ARC Review: BLOOD DEBTS by Terry J. Benton-Walker (2023)

Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Fantasy
Year Release: April 4, 2023
Buy Links: | Unabridged Books |

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Read a physical ARC from the publisher
Content warning: mentions of a dead family member (father), gun violence, necromancy, gore, body horror, blood, depression, anxiety, intergenerational trauma, catfishing, homophobia, depictions and discussions of racism, attempted sexual assault, attempted vehicular manslaughter, emotional and mental manipulation

Cris and Clem are twins and the heirs to a powerful magical legacy, which may or may not have been usurped in the aftermath of a series of murders which took place thirty years before the start of the story. Cris has distanced herself from magic, while Clem uses it to connect with his family and ancestors. But when it’s discovered that magic caused their mother’s sickness, not natural causes, they race against crimes of the past to protect their future and the ones they love.

Equal parts epic fantasy and contemporary fantasy, magic is a force not to be trifled with as a pair of twins come into their own despite the conflict and tensions circling the families around them.

An interview with author Terry J. Benton-Walker is coming up on the blog on release day, April 4th, 2023.

If you really enjoy complex and twisty family sagas full of mystery plus the kind of drama and tension that can only take place in the twenty-first century, you’ve come to the right book. The magic meshes really well with the contemporary setting, in a way that feels organic to the entire notion that traditions don’t need to get left behind in modernity. And I also appreciate that this work commits to magic being real with escalating intensity as more spells are cast to undo past hurts. The magic system is clearly defined early on in the story and maps onto the power dynamics and struggles between the various magical families.

Benton-Walker also does a thoughtful exploration of the difference between gatekeeping and protecting oneself and their family from cultural appropriation, especially when consequences have been borderline deadly on more than one occasion. This is especially salient in Cris’s POV sections, because magic has meant so much to her but has seemingly backfired so thoroughly. I’m not going to speak more on the resolution of these tensions, as that will be spoilers, but the mystery and how it unravels comes to a satisfying and magically explosive head.

Every teen in this book deserves at least an f-bomb, and wow, does Benton-Walker deliver on letting them express their rage and hurt in ways that feel genuine both to the characters and to kids who had to grow up too quickly. The irony between both Cris and Clem’s internal monologues and the words they choose to speak to each other and others really make a book the perfect medium for this story. They’re both kids who saw grief way too young and have a family history of tragedy that echoes into the present day. There’s a lot of hurt that’s unaddressed and uncovered with each reveal. The emotions, both expressed and repressed, propel the story forward, and it’s satisfying to watch both of them come into their own power. It’s also neat that while Clem is gay, the story does not have a coming out subplot, which means he can just exist among all the other tension without having that hanging over his head (though there is some homophobia in his past).

The respect for women in this work is also something that really stood out to me. Each feminine presence, be it aunt, sister, mother, or otherwise, carries so much weight. They’re imperfect, they’re flawed, but none of that diminishes their power. Seeing the familial solidarity in several pivotal scenes made my heart both ache and sore. There is so much healing to be done and little agreement on how to seek justice, and it’s so, so compelling.

In short, if you like family sagas, magic that helps as much as it harms, and intense generational mysteries, definitely get this one on your TBR list.


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