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Review: Blood Magic
The Plot: Silla sits in the cemetery, a book of magic spells before her. Magic sounds crazy. Spells requiring blood sounds insane. For Silla, crazy and insane are words she takes seriously, ever since she came home to find the bodies of her parents and a room full of blood. Crazy, insane, are words said about her father. The police say he killed her mother and then himself. Silla is sent this book of blood magic, in her father’s handwriting.
A father who believed in magic, who wrote a book of spells that require blood and herbs and other ingredients (and always, always blood) — is this proof he was crazy?
Silla decides: if magic is real, if the spells of her father’s work, it is proof that he was not crazy. Silla cuts her palm, says the words. The spell works. She looks up and sees a boy is watching.
Nicholas watches, watches a girl in a cemetery hunched over a book, murmuring words, watches her cut her hand. Nicholas is shocked — because he recognizes what she is doing.
The Good: With a book like Blood Magic, the author needs to convey world-building information to the reader without doing a dreaded info dump. Since Blood Magic is set in the real world, Gratton has to show that the magic is real and how the magic works. Show, not tell. And this she does masterfully.
Gratton’s world building is smooth and seamless: by page 8, Silla is convinced that magic is real, that blood magic is real, for the simple reason that the spell works. So, too, is the reader convinced that the world of Blood Magic is real. Next is learning more about how the magic works and Gratton makes the interesting choice of offering us three narratives: Silla and Nicholas telling alternate sections in the present day, and Josephine Darly’s twentieth century diary. Gratton wants the reader to know more about magic than any individual — Silla, Nicholas, or Josephine — knows. We learn along with Silla about the giddy joy of discovering that magic is real and that her blood has power; we remember along with Nicholas that some people, such as his mother, cannot handle that power and turn to drugs; and we watch as Josephine’s delight in magic turns to delight in power, including power over others. We realize, before Silla, that blood magic is serious; yet Silla’s enthusiasm and sense of discovery helps balance Nick’s caution. Josephine’s increasingly dark choices remind the reader not just where Silla’s and Nick’s journey may lead but also that Silla’s father, who practiced blood magic, ended up dead in a pool of blood, his wife beside him.
Blood Magic uses blood, and usually the idea of using blood for something seems — dark. Evil. Wrong. Blood magic, black magic. Blood Magic explores how power is itself not good or bad; it is how it’s used. It’s amazing how Gratton takes a scene that in any other book (girl, blood, cemetery, spells) would signal “this girl is the bad one!” and sets that girl up as heroine and the reader agrees, to the point that it may make the reader rethink how the trope of “using blood for magic is wrong” the next time it is encountered in another work. The practical matter of using blood is also addressed: Silla, Nick, and the others are left tired and drained. Band-aids cover cuts, and others whisper or question the self-inflicted wounds.
What else? There is romance (Silla and Nick) and family dynamics. Silla’s ex-step-grandmother has stepped up to take of Silla and Reese, while Reese is postponing college. Nick’s mother is gone, and his father’s younger trophy wife makes Nick’s life difficult.
Against all this are the multiple mysteries: who killed Silla’s parents? Who is the person who sent her the journal? What is the truth about Nick’s mother? Who is Josephine? Questions are answered, but not every mystery was resolved. It is natural, that not everything gets tied up with a bow at the end. Blood Magic is a standalone novel, there will be a companion novel, The Blood Keeper.
About Elizabeth Burns
Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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