Are you ready? Seatbelts buckled? Alrighty then, Let’s jump into the wild ride that is Liselle Sambury’s Blood Like Magic!
Set in 2049’s Toronto, we meet Voya. A young Black witch who comes from a long line of witches. All her life, she’s been waiting on her Calling. The test her ancestors administer to see if she’s worthy of receiving a gift. But what would life in fantasy be if everything went as planned?
When the time comes, and Voya is put to the test, she falls flat. Her ancestors, ever gracious as they are, give her another chance. Just a tiny little test, nothing major; she just has to kill her first love. If she doesn’t, then not only will she not receive their blessing. But her entire bloodline will be stripped of their powers forever.
Question is, how do you kill someone don’t know and haven’t even met yet?
Blood Like Magic does a fantastic job at meshing Fantasy and Sci-Fi set in a metropolis. Liselle’s familiarity with Toronto helps immerse the reader in the world even more. Despite the increased integration of tech into the fabric of society. As a spiritualist myself, the depiction of witches and the magic system in Blood Like Magic is even more exciting.
The realistic nature of magic with cost and consequences puts an added weight on its use, especially when you look at the two classes of witches. Pure Witches who use their own blood for magic, and the Impure Witches, who use the blood of others for their own purposes. It brings an added facet to the discussion of magic and morality in this universe.
An unusual but seriously needed aspect of the book is the addition of Content Warnings. Specifically in Blood Like Magic CW for slavery, police violence, gore, eating disorders, addiction and child neglect.
I adore that Liselle and other authors are making it a point to include trigger and content warnings. Especially in the case of books like Blood Like Magic. Which focuses on the nature and importance of ancestral magic. It brings up many significant topics specific to the experiences of Black descendants of enslaved people. Talking about the witches’ connection with their histories. Both known and unknown due to the kidnapping and enslavement of their ancestors. Also, touching on the difficult truth of being cut off from one’s ancestral and traditional spiritual practices. Because of the loss of connection to one’s legacy and inheritance.
As far as protagonists go, Voya was a phenomenal hero! One that I truly understood and felt connected with. At times she did make me want to scream in frustration because of her indecisiveness. But she’s a teenager who has to kill her first love or forsake her family’s legacy. That’s a rough place to be, so she gets a pass!
And truthfully, seeing a young Black girl allowed to be uncertain and vulnerable is a refreshing change of pace. Both in fiction and real life, too often, Black girls are Adultified. As they grow up Black women, are forced to be strong and support everyone else. So having a YA lead who’s not only Black. But also moving through the world and responding to challenges realistically makes Blood Like Magic even better.
Now when you add in the major conflict of the story, that’s where things get fun!
It comes down to either you execute your first love or be the reason your whole family loses their power. Incredibly compelling and so worth the wait. The story obviously kinks off with incredibly high stakes. But upon meeting Luc, a boy she shares really high compatibility with, they get even higher. The relationship starts as a slow and hesitant friendship that grows into something more, making things a lot more complicated.
It doesn’t help that Voya faces the unbearable weight of finishing her Calling from her family. Who are all, of course, rightfully worried about losing their magic. But it makes Blood Like Magic all the more real and relatable. If you’re a person of colour or have a tightly knit family, you know the feeling of familial pressure. Whether functional or not, a family’s expectations and ever-watchful eyes are a lot to live with.
As a debut novel, Blood Like Magic does a fantastic job of keeping you hooked. Like all good stories, it’s got its highs and lows. Given the material it’s covering, it does get fairly dark, and it doesn’t shy away from that. But it is never forceful or unnecessary. Weaving together Voya’s life, love story, challenges and losses in a masterful way. Grabbing hold of you and takes you on a rollercoaster ride of emotions to see how far you’ll go for the people you love.
We were lucky enough to receive a copy of Blood Like Magic from Simon & Schuster for review. But if you had not already preordered your copy, you need to rush to the nearest bookstore or site and get yourself one now! Because it will not disappoint, and be sure to come back for our interview with Liselle, coming out at soon.
Keshav Kant, aka Mx. KantEven, is a neuroscience nerd turned Creative Consultant and Executive Director of Off Colour!
You’ve probably seen her on TikTok or caught her work on Off Colour's many channels. From consulting on films & shows, manuscript review, conducting interviews, or hosting podcasts & panels, if there is some way to bring sensitivity and authenticity to diversity, inclusion and equity conversations, Keshav will be there.