Book Review: Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury – A Dark and Compelling Urban Fantasy About Witches, Family, the Price of Magic, and Love

Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury
Synopsis:

After years of waiting for her Calling—a trial every witch must pass in order to come into their powers—the one thing Voya Thomas didn’t expect was to fail. When Voya’s ancestor gives her an unprecedented second chance to complete her Calling, she agrees—and then is horrified when her task is to kill her first love. And this time, failure means every Thomas witch will be stripped of their magic.

Voya is determined to save her family’s magic no matter the cost. The problem is, Voya has never been in love, so for her to succeed, she’ll first have to find the perfect guy—and fast. Fortunately, a genetic matchmaking program has just hit the market. Her plan is to join the program, fall in love, and complete her task before the deadline. What she doesn’t count on is being paired with the infuriating Luc—how can she fall in love with a guy who seemingly wants nothing to do with her?

With mounting pressure from her family, Voya is caught between her morality and her duty to her bloodline. If she wants to save their heritage and Luc, she’ll have to find something her ancestor wants more than blood. And in witchcraft, blood is everything. 

I received a digital advanced readers copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

‘Woah’ was the word that escaped my mouth when I finished this. Because holy smokes, Blood Like Magic is truly unlike any book that I have read before. With its fascinating take on a not-so-distant futurism blended with witches, a story that explores how far you would go to save your family, the price we pay for love, and the looming question of ‘if you had to sacrifice your first love to save your family, would you?’, Blood Like Magic is undeniably compelling and fascinating. I had such a wonderful time with this book, and I’m excited to share with you all my thoughts on this book.

Set in 2049’s Toronto, Blood Like Magic follows Black-Canadian teen Voya who belongs to a long line and history of witches. When Voya receives her Calling, a test from her ancestor in order to receive a gift, she unexpectedly fails. However, her ancestor gives her another chance: destroy her first love (who she will need to find and fall in love with). If she fails, she risks stripping away her whole family’s magic forever.

I enjoyed the portrayal of witches in Blood Like Magic, particularly since the story takes place in the future where technology has permeated every aspect of society. Readers who enjoy rich lore and magic that comes with rules and consequences will enjoy the depiction of witches in this book. For instance, there are pure (witches who use their own blood to cast magic) versus impure witch families (that use the blood of another human being), and the morality of this duality and dynamic between them are subtly and brilliantly explored. Yet, the unique setting and story of Blood Like Magic brings together the splendour and intrigue of urban fantasy, magic and witches with the cautionary and critical gaze of science-fiction and understanding magic in the context of technological advancement. Genetic technology plays a huge role in this story, and I was in awe of how beautifully and remarkably the best parts of both urban fantasy and science-fiction came together.

But what struck me about the witches in Blood Like Magic is the importance of the witches’ connection to history and their ancestors. Blood Like Magic examines how, particularly for people in African diaspora, family histories have been erased and lost as a consequence of violent colonial history and slavery. Power and magic in Blood Like Magic are intimately tied with belonging and connection to family and community, and losing such connections can consequently sever ties with magic and history forever. This was such a poignant and creative way of intertwining magic of the story’s world with African diaspora identity, and I enjoyed the ways that this duality is explored and developed across the story.

The primary conflict in the story – kill your first love or forfeit your entire family’s magic forever – was incredibly compelling, and the ending will not disappoint either. I was utterly captivated, oscillating between feelings of anticipation for what Voya would do next and then feelings of dread of knowing what she has to do. The direction and complexity of how this conflict develops across the story is unexpected yet fantastic. The stakes are high, and they are stacked even higher as Voya ,meets Luc, a Mexican trans boy who she discovers is 92 percent compatible with her, and a tentative friendship and mutual trust starts to grow between them. In addition, Voya faces a tangible and a heavy burden from her family to complete her task. Voya’s family are very much present in her life, and I liked how her family has a huge influence on her life – for better or for worse.

Voya was a fantastic protagonist, one that I really empathised and connected with. Some readers may find her frustrating, with how indecisive she is and how she finds it challenging to commit to a decision, but I actually really enjoyed that aspect of her character. In YA, we read a lot of stories with ‘strong female characters’, and Black teens and women are doubly expected to be ‘strong’. I liked that Voya was not; I liked that Voya responded to the conflicts and challenges in her life as most people would: with a lot of doubt and uncertainty. Because what I liked was that her ‘indecisiveness’ grounds her character in a way that felt realistic. She has to kill someone! And such a task weighs on her heavily and she feels incredibly conflicted about it. I actually found it refreshing to have a main character that questioned and doubted, and in that doubt, showed a lot of resolute strength and bravery to question what lies before her.

The story is unflinchingly dark at times. However, the story is never dark for the sake of being dark, but rather accurately and plainly reflects the dire circumstances of Voya’s circumstances and journey. The storytelling in this was wonderful; a multitude of threads in Voya’s life come together, creating a complex and comprehensive illustration of Voya’s life. On top of grappling with her task and finding a way to fall in love with Luc as quickly yet authentically as she can, she also has to figure out what she wants to do with her life, wrestle with her family’s heavy expectations on her, and also unravel the mystery of her friend’s disappearance, family secrets, and a terrifying conspiracy.

At its core though, Blood Like Magic is a story that is inherently about love; it’s about how far we will go to save the ones we will love, it’s about holding the weight of a life against another in both hands and having to decide which is heavier and worth saving, and it’s also about how, no matter how dysfunctional and imperfect family can be, family can be all we have and there is no price to saving one’s family.   

MY CONCLUSION: RECOMMENDED

Blood Like Magic is the kind of young adult book that breaks the mould; unique in its vision of witches and family, compelling in its high-stakes conflict, and memorable with its setting. Refreshing, unique, and brilliant, Blood Like Magic is one spectacular debut that I foresee forging new paths for storytelling, and I cannot wait to see what Liselle Sambury writes next.

Is this book for you?

Premise in a sentence: A Black-Canadian teen is given a task in order to receive her witch powers: destroy her first love… or her family’s powers will be taken away forever.

Perfect for: Readers who enjoy genre-bending stories; readers who like complex and multi-faceted storylines; readers looking for a fresh witch story

Think twice if: You’re not a fan of ‘unlikeable’ protagonists

Genre: young adult urban fantasy, has elements of science-fiction

Trigger/content warning: (warnings can be found in the Author’s Note, at the start of the book) whipping scene in the context of slavery, gun/police violence, discussion of and character with an eating disorder, blood/gore/violence, death, substance abuse/addiction, mentions of child neglect

Goodreads | Indiebound | Book Depository | Bookshop | Amazon | My short review on Goodreads

4 thoughts on “Book Review: Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury – A Dark and Compelling Urban Fantasy About Witches, Family, the Price of Magic, and Love

  1. Yeah, I’d say indecisiveness is entirely understandable in that situation! 😅

    Thank you for your review! I’ve been considering adding Blood Like Magic to my reading list, but I hesitated over the main dilemma. Now I feel more encouraged to check it out. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s