Spells of Blood and Kin: A Dark Fantasy by Claire Humphrey
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.
Summary: While this book is rich in interesting characters and lore with lots of potential, its muddied storyline, anticlimactic ending, and bland setting leave you ultimately unsatisfied.
Spells of Blood and Kin is Claire Humphrey’s debut novel. It’s an urban fantasy set in Canada and is the story of three strangers whose lives become intertwined through the death of one’s grandmother. Lissa is our main protagonist, a witch-in-training under her grandmother when the latter unexpectedly passes away. She’s forced to take over her grandmother’s business of creating enchanted eggs that the ladies in their small, Russian community use for various wishes such as luck, sleep, or fertility. We meet our supporting cast at this point: Stella, Lissa’s posh British half-sister by her estranged father; Maksim, a man with a dark past and supernatural powers with ties to her family; Gus, an alcoholic who lives to fight; and Nick, a normal college student whose life gets turned upside down after a night out with his best friend.
Let me start with what I did like about this book. Lissa and Gus are my favorite characters and I would honestly have read a book just about these two. Lissa is an introverted witch brought up by her stern and serious grandmother. Lissa’s character is thoughtful, insightful, and unexpectedly emotional. While so many female leads in fantasy books are concerned about proving that they can hold their own with spunky comebacks and wry smiles, Lissa is simply concerned with the world in front of her. She doesn’t talk more than necessary, but not out of some tragic need to guard herself. She is simply introverted. Much of the writing that could have been dedicated to Lissa spouting some snappy one-liner, is instead devoted to showing how deeply thoughtful she is. She is not particularly beautiful like her stunning, young half-sister Stella. Nor is she incredibly nice or sweet. She is often short with those around her and would prefer the company of herself over anyone else. What Lissa is, is real. I often find myself relating to her irritation at those around her, her desire to be at home and alone and tending to her work. Her craft is also relatable in that it follows her personality, which is something I think we all can appreciate. Her magic isn’t bright and flashy or dramatic. She chants over eggs on the full moon to enchant them with whatever power her customer seeks. It is quiet, calm, and realistic, just like Lissa.
Next is Gus. The first time we see Gus she is passed out on her filthy couch drunk and covered in injuries. Awoken unceremoniously she proceeds to spiritedly fight Maksim. But she can more than hold her own and she proves it. Gus is one of the kin, a species of people similar to vampires but with differing lore. She is also possibly non-binary. While this is never firmly addressed in the book, it is very lightly implied (the only reason I use she/her pronouns is because they are used in the book). While her gender identity is in the air, we do know that she is queer – passing up sex with the dark and brooding Maksim in favor of a young, jolly barmaid. Gus’ character is given very little development throughout the story until the very end, but the few short scenes that she is provided give her such an incredible amount of depth and I really, really wish she’d been given more screen time, so to speak.
Finally, there is some really great lore explored here that made me really interested in learning more. Russian folklore is presented in a modern, removed setting with a character that could not be less in touch with her roots, and yet it still colors everything with a
Now then, to the things that I don’t like.
This book lacks a real story. Not only that, but it is anticlimactic and paced terribly. The story drudges along and never really delivers. What is built up as the climax ultimately just resolves itself with little to no tension. While there are stakes, the writing never really applies any real urgency to them. The only cathartic scene that happens (I won’t spoil yet) occurs at the very end and is ultimately given very little emotion. Lissa spends much of the book worrying about a spell that she must cast and the effect it will have on her. She casts the spell and when the consequences are addressed, the resolution is that it will get better eventually… An ultimately unsatisfying resolution if there ever was one.
The book is also told from nearly four different perspectives; Lissa, Maksim, Nick, and Gus. This being a standalone book at a mere 320 pages, this seems like too much all at once to me. It can definitely become confusing and irritating having to constantly switch perspectives in such a short amount of time.
Finally, my biggest peeve with this book is about Nick. Nick is a completely useless character that provides a little bit of worthless tension. Nick is turned into kin by Maksim on accident (by a lick, no less; what kind of vampire turns people with forehead licks??) and the subplot deals with Maksim searching for his newest progeny before his fresh nature takes over and causes him to do something dangerous or reckless.
The main plot is Lissa’s quest to reinstate a mysterious spell that was cast over Maksim by her grandmother. The spell itself makes Maksim’s nature more manageable, allowing him to lead a relatively normal life without succumbing to bloodlust and aggression. However, when Lissa’s grandmother passes away, so does her spell. If Humphrey had left it at that, this book would be one thousand times better.
Instead, we are greeted with a horny, messy, and arguably alcoholic teen in college becoming more horny, alcoholic, and now with an added dash of aggression. Not only is Nick creepy – constantly jacking off, trying to arm wrestle random people, and talking about kidnapping Stella and leaving the country – but he completely ruins the quiet, magical vibe I got from the rest of the characters.
Not only this, but his storyline comes out of nowhere at the end of the book. A handful of pages are dedicated to him and Gus leaving the city to perform hard manual labor to curb their nature, and ends in a fragmented and nonsensical hike to a forest fire and Gus making the independent decision to snap his neck based solely on this hike after weeks of good behavior. Honestly it seemed rushed and thrown together. A messy end to a messy storyline.
While this ending did play into the book’s themes of family and sacrifice, it ultimately would have made more sense to leave it out.
Had this book dealt with its main storyline, and went more into Lissa curbing her grief and trying to find a balance with her new life while Maksim worked to manage his unbridled nature, I feel like it would have been neater and more satisfying.
I would recommend this book as a quick summer read but nothing more. However, I am looking forward to more from Claire Humphrey in the hope that she develops a keener sense for pacing and plot in the future.
Let me know if you plan to read this or what your thoughts were on it in the comments below.