Review: The Blood Trials – N.E. Davenport

Review: The Blood Trials – N.E. DavenportThe Blood Trials
by N.E. Davenport
Series: The Blood Gift Duology #1
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Publication Date: April 5, 2022
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 464
Source: NetGalley

I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My rating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Blending fantasy and science fiction, N. E. Davenport's fast-paced, action-packed debut kicks off a duology of loyalty and rebellion, in which a young Black woman must survive deadly trials in a racist and misogynistic society to become an elite warrior.

It's all about blood.

The blood spilled between the Republic of Mareen and the armies of the Blood Emperor long ago. The blood gifts of Mareen's deadliest enemies. The blood that runs through the elite War Houses of Mareen, the rulers of the Tribunal dedicated to keeping the republic alive.

The blood of the former Legatus, Verne Amari, murdered.

For his granddaughter, Ikenna, the only thing steady in her life was the man who had saved Mareen. The man who had trained her in secret, not just in martial skills, but in harnessing the blood gift that coursed through her.

Who trained her to keep that a secret.

But now there are too many secrets, and with her grandfather assassinated, Ikenna knows two things: that only someone on the Tribunal could have ordered his death, and that only a Praetorian Guard could have carried out that order.

Bent on revenge as much as discovering the truth, Ikenna pledges herself to the Praetorian Trials--a brutal initiation that only a quarter of the aspirants survive. She subjects herself to the racism directed against her half-Khanaian heritage and the misogyny of a society that cherishes progeny over prodigy, all while hiding a power that--if found out--would subject her to execution...or worse. Ikenna is willing to risk it all because she needs to find out who murdered her grandfather...and then she needs to kill them.

Mareen has been at peace for a long time...

Ikenna joining the Praetorians is about to change all that.

Magic and technology converge in the first part of this stunning debut duology, where loyalty to oneself--and one's blood--is more important than anything.

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WOW. I was initially drawn to the cover (do I have a thing for hot strong women holding pointy weapons on covers? yes, yes I do) and intrigued by the blurb, but I tried to keep my expectations low. That was completely unnecessary as this is easily one of my favorite books so far this year. Full of action, a flawed-but-trying heroine, and lots of twisty intrigue, it’s impossible to put down.

The night before she graduates from the Mareen Republic’s premier military academy, Ikenna learns that her grandfather’s death was actually an assassination, one that had to be perpetrated by the highest echelons of their government in order to remove him from power. The only way to get justice (or revenge) is to enter the Blood Trials, a deadly series of exercises, where surviving wins you the right to join the elite ranks of the Praetorian soldiers. But the trials are more horrific than Kenna ever imagined. Surrounded by enemies on every side and afraid to get her two best friends involved, Kenna’s faced with a conspiracy that goes farther than she could ever imagine. And that’s not even counting her own deeply held secret, the revelation of which could cost her everything.

We are forged by adversity. We are tempered in perseverance. We are Amaris. We are as strong as Khanaian steel. We do not bend. We do not break. We do not bow. We do not yield.”

Kenna is, frankly, everything. She’s brash, hot-tempered and more inclined to rely on her strength rather than her smarts, and the book doesn’t pull any punches as to how those choices affect herself and those around her. She’s far from perfect, but she learns from her mistakes, and she absolutely stole my heart. One of her greatest qualities is her sense of justice. She believes deeply in the vision of Mareenian ideals, the more equal Mareen her grandfather was trying to bring about. Her love for a country that, frankly, hates her for her mixed heritage (and would hate her even more if they knew her secret) was both heart-breaking and admirable. Even worse is her growing dread that the strength and boldness she’s relied on so far isn’t enough to get her through the trials, and the growing sense of unease at finding out that her grandfather had a Praetorian protege that she knew nothing about.

The worldbuilding was interesting if a bit uneven. Gods and goddesses, once a large part of their world but now exiled, gift certain people with special powers, among them Kenna’s blood-born powers. The only problem? Her gift is associated with the Accacian empire, led by a murderous and tyrannical ruler. Mareenian military might is the only thing keeping them from rolling over the entire continent, or at least that’s what most Mareenians believe, and most of her people have a deep mistrust and hatred of any sort of god power, the blood-born even more so. Not all of Mareen’s ills can be traced back to racism or misogyny, as there’s also a warmongering faction that seems almost eager for another skirmish with the Accacians. There’s a lot of violent content, especially in regards to the Praetorian trials. It escalates as the book goes on, until I was left wondering if there was anything, indeed, worth saving in Mareen.

The pacing is solid. While I feel like the core of the story was driven by Kenna, the plot was nearly equally as good. It’s fast-paced, rattling along at a breakneck speed through the simultaneous paths of the trials and Kenna’s murder investigation. The plot is full of twisty betrayal and secrets, though some things, like the romantic interest, were a bit more simplistic… initially. As the book and Kenna’s trials progresses, her viewpoint changes, and certain things become more clear to her. Strangely enough, it’s these increasingly desperate survival situations that make her aware of how focused she’s been on her own survival. I’d hesitate to call her selfish, but the way these experiences shape her view of the world (and through that, how the reader sees it) is masterful and works very well. And that’s really all I’ll say about the plot without revealing too many spoilers!

“Grandfather tried to minimize the spill of blood wherever he could. He tried to curtail the amount of violence he had to unleash. I relish both. Any past, present, or future enemies I have would do well to remember that.”

Overall, I was blown away by this book and completely hooked by the ending, and I simply cannot wait to read the conclusion! Highly recommended for anyone looking for a fast-paced story that doesn’t pull its (incredibly bloody) punches about the effects of racism and misogyny and one woman’s quest for justice.

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