Monday, March 7, 2022

Review: THE BLOOD TRIALS by N. E. Davenport


Rating: 1.75/5 stars

I had been very excited to read The Blood Trials for quite some time, ever since I first saw the amazing cover a few months ago, and I was very lucky and ecstatic to receive an early copy of it, which I immediately jumped into. Unfortunately, however, this book had so much language and violence in it that I almost DNFed it in chapter 3 for that reason alone. I persevered, though, because I really wanted to read this book and enjoy it, but the vulgarity and violence only got worse. 

The story here is surrounding Ikenna, a strong female protagonist who is hot-headed and quick to start a fight, in the aftermath of her grandfather’s murder. Her grandfather was the former Legatus Commander, a high-ranking official who trained her to keep her Blood gift a secret. Determined to discover who killed her grandfather and avenge his death, Ikenna pledges in the Praetorian Trials, a grueling set of physical tests that mean death for most who try. But Ikenna has an advantage with her Blood gift, a power that no one knows she has and that the government of Mareen tried to wipe out years ago. If she is found out, she will be killed. If she fails the trials, she will be killed. She might just be killed anyway because of her mixed heritage and dark skin color. But she will die fighting if that’s what it takes. 

One of the very first things I noticed about this book, which continued throughout the whole story, is that the writing is very choppy. There are lots of short sentences right after each other instead of being combined with commas and contractions. Stopping at so many periods so frequently was jarring and made for a reading experience that wasn’t too enjoyable for me. There also was not a lot of worldbuilding at all—just a little bit about the government of Mareen and the Pantheon of gods they may or may not believe in, but not much else. The writing style really makes this book feel like a debut novel to me. I kept being pulled out of the story because of how something was explained or the word choices made, and it made it clear that this story has a really cool concept but with poor execution. 

The trials started with over a thousand people, then there were 600, then 300 people left, yet the same five people are the only ones who ever get mentioned. It feels like no one important dies and no one else is even present because the lack of talk about them. Why do the training officers pick on the same handful of people in every chapter when literally hundreds of more options are out there? I know Ikenna isn’t going to interact with every single person in the trials with her, but how few people were actually mentioned made it feel rather unrealistic and like there was only a small group of people present the whole time. 

I could not connect to or care about any of the characters besides Ikenna. A lot of minor characters I got mixed up because they would be referenced once or twice in the beginning and then not at all in the middle and then again at the end, or there would be a ton of side characters introduced at once with no distinguishing traits between them and I was expected to remember them all. Just not very good character work in this book, in my opinion. 

This definitely feels like just a dystopian with a little bit of futuristic technology, instead of the science-fiction / fantasy crossover that I thought this was and that the cover and synopsis alluded to. I absolutely love the cover for this book, but I think it’s the wrong cover for the story within. The appearance of multiple planets and spired buildings are not indicative of the type of story this is; the vibrant colors on the cover make it seem more lighthearted, action-packed but fun, instead of the dark aggressive story focused on murder, racism, and bigotry that it is. 

The Blood Trials is very dark and gritty and violent, most of the book focusing on what Ikenna has to go through to survive the brutal trials. This honestly looks like a young adult book cover, but this is very much an adult book with adult content, and that’s to this book’s disadvantage because it is likely that the type of audience that will be drawn to the cover is not the type to be prepared for the directions the story takes (like me). 

I wanted to love this book, but I spent most of the story just waiting for it to end because I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I wanted to. I think this will be an amazing book for the right audience, and I thought that was me before I started it, but now after having read it, I know I’m not the right audience anymore. 

Because Ikenna is Black and suffers unnecessary racism in her world because of her mixed heritage, I think Black women looking for a strong female protagonist that they can see come out on top of all the suppressors would really enjoy this story. The author is Black and the main character is Black, and this just feels like a story written for the strong Black women out there who feel like they don’t belong but are powerful, determined fighters. This is a book for them, and that’s great because we need more books like that. But that’s not me. 

Even though this is a book I would describe as “good,” I didn’t particularly enjoy it. Ikenna faces so much hatred and injustices that it constantly made me just so mad. I read books to feel happy, so I didn’t want to keep returning to this story that I knew was going to keep making me angry with every passing page. 

I quit reading at 84% and skimmed to the end, reading dialogue here and there and then reading the last page. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I had been suffering through this book for over two weeks, reading during every spare second I had, and it still would not end. I brought the book on vacation with me and read and read and read it, and I still was not done. From about 50% onward is when I switched from being engaged in the story to just wanting it to be done simply because I was not enjoying it anymore, but I pushed forward until I eventually decided to stop at 84%. The trials end at the 70% mark and the last 30% is just politics that set up the story that will take place during the sequel, which I already know I won’t be reading. Plus, even though I normally like political intrigue, I did not care about a single thing the characters were talking about or doing. I didn’t know who they were talking about or what the nations and alliances were, and I certainly didn’t care about the future of any one character or country. 

Overall, I am very disappointed with The Blood Trials. I wanted both more fantastical elements and more science-fiction elements, and I wanted less graphic on-page violence and less vulgarity. I also wanted more character development and world-building. I expected this book to be a new favorite, but I struggled to push myself through it and found myself not caring what happened in the end. Even though this book didn’t work out for me, I think this will be a great book for the right audience, so I encourage you to check if out if you’re interested. Just know ahead of time the content gets very dark. 

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