Some families hand down wealth through generations; some hand down wisdom. Some families, whether they want to or not, hand down the secret burdens they carry and the dangerous debts they owe.
Lissa Nevsky’s grandmother leaves her a big, empty house, and a legacy of magic: folk magic, old magic, brought with Baba when she fled the Gulag. In the wake of her passing, the Russian community of Toronto will depend on Lissa now, to give them their remedies and be their koldun’ia. But Lissa hasn’t had time to learn everything Baba wanted to teach her―let alone the things Baba kept hidden.
Maksim Volkov’s birth family is long dead, anything they bestowed on him long turned to dust. What Maksim carries now is a legacy of violence, and he does not have to die to pass it on. When Maksim feels his protective spell fail, he returns to the witch he rescued from the Gulag, only to find his spell has died along with the one who cast it. Without the spell, it is only a matter of time before Maksim’s violent nature slips its leash and he infects someone else―if he hasn’t done so already.
Nick Kaisaris is just a normal dude who likes to party. He doesn’t worry about family drama. He doesn’t have any secrets. All he wants is for things to stay like they are right now, tonight: Nick and his best buddy Jonathan, out on the town. Only Nick is on a collision course with Maksim Volkov, and what he takes away from this night is going to crack open Nick’s nature until all of his worst self comes to light.
Lissa’s legacy of magic might hold the key to Maksim’s salvation, if she can unravel it in time. But it’s a legacy that comes at a price. And Maksim might not want to be saved…
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Spells of Blood and Kin by Claire Humphrey
Baba had been dead for four days by the time Lissa got to speak with her.
This is how Spells of Blood and Kin by Claire Humphrey begins, and boy is it a great first line! A solid debut novel by Ms. Humphrey, the book features solid character building, and an incredibly interesting take on kitchen witchcraft featuring what seems like eastern European berserkers. However, at points, it does feel like perhaps there may have been chunks edited out as the story seems to jump around or over certain points, leaving it up to the reader to make of it what they will.
Humphrey does a good job depicting the grieving process with Lissa. It doesn’t feel over the top or hysterical, while at the same time manages not portray Lissa as cold or uncaring. It’s a sombre, sober portrayal of grief that fades to the background during the novel, but is still felt; which is appropriate considering Baba and her death is the catalyst for everything in the novel.
Hearing of Baba’s death, Lissa’s somewhat estranged step-sister Stella decides to visit to help see Lissa through such a trying time, or so she says. In actuality, she’s running away from her life in London and looking to start anew in Toronto, while at the same time looking to form an actual relationship with her step-sister. Lissa, unaccustomed to the company, is resistant at first. It seems being a witch’s apprentice left her little to no time to socialize or understand how to be around people. The bonding done between the two was well done and believable. They’re different, and remain different, but understand and appreciate the other. It’s great to see each sister take the other one under their wing.
The undercurrent of romance between Lissa and Stella’s coworker, Rafe, whom I loved was fun! It was definitely just a small background thing that I want more of! I’m not really a fan of romance, but maybe I just really liked Rafe? The perfect mix of approachable, relatable working class man with hints of an upper class upbringing, I just kept thinking I WANT ONE! I think, he might be a big part of why I’d like to see a follow-up to Spells of Blood and Kin.
But, then we get to the flip side where I’m uncertain I’d like to know more about this world and the “kin” section of the story. On the surface, it’s pretty cool and interesting. The kin seem like berserkers, humans that have been tainted with insatiable blood lust where they are always looking for a fight. Constantly drinking and fighting, theirs is a constant internal struggle to retain their humanity. World weary Maksim is forced to deal with the return of his raging frenzy after Baba dies. Tagging along is progeny Augusta who sees the world a bit differently than her maker. Their relationship is interesting and I’d love to see more back story between them. That said, this is where the story clipping I mentioned earlier happens.
There seems to be something going on, unsaid, with the three kin you see in the book. This is getting to mild spoilers right now, so if you want to read the book, TURN AWAY AND STOP HERE. It is said that Augusta is into women; that she is a lesbian. It is alluded to that Maksim is gay. It is alluded to that Nick is angry with himself for being unable to maintain a heterosexual relationship, is possibly bisexual/pansexual, and in love with his best friend Jonathan. That being said, these three potential lgbtqa* characters are the three infected characters that are full of rage, always drinking, always a danger to society. Then, we have Lissa performing what is essentially an illegal spell to leash Maksim’s nature, which infuriates Augusta claiming that it isn’t natural what is being done to him. That’s not something I want to read. That’s not something I’m comfortable with. I don’t know if I’m reading this incorrectly? Especially since I know that the author has written queer friendly material before. Maybe I’m missing the point?
I hope that there’s a follow-up simply to see the inclusion of heterosexual kin, which funnily enough is never something I expected to say — that a book needed more straight people. But in this case, I think having a straight person be afflicted as kin would at the very least dissuade me from jumping to conclusions as to what sort of commentary one can jump to. The writing is solid, the relationships are great, the magic simple but believable, Spells of Blood and Kin by Claire Humphrey is a solid debut novel.
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