Nathan’s review of The Blood Gift by NE Davenport
This review contains spoiler for The Blood Trials, Book One in the Blood Gift Duology
After the explosive events at the end of The Blood Trials, Ikenna and the rest of her newly-formed crew have their backs up against the wall. They have two powerful enemies and no allies. But they are just getting started.
I really enjoyed The Blood Trials when it came out last year. It filled that Hunger Games and Red Rising hole in my heart with a clever twist on the “dystopian death games” genre. One way it did this was just my taking the genre and making it more adult (similar to Red Rising), which allowed Davenport to not only amp up the violence, language, and sex, but also to explore deep-seeded themes of racism, sexism, and the monstrosity of both empires and corrupt democracies.
The Blood Gift is a worthy sequel that I really enjoyed reading, although it suffers from some pacing problems because Davenport does try to cram in too much into one novel.
If you enjoyed the high-octane, high-action, and propulsively violent nature of The Blood Trials, you will devour this book. I’ll get into some of my issues with the pacing below, but no one can accuse this book of moving too slowly. Reading this book is like when you get a bag of your favorite snack and you just can’t stop eating it because of the serotonin rush. This book feels the same way. Every chapter brings new twists, new enemies, and more conflict. Davenport really knows how to choreograph and write an action sequence, and some parts of the book gave me the shivers because of the body horror descriptions. Readers who like their books to just go from the first page to the last will be more than pleased.
Readers of The Blood Trials will know that Davenport combines elements of both science-fiction and fantasy into her books. The Blood Trials leaned heavily into the science fiction elements, while The Blood Gift incorporates much more of the fantasy elements. We learn a lot more about Ikenna’s blood gift powers and how the gods that had a brief role in The Blood Trials all come into play.
More than anything else, I think what drew me in the most was Davenport’s exploration of the themes of loyalty and belonging. Ikenna is in a pretty contradictory position in The Blood Gift. On one hand, the government of her youth has been trying to kill her, and now has offered a pretty sizable bounty for her capture/murder. Her best friend, whose family are high ranking officials of that government, has betrayed her. And her ancestral nation, lead by the Blood Emperor, is also just pure evil and also trying to kill her. Further twists that I don’t want to spoil complicate Ikenna’s allegiances and loyalties even more, but Ikenna’s processing of all of the different factions, betrayals, and family/national loyalties were fascinating to explore. Davenport really nails how much our upbringing means to us; Ikenna grew up in Mareen, her grandfather loved Mareen, and so she cannot abandon it so easily, despite the racism and sexism she faced there her entire life. Similarly, Ajani, the Accacian magic user from The Blood Trials is quite layered and complex in his characterization and motives. Of any character, Ajani most benefited from this second volume as his character was deepened, making him one of my personal favorites (not that I liked him as a person, but as an interesting character!).
Let’s get into what didn’t work for me here: the pacing.
The only part of the book that kept this back from being an “all time favorite read”, and which kept it back from achieving the heights of The Blood Trials, was the pacing of the book. At the end of the Blood Trials, Ikenna had at least two main antagonists she had to deal with – the evil Blood Emperor and her own corrupt government (including her best friend who betrayed her, Selene). Davenport struggles to balance these two unrelated antagonists throughout the book. I think of this now as the Game of Thrones problem (the show, not the books) where the writers had to deal with both the White Walkers and Cersei Lannister. Davenport had to have her characters deal with each threat separately, but that mean that neither felt like a true climax and neither really had the time to fully develop the plot. This book was screaming to be a full trilogy, for the antagonists to build in each volume. As the series works here, the payoffs are not nearly as satisfying as I would like.
It leaves me to wonder whether this was always intended to be a duology, or was pushed to be a duology (by the publisher, etc.) because there are so many interesting elements underexplored, including the more fantasy elements (the gods, etc.), Ikenna’s family and legacy (especially her relationship with her biological father), and further developing the characters. While there are some really great character moments, including lots of scenes about Ikenna and Reed’s relationship, overall, it was obvious that Davenport was concerned about just making it through all of the plot because most of the characters from The Blood Trials fade into the background. This series has always been centered around Ikenna, but in this volume none of the other characters are developed. I wanted to see more of Caiman, Greysen, Dannica, and Haynes. What we knew of them at the end of The Blood Trials is exactly how they act here, which was a bit disappointing.
There are also several plot threads that are dropped, likely because there wasn’t the space or time. For example, very early in the book (I’m talking the first chapter, so this is not a spoiler) Ikenna and her crew make a political alliance with a crime lord in one of the microstates. This has no bearing on the plot moving forward, which was just a tad disappointing because I thought everything was building up to something bigger.
The fact that the books are still advertised as a duology is surprising based on the way that the books end. I won’t get into spoilers, but there are definitely villains still in play and questions to be answered as the book concludes. Depending on the type of reader you are, some people may call this an unresolved “cliffhanger” while others may view it more as an “open-ending”. I’ve been going back and forth about how I feel since I finished the book. Ultimately, this reads as more of a completed arc within a larger narrative, as if there needs to be a “sequel duology” to deal with some of the problems not solved here.
I did enjoy my time with The Blood Gift, and fans of The Blood Trials will likely enjoy it too. I just wish that the book was a bit longer or was split into two books to give Davenport the time to really flesh out the characters and plot a bit more.
Concluding Thoughts: An adrenaline-racing and action-heavy sequel, The Blood Gift is an exciting sequel with plenty of villains, gods, magic, and violence while also balancing themes of loyalty, love, belonging. The book suffers just a tad from being over-stuffed, leaving some of the really interesting elements to be underdeveloped, but that shouldn’t scare you off from picking this up if you loved The Blood Trials.