REVIEW: Blood Magic by Matthew Cook
Dear Mr. Cook,
I’ve always thought the Juno covers were lovely and eye-catching, and the cover for this book is no exception. Timothy Lantz did an excellent job capturing the dark and moody tone of a story that is one-half sword and sorcery tale and one-half grim horror. From what I understand, Blood Magic was Juno’s first mass market paperback offering as well as the imprint’s first novel by a male author and after I finished reading, I saw why.
Shy and studious, Kirin grew up in the shadow of her vivacious twin sister and followed her lead in nearly everything. When her sister weds the town’s handsomest bachelor, Kirin weds his best friend. But while married life turns out not to be everything her twin dreamed it would be, Kirin makes the best of a bad situation and befriends a wisewoman who teaches her the art of healing, as well as the forbidden art of necromancy. I’m sure Kirin never expected to make practical use of the latter in such a violent fashion, but one night she finds her sister murdered and the act of vengeance she commits in retaliation changes her life forever.
Told in alternating chapters, we see both Kirin’s past and present unfold in parallel until they meet towards the end of the book. This kind of structure can be tricky to pull off, but I found it compelling. The past storyline shows Kirin as she masters her abilities, learns how to survive, and eventually becomes a scout and archer for the Imperial army. The present storyline follows her as the sole survivor of a massacre by the Mor, the country’s indigenous race who reappears every few generations to wage war on humanity and what happens when she meets a kind sorceress able to summon lightning and a bigoted priest who condemns her as an abomination.
I found it interesting that we never learn Kirin’s true name. Kirin is actually the name of her dead twin, but it’s fitting for her to assume the name since it was Kirin’s death that shaped her life. Her presence is evident in every choice Kirin makes, both figuratively and literally; Kirin bound her sister’s angry spirit and can still communicate with her, though not without repercussions.
Kirin is a heroine who’s done some bad things, has committed atrocities even, but she does so out of a desire to protect and avenge. The way in which she killed her sister’s murderer was terrible but so too was the way her sister was murdered. She may reanimate corpses and give them second life as twisted creations, but she uses them to protect the helpless against the Mor and considers them her children. The fact that her efforts earn her nothing but revulsion and hatred adds a layer of truth to her story.
I would have liked to see more insight into the Mor. We know they come every few generations to attack humankind but why? Is it as was briefly hinted in the text and that they fear humans much like humans fear the Mor? I can certainly see that since humans colonized the land and essentially stole their homeland. Or is there another reason? Despite what the characters believe, I highly doubt the Mor are stupid monsters. Their armor and technology suggest otherwise. I also wish we learned more about Lia’s motivations. Meeting the sorceress had such an impact on Kirin but in contrast to Kirin’s fully fleshed out story, Lia’s tale of running away from sorcery school to help her father in the Imperial capital comes off as too simplistic. This isn’t helped by the fact that Lia is at times overly naive.
I especially liked the fact that when Kirin discovers she’s pregnant, she doesn’t completely change personalities. All too often in stories such as these, when a female character becomes pregnant, she’s shunted to the side. Instead Kirin continues her scouting, hunting, and tracking duties for as long as she’s able and when that becomes impossible, lends her expertise in other ways. On the other hand, I have some doubts about the believability of her crisis of faith when she finds herself pregnant. I do find the dichotomy between the creation of true life through her unborn child and the twisted undead life of her zombies interesting but her sudden desire to seek forgiveness and atonement through prayers and faith didn’t quite ring true for me.
All the same, I enjoyed Kirin’s story of love, grief, and loss and how all three can affect your life. It takes the familiar vengeful sword and sorcery tale and breathes fresh new life into it courtesy of Kirin’s necromancy and her undead creations, whose making I found very original. Since this is the first of a trilogy, I can only hope that my questions will be answered in the next installment, which I will gladly read. A high, solid B+ for me.
This is pretty interesting storyline particularly with the pregnancy. Juno does have just gorgeous covers.
I adore that cover.
Wow, that actually sounds pretty cool. I like the concept of ‘vengeful necromancer’ too.
What Jill said. And count me in as another fan of the cover.
Hmm. I generally enjoy male writers doing strong heroines (e.g. JA Konrath and Jack Daniels). Is this available in ebook format? I’m boycotting print books until publishers and Canadian retailers stop making me pay 20%-50% more than Americans.
I don’t think Juno does ebooks but I like the idea that it is a paperback. I might give it a try.
Jill: This is one of the few necromancer stories I’ve read in recent years where the necromancy is shown as genuinely ugly and horrific. And I also liked the fact that Cook touches on the idea of what happens to the souls of the reanimated. Do they just wait around until they’re free to the afterlife? Or does Kirin reanimating them damn them forever? It’s a surprisingly deep for such a short book. (Proof that size doesn’t matter?)
Ann: Jane’s right. Juno doesn’t do ebooks, unfortunately. They only just started doing mass markets with this one.
Jane: I will warn you that there is no HEA or romance in the traditional sense. The father of Kirin’s baby dies at the end of Chapter 1 and the story is grim and dark in the way classic sword and sorcery (Conan the Barbarian, Red Sonja) is. Kirin does some terrible things regardless of the motivation but she also pays for it. This really is a story about Kirin’s journey to self-acceptance. But I also think the book ends on a hopeful note, if perhaps a bittersweet one.
Oooh, dark fantasy and kickass heroine. Pity about the lack of ebook though because otherwise I’d so read it.
Juno ebooks are available at fictionwise, listed under the parent company, Wildside Press.
I stand corrected. But looking through Fictionwise’s listings, I can’t find some of Juno’s titles (including Blood Magic). Is there a lag between the print and ebook versions then?
Yes, there is. Unfortunately, I don’t know what the schedule is, or even if it’s on a set schedule at all. I know that Paula regularly uploads ebooks to fictionwise, so if it’s not on there yet, chances are it will be eventually. She posts updates when she does on Juno’s Blog.
Thanks SO MUCH for all the comments, guys, and the wonderful write-up Jia!
The good news is that Juno has decided to pick up my contract option for a second book, which is tentatively titled “Nights of Sin”. If all goes as planned, it should be out in late summer, 2008. I promise that I’ll be delving much deeper into the Mor this time around, never fear. As you rightly deduced, Blood Magic was intended to be about Kirin and her journey of self-discovery more than the war against the Mor. Book 2 will still heavily feature the same elements, but has a lot more action.
I’m going to cross-link to this post on my blog – look for it shortly. Thanks again for all the great comments, and I hope everyone enjoys Book 2!
I’m glad to hear it, Matt. I look forward to Nights of Sin. Reading Blood Magic reminded me how long it’s been since I’d read a good sword and sorcery fantasy.
Just wanted to know that I cross-linked back here at: