N.E. Davenport meshes a technologically advanced world with the magical powers of the gods in her novel, The Blood Trials. Despite the protagonist being 19 years old, the book skewed more toward adult with its darker content and horror elements stemming from both humans and monsters. The book is action-packed and loves to shock the reader, but I found many of its foundational parts lacking.
Legatus Commander Verne Amari has died and taken what fragile peace the Republic of Mareen had with him. The powerful war houses are quick to make moves following his death, and his granddaughter Ikenna cannot shake off the anger and sadness now stalling her future. That is until she learns that Verne’s demise was not natural and instead, a murder likely carried out by a Praetorian, Mareen’s elite military force. Ikenna decides to enter the Praetorian Trials to amass her own power and get close to the organization that plotted against her family. Ikenna will put her life and secret blood gift on the line to find justice in a Republic bent on destroying her.
Themes of racism and misogyny are present throughout The Blood Trials. The story displays hateful behavior from the majority group against everyone different from them and rampant sexism in the military. The odds of making it through the Praetorian Trials aren’t great, and it only gets worse if you’re non-white or a woman. Overall, the book has a powerful message to share, but it wasn’t executed very well. It’s very heavy-handed. When an atrocity would happen, the characters would all start cussing and name-calling each other a bigot or whore. It was disappointing because it seemed like the instances of racism and sexism served as plot provocations meant to get a character’s reaction more than anything. This book doesn’t shy away from showcasing the pervasiveness of racism and sexism in Mareen, but it does fall short of providing meaningful commentary on the broken system.
Another disappointing element in this story was the worldbuilding. The setup seemed promising at first, but it quickly spirals into a situation where there’s an answer for everything. The technology and magic system don’t feel like a part of the world and are more like tools the author uses when something is needed to explain away a situation or further the plot. It’s hard to get immersed in a world where there are no rules or guardrails on what’s possible. It allows the characters to push the limit without any real stakes and it keeps the reader in the dark because we don’t understand the consequences. I also did not like how illusive the big bad Blood Emperor is or how little we learn about the gods and goddesses. Blood Trials hints at its extensive lore, but it never fully manifests.
The final disappointing elements of this book were the flimsy character relationships and the awkward dialogue. The development between Ikenna and her supporting characters is especially chaotic. There are instances of extremely hateful, racist characters becoming understanding, helpful comrades in a matter of minutes. It’s WILD. I found the relationships lacking any real depth, even when it came to Ikenna’s two best friends. The shallowness really becomes apparent as she is introduced to other Praetorian leaders and participants in the trials. Every person served as another thing for Ikenna to react to. These characters change their attitudes and feelings constantly to support what’s needed in the story.
The Blood Trials had so much potential, and I can see glimmers of great stuff here. Ultimately N.E. Davenport relies on a lot of flashiness and shock factors to build the story and not the foundational stuff. There is a lot to be desired among the characters and the world they operate in. I made it through the trials but will not be venturing any further.
Rating: The Blood Trials – 4.0/10