Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Book Review: Spells of Blood and Kin by Claire Humphrey

Pros: introverted protagonist, man vs himself plot, awkward situational and dry humour, minor romance elements

Cons: I wondered where Maksim got his money 

The death of Lissa Nevsky’s grandmother affects her life in numerous ways.  She has to take up her duties as a kodun’ia, a Russian witch, and her stepsister, whom she barely knows and who knows nothing of witchcraft, shows up unexpectedly to help out.  The death also affects Maksim Volkov, a member of the kin who’s had his violent nature tamed with a spell.  When the spell breaks he inadvertently infects a young man with his condition.  Now Maksim needs Lissa’s help getting his violent nature back under control.  He also needs to find the newly made kin, before he kills someone with his enhanced strength and increasingly violent restlessness.

It’s not common to find books that revolve around people dealing with their own problems, and their consequences - rather than outside physical foes - so I found this book rather refreshing.  Similarly, it’s nice to see an urban fantasy novel that doesn’t rely on the female protagonist physically fighting the bad guys.  And while there is fighting in the book - it’s mostly mutual, as a way of holding the violence of the kin in check (and done amongst themselves, since they can handle each other’s enhanced abilities). 

Lissa is an introvert with minimal social skills.  Her stepsister, Stella, is an extrovert who’s more into feminine things.  The two clash in a number of ways.  I loved Lissa as a character.  She has a lot of the same quirks - and therefore problems - that I have.  She’s awkward when a guy flirts with her.  She’s uncomfortable with attention.  She has trouble trusting others and telling them truths she’d rather keep to herself.  I found myself laughing out loud a few times, just because I sympathized so much with her situation.  Other times I laughed because Stella made pointed observations that were just the right kind of dry for my sense of humour.

Maksim’s got some issues, which makes him interesting, though he doesn’t do much in the book beyond trying to hold his demons at bay.  Gus, another kin, has an interesting past and I found her snark fun to read.  Nick was a little annoying, but he’s got the excuse that his body is changing without his knowledge, making him edgy and violent and kind of a jerk.

I liked that the kin are portrayed as the truth behind myths of vampires and werewolves.  There’s just enough Russian mythology mentioned to whet the appetite, but not enough to quench it.  Similarly the magic Lissa performs is interesting to read about, but sounds kind of tedious to perform.

There’s a hint of romance, but it’s a minor point and not between the character’s you’d expect.

I did find myself wondering how Maksim has so much money.  Yes, he owns a gym and trains fighters, but he always seems to have ready cash to hand out to Gus.  And while I’m sure being a soldier paid something, I’m not sure it accounts for the amount of cash he has in flashback scenes.  It’s possible he saves well and his poor living conditions imply that he doesn’t spend much on food, housing or clothing, so maybe it’s a matter of priorities and good budgeting.

Along the same lines, while Lissa works at a printing shop, it’s only mentioned a few times and she seems to have no problem staying up until 3 am and/or sleeping in late a lot.  Though, she is in her early 20s, which might account for her ability to go without proper sleep, I was starting to wonder if she was missing shifts.

If you’re looking for an urban fantasy that does some new and interesting things, this is a quick, fun read.

Out June 14th.

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