*I was assigned this book for SPFBO7*
*TW - graphic suicide
Blood Spells caught me by surprise. I wasn’t expecting it to be what it turned out to be, and that’s a good thing. I expected a typical YA fantasy with lots of romance and teenager angst and a hunky guy who the girl pants over. What I got instead was a well-done whodunit, set in a very unique world, with deep themes of grief, loss, friendship, and a girl struggling with her identity.
The story is told from the first-person POV of Madison, a POC teenager who has lost her mom and dad. The book opens at a very graphic suicide. Maddy finds her stepmother with her wrists slashed, in a bathtub. Almost immediately, the reader is immersed in Maddy’s world turned upside down. She’s already lost her parents, and now she’s lost her stepmom, too. They had a loving relationship, and Maddy’s world is rocked. The reader gradually gets the sense that this world is modern, yet the existence of magic is a given. There is very little telling, which I appreciated. You experience the world as Maddy does - so some things are assumed.
The worldbuilding was done quite nicely. There are fault lines underground that house water, and inside these water lines live those who can practice magic. Also within these lines, magic messes with technology, making it almost unusable. Cars shut off, cell phones don’t work, especially the farther into the magic side you get. There are particles of magic that float within this boundary. Users create spells using their blood. Those who can practice magic are viewed with a healthy dose of fear, yet for the most part magic is seen as something to avoid unless you have the proper training. There is a Bureau that monitors magic users, and decides who can practice and who can’t, depending on their training. One spell, that of summoning the dead, is dangerous, and comes up quite often in this book.
Maddy strongly suspects her stepmother was murdered. The rest of the book is about how she and her two friends, Lauren and Marshall, investigate her death. Maddy is determined to figure out what is going on, and rushes headlong into it, putting herself and her friends at risk. What I found particularly different about this book than most YA books is that her friends push back on this erratic behavior instead of simply going along with Maddy’s often risky and irrational decisions. Marshall is often uncomfortable with Maddy’s illegal use of magic, challenging her on it. Lauren also challenges Maddy when she places their lives at risk, insisting to be treated with respect, and that her life matters. This theme of healthy friendship is played out throughout the book. Yes, Maddy’s friends are loyal and courageous. But they don’t let her walk all over them.
One theme I also found insightful was that of grief and loss. Maddy struggles with who she is now, apart from her parents and stepmother. She longs to summon them, and tries to a couple of times, providing a few powerful scenes of closure for Maddy as she gets to interact with the dead. She is better able to mourn them. It doesn’t make it easier for her - if anything, it’s harder for her - but the reader can’t blame her for wanting to see them again.
My only complaint with this book was the rushed and predictable ending. I don’t want to give anything away, but it ends exactly how I thought it would. Other than that, this was a good read, and fans of YA, urban fantasy, and strong themes are certain to enjoy it. This is perhaps one of the best YA books I’ve read in quite a while.