The Blood Trials by D.E. Davenport
Harper Voyager, pb, £8.99
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
After her grandfather’s death, Ikenna goes off the rails, skipping training, drinking, and fighting. But when she discovers her grandfather was assassinated by the Republic of Mareen, the very Republic he had dedicated his life to protect, Ikenna finds new focus. Pledging herself to the Praetorian Trials, Ikenna must undergo the most brutal training to get close to the truth about how her grandfather died. The Trials could kill her before she gets answers, but Ikenna has a secret that she and her grandfather had worked for years to hide; magic runs through her veins, magic the Republic wants irradicating. Ikenna must work smart and keep a lid on her temper if she wants to keep her secrets and find out the truth behind her grandfather’s death.
From the start, The Blood Trial pulls no punches. Within the first chapter, Ikenna faces prejudice on all sides because she is a Black woman. This unflinching approach to racism and sexism continues throughout as the ruling families of Mareen are all white, and Ikenna’s people were subjugated because they had a different skin colour and magic. No matter how many times Ikenna proves herself on the Praetorian Trials, it will never be enough, even when she has passed them.
The fighting scenes are vivid and octane-fuelled, matching the story’s pace. There’s barely time to catch your breath before the next thing hits Ikenna, and she reacts. And reactive is the best way to describe Ikenna. She rarely thinks before she acts, and her actions have deadly consequences. There is a high kill count, and no one is safe.
However, Ikenna’s explosive nature and subsequent introspection as she rampages at her injustices, grew repetitive as the book continued. It took a long time for this magical super soldier’s character to mature, and even then, I didn’t feel it matched her experiences. She still felt a little immature.
I also found an issue with continuity. Without going into detail because I hate spoilers, there is an intense sex scene that, once it is over, is barely referenced again despite the characters constantly in each other’s company. The scene represents a significant shift in alliances within the story, and I felt it should have had a more lasting impact than it did. Another example is the introduction of an important character in the final quarter of the book without any previous mention. However, this is a personal thing, so other readers may not even notice it.
Those personal preferences aside, The Blood Trials is an exciting older YA novel. It seamlessly combines sci-fi and fantasy elements and shines a light on the racism and sexism Black women face every day. The Blood Trials is not a story to be missed, and I will be on the look for the second half of this exciting duology.