Published by Thomas Dunne Books on June 14th 2016
In her extraordinary debut, Spells of Blood and Kin, Claire Humphrey deftly weaves her paranormal world with vivid emotional depth and gritty violence. Bringing together themes of death, addiction, and grief, Claire takes readers on a human journey that goes beyond fantasy.
When her beloved grandmother dies suddenly, 22-year-old Lissa Nevsky is left with no choice but to take over her grandmother's magical position in their small folk community. That includes honoring a debt owed to the dangerous stranger who appears at Lissa's door.
Maksim Volkov needs magic to keep his brutal nature leashed, but he's already lost control once: his blood-borne lust for violence infects Nick Kaisaris, a charming slacker out celebrating the end of finals. Now Nick is somewhere else in Toronto, going slowly mad, and Maksim must find him before he hurts more people.
Lissa must uncover forbidden secrets and mend family rifts in order to prevent Maksim from hurting more people, including himself. If she fails, Maksim will have no choice but to destroy both himself and Nick.
Spells of Blood and Kin presents a fresh and interesting twist on the paranormal. This is not as dark or gritty as a horror novel, but it is darker and more violent than I expected. It is also not a paranormal book that romanticizes the violent creatures of the world and for me, that honestly was a positive. I found it overall rather unexpected and definitely could not predict the way things would go. Also a positive.
Lissa is a witch whose grandmother (and mentor in all things witch related) just died. She comes across as quite sheltered, having really had little interaction with anyone but her grandmother. I found her character to be a bit naive in some respects, also sweet, kind and found myself interested in her story. She is faced with having to replace her grandmother’s role and services in the community. Most the the magic she performs is based on placing spells on eggs, the recipients use the eggs when they want to release the spell. There is a time constraint on how long the eggs/spells are good and all of them are temporary (tied to the life of the egg they were cast on). But in the course of taking over for her grandmother she also learns about things she never knew about. Particularly related to one Maksim Volkov.
The reader (and Lissa) quickly realize Maksim, who refers to himself as kin, is not typical and that kin does not mean that he is related to her. She knows her grandmother had helped him keep his violent nature under control but does not fully understand what that nature is or what her grandmother may have done to help him. From Maksim’s perspective we get a clearer idea of how he suffers. Honestly, I can’t tell you exactly what Maksim is, but I will say he suffers from an incredible need for violence, even when the rational part of his brain does not want violence. He has one companion like him, and they drink heavily and fight harder. They have the ability to “infect” others, and one more character in the book has his life take a very unpredictable and dark turn after a run in with Maksim. Sort of think of Maksim’s kind as a paranormal berserker Fight Club. With lots of booze and at times little self restraint. But the problem is that Maksim does not want to be like this. He wants to remain in control of himself and is haunted by his past. As bad as Maksim could be, we learn enough about him and his past to really want better for him as well. I could not help but hope he could find some relief in life from this constant battle with his nature.
This book can be unexpectedly dark at times and everything has a cost. This is not a happy, romantic romp in the world of the paranormal, but rather one that highlights the cost and the pains associated with the unnatural. I found the world and magic interesting and the characters intriguing. I will definitely pick up the next installment so I can find out what happens next! Overall, I was certainly impressed with this debut.
Review originally posted on The Speculative Herald.