. I don’t know how to edit my previous comment.
The *appearance* of the technology is usually Victorian. I wanted to re-edit this to say:
“The *appearance* of the technology is usually Victorian, and that is what defines steampunk. The Victorian-styled technology in any period setting.”
@ Janine. It’s great to see you again, too! No blog at the moment. Jane suggested Twitter and that’s where I am at the mo. :D My username at Twitter is mcvane. :)
I edited your comment to include the sentences you quoted.
Alas, I don’t twitter. Or is it tweet? Message boards and emails and blogs and instant messaging are so much fun, and take up so much time already, that I am afraid to take on another of the wonders of techonology.
But I might have to do it eventually.
You’re awesome for editing that in. ((clings with love)) Thank you.
Heheh. I haven’t read many romances lately (I read my first in ages yesterday), so Twitter seems ideal at the moment. I suspect that more I read, less likely I’ll be quiet. You know me, completely incapable of shutting up when I’m in love with a romance novel or excited about a topic. So a blog is a possibility. :D
That would be great, and until then, I’ll be looking for your posts wherever they may pop up.
I second the Clockwork Heart recommendation and am looking forward to the second book in that series. I think it’s not just a great steampunk romance, it’s a nifty whodunnit as well, especially the showdown with the baddies in front of the most steampunkish machine in the whole book.
Historical Fantasy romance… wouldn’t Jaqueline Carey’s Kushiel series fit that idea? And YA I’d go with the Attolia books of Megan Whelan Turner and some Sherwood Smith (Crown Duel, A Posse of Princesses, The Trouble with Kings).
And since Sharon Shinn was mentioned her Mystic & Rider series definitely is medieval fantasy romance (but not set in a recognisable Earth version).
Nathalie Gray is doing a giveaway of MECHANICAL ROSE (an e-novella, sorry if I didn’t specify earlier) right now. All you have to do to enter is send her an email to mail â€œatâ€ nathaliegray.com, with “Mechanical Rose” in the subject line.
The deadline to enter is 8:00 pm, EST, on Sunday, March 15
I may have just been in the perfect mood, but I read this one straight through. Yes, I didn’t think I found myself that interested in it as I was reading, but as my husband will say, I was quite absorbed and nothing short of a hand waved in front of my face would break me from my reading concentration.
Anyways, while it wasn’t perfect, I still quite enjoyed this story and found it to be much more romantic than other Tor paranormal romances that I’ve run across.
@Heather Massey Heh – I bought it last night.
Well, the economy thanks you!
Thanks, Heather, for mentioning me in your post. My book is a romance, and God willing, I’ll be subbing it really soon.
I liked Gail’s book–although I would say it’s more quasi-historical fantasy with steampunk elements. How’s that? I think these genre descriptions are going to go out the window. Or we’ll have to start combining nouns as they do in German.
I got “New Blood” last Friday and read it straight through. I didn’t even notice the paranormal romance on the spine until I was over half-way through it, and it was shelved in the sf/fantasy section of the bookstore, so I wasn’t expecting a romance. I liked it very much as a fantasy, and was pulled through by the story. Perhaps it would have been different if I’d expected a romance — but I liked the sections with the secondary characters and the larger world they revealed. While the sense of “history” was not on par with what I expect from a historical novel, I felt that the author was trying to give us a dual feel to the book — both “mythical” fantasy and “AU history” fantasy. This was fostered by the very beginning when we saw Jax talking to Amanusa in “an ancient and foreign” tongue, which we later find out is English. So the tropes I was expecting were those of “mythical” fantasy, and the author delivered those.
What is the most appealing to me about steampunk is the aesthetics. And also that you can have it all: the cool, shiny gear, the titanium plating, the brass rivets. And you can also have the gorgeous historical-inspired costumes, the Victorian sensibilities, the formal stance. Love it.
I was raised on the stuff, Jules Verne especially. No one does descriptions like he did.
Okay, I have an attack of nostalgia now.
Thank you Heather, for your good words about Mechanical Rose, and to Jane for buying it (just sent you an e-mail about that subject). I hope those who enter the contest for that story will enjoy it!
Estara — I was thinking “historical fantasy” in reference to fantasies set in alternate versions of our our own history. Like Naomi Novik’s Temeraire books, except I was looking for something with romance.
Nicole, Ciar and Twila — Glad you enjoyed the book. I’m not surprised; it did strike me as a book that other readers could enjoy.
Nicole, the only Tor paranormal romance I can think of right now that I have read is Elizabeth Vaughan’s Warprize. I thought that book was more romance focused but I would call it fantasy romance myself.
Ciar, I hear you on genre descriptions going out the window. It is a problem from the perspective that the whole reason genres exist is that readers like to know what they are getting when they buy a book. I have no problem with mixing up genres, but I want to know what it is when I am reading.
Twila, just to clarify, the sections with the secondary characters didn’t bother me (I think it was Nikki who said she thought the book might have worked better for her without them). I do feel though that I would have liked for the story to be more unified and cohesive in the section that I read, which felt more like one incident after another. I don’t know if I’m articulating this well. In any case, I am glad that others have enjoyed this book more than I have.
Nathalie, agree with you about the aesthetics of steampunk. I also really like the juxtaposition of history and fantasy.
Thanks to Maili and Janine for your further explanations on steampunk. I appreciate it! And yes, Maili, it really helps. :) The concept does sound promising. We’re always looking for something different after all.
I knew this genre was coming because of a post over at The Book Smugglers and I look forward to some more books getting out there. Surely when the right author comes along it will be great.
Okay, just bought Natalie’s book (long overdue). Looking forward to it!
I have to say I didn’t read the book as a romance. I actually thought the romance rang false. But as a fantasy novel it still had potential.
The points I give her are that the story started out in a very different country. I think the positives included the mini-tour of the continent.
I think the tropes were appropriate but the story overall lacked cohesiveness. If I ignored the frequent location changes then the story was more organized. However, and this is a spoiler, I didn’t really need the protracted descriptions of the rebels and the stay with them. I realize that it creates an opportunity for the two main characters to get to know each other and for us to get to know them, but I think far too much time was spent there.
Hopefully these issues were related to it being the set-up book in the series. however, I went back and read the first book in the compass rose series and somehow, it seemed more streamlined than this book.
KMont, you’re welcome.
Nikki, I agree with most of your thoughts, in regard to the section that I read. It is good to have your perspective and that of others here who finished the book.
Ciar, Natalie, my pleasure!
I was wavering on this one but I’m now that I’m sure it’s not standard paranormal romance I am going to get it. I’m allergic to most paranormal romance but have a fondness for alternative history/steampunk.
DS, glad the review was helpful. I hope you enjoy the book!
I, being an enormous fan of Gail Dayton’s Compass Rose series, bought New Blood as soon as it came out and devoured it within a day. I thought that the characters were very interesting, though I do agree that the settings could have been explored more. I didn’t notice the choppiness that some of you have seemed to in the series of events, but I may be biased because I am absolutely in love with the book. I’m sorry that a few people don’t seem to have enjoyed it as much as I have.
I’m glad you enjoyed the book, Jessamine.