Saturday, 31 December 2011

New Blood by Gail Dayton

A little over a year ago, I purchased this book, spur of the moment, by an author that I’d never heard of before. That author was Gail Dayton and the book was called Heart’s Blood. At the time of the purchase, I didn’t realise that Heart’s Blood was actually the second book in a steampunk / paranormal romance series. I managed to muddle my way through the book without becoming too confused but I did soon realise that I seemed to be missing information. Anyway, I enjoyed the book and found that I wanted to read Amanusa’s story, even though she didn’t figure all that much in the second book. So I ordered New Blood then did my typical thing of putting it on a shelf and forgetting about it. Until now.

I actually read this book a month ago and it was my fifth and final read in the favourites challenge for autumn 2011.

Presentation: Mass market paperback. There are 500 pages and 30 chapters (I think. I gave the book to a friend to read so I can’t check.) New chapters do not start on a new page. The type is medium-sized and spaced.

Story: There are four schools of magic: alchemy, which works with natural elements; conjury, which works by contacting the dead; wizardy, which also works with natural elements but in a slightly different way; and sorcery, which works by taking blood. Blood sorcery is feared and only available to female practitioners of magic. Women having been pushed out of the ranks of magicians, sorcery has been lost.

Yvaine, the last blood sorceress, was burnt at the stake over 200 years ago but before she died, she set her servant, Jax, the task of finding her successor. It has taken him a long time, but he has finally found Amanusa, the next blood sorceress, in the wilds of Transylvania. Amanusa has a painful past, though, and when she unleashes her magic on those who hurt her, she and Jax must run for Western Europe.

Meanwhile, in Paris, the Magicians’ Conclave has scheduled a crisis meeting to try to find a way of dealing with dead zones – areas of land where no magic exists anymore and where no living beings can survive – that are cropping up all over the world. They must try to find a way of preventing these areas from expanding.

Thoughts and impressions: At first it was a little weird coming into this first book with prior knowledge of the world building. This soon passed, however, and I found myself fully immersed in the story. The setting, the wilds of the Transylvanian mountains (or the Carpathians to call them by their real name), is one that I am particularly fond of (just personal taste) and the author did the remote mountain area justice in her narration. I got a sense of remoteness from the story.

I also liked how she made the Hungarian Inquisition (a society that hunts down illegal practitioners of magic – especially women) so set in their ways that they are willing to chase this female magician – a sorceress no less! – across the whole of Europe. The presentation made it feel authentic, something that is always important to me. This contrasted with Western Europe where the reader sees that women - in particular Elinor, an aspiring wizard – are starting to demand their rightful place in the magicians’ ranks. Of course, there are two camps of men: the ‘traditionalists’ (who want to keep the practise of magic a male-only domain) and the ‘progressives’ (who are the ones who actually want to go back to traditional traditions from some 200 years ago before the witch hunts killed off all female practitioners, and to readmit women among their ranks.) Some of the characters went too far for me, Nigel Cranshaw in particular (I remember not liking him in the second book either), though I suspect that he’s probably more of an archetype, representative of a mainstream opinion, rather than a character in his own rights.

Sorcery and the machinations behind blood magic were interesting. In fact, the whole magic system was very well thought out: it’s one of my favourites from the paranormal genre and it seems to me that a lot of time and effort must have gone into setting up the system and all its various rules. This is expended on more in the second book, if I remember correctly, but it’s a good introduction. There were some things that Amanusa seemed to just know instinctively about the intricacies of her magic; I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this, especially when she often has to have the basics explained to her. Despite this, I still liked the rides that these vents took me on as a reader.

The main threat in this novel is the fact that women have been excluded from the magical community for so long that some men are willing to go to any lengths necessary to prevent a woman from practising any of the magical fields. On top of this, there are hundreds of years’ worth of bad rumours about just how sorcery works – the most popular of these being that the blood used to channel the spells is stolen from innocent victims – making this lost form of magic the most feared. This presents Amanusa with many hurdles to overcome - with both supporters who want to welcome the return of sorcery and others who would rather see her killed, so reviled is her school of magic. The reader knows that all blood used to channel magic must be given freely and that it is only with this, blood of the innocents that has been shed by another, or with her own blood (this one’s a secret, though, so shush!) that a sorceress can work. But prejudices prevail and it was amusing to read about Amanusa’s frustrations with these people.

The relationship was of my favourite kinds: one allowed to evolve slowly from resigned acceptance, to like, to trust, to love. Jax, despite his sordid past, made for the type of hero a girl will root for and both of the characters had to face their own demons and overcome their fears before anything could come of it all.

As for the secondary characters, Elinor’s dogged determinations and Harry’s desire to set the world back to rights both appealed to me. Grey I wasn’t so sure about as the character presented here contradicted with the hero that I remember from Heart’s Blood. Crow made for a good non-human character, though I wish his role had been explained and that he’d been used more.

I now find myself wanted to dig through my boxes of read books to unearth Heart’s Blood. I’m sure that I missed things the first time around and that would lend the story another dimension now that I’ve read New Blood. In fact, I think I’ll do just that and make Heart’s Blood a December read!

Style: A few weird little mistakes that didn’t get spotted in the editing process made for some confusing moments. Obviously no one bothered to check the French. Some of the most basic mistakes:
Conseil française: conseil is a masculine noun ; française is an adjective marked by the female morpheme ‘-e’ at the end.
Sorcire – not sure where this one comes from unless the ‘è’ after the ‘i’ got deleted for some reason. The French for witch is sorcière.
L’environs – le / la / l’ = determiners for singular nouns; les = determiner for plural nouns. L’environ les environs.

There were other problems,  like ‘l’endroit de la mort’, which sounds wrong to me. It’s ‘lieu du crime’ so lieu would sound more natural to me in this sort of structure.  Even so, it still sounds odd as a translation for dead zone.

All the English was engaging. I really like the description of… I think it was dawn… when they were in the rebels’ camp in Romania.

Final verdict: I’ve been feeling torn between 4 and 5 stars but have decided to be nice and go up. 5 stars.

Extra notes: Mild language. One sex scene that extends over a couple of chapters.


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