3 reasons Blood Like Magic feels like a game changer in contemporary YA fantasy

Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury. Image courtesy Simon & Schuster
Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury. Image courtesy Simon & Schuster /

Stories about teen witches feel like they’re a dime a dozen these days in YA fantasy, whether it’s a tale of a young woman discovering her heretofore unrealized gifts, learning to master her powers with the help of a grouchy mentor, or realizing she’s secretly from the same stripe of the magical group she’s been raised to abhor. Been there, done that, right? Not quite.

Liselle Sambury’s Blood LIke Magic feels like a revelation in the world of contemporary young adult fantasy, bursting onto the scene with tons of heart, deadly high stakes, painfully realistic and relatable characters, and a generational magic system that feels lived in and natural.

The story follows Voya Thomas, a 16-year-old fledgling witch preparing for her Calling – an ancestor-given trial that she must pass in order to inherit her magic. If she refuses to participate, no future members of her family will become witches. If she accepts her tasks and fails, every witch in her family will lose the magic that helps provide their livelihood.

A Thomas hasn’t failed a Calling in a century, but Voya’s afraid anyway – she’s always struggled with making choices. and that’s basically what this entire event is about. But when she’s finally Called, she learns things are even worse than she could have imagined. To pass her test, Voya must destroy her first love. But since she’s never been in love before, Voya’s going to have to find a boy, fall in love with him, and kill him, all in a month’s time.

What follows is a complicated and compelling look at identity, family, self-determination, and the ways we allow others’ expectations to define who we are (or aren’t.) Sambury’s characters feel three-dimensional and authentic and her story is full of twists and surprises that will keep you guessing right until the end. On the whole, it feels like something entirely new in a genre that’s been begging for fresh voices and new ideas. Here’s why.

Blood Like Magic’s wildly compelling premise is unafraid to go dark

Look, there are a lot of YA books out there about teen witches or heroines struggling to learn how to use their gifts. But Blood Like Magic is unafraid to embrace the fact that this is both a story about a teenage girl and a dark tale that involves literal blood sacrifice at various points. And neither is sacrificed in the name of the other.

The novel doesn’t pull any punches about the dark aspects of the world it’s set in – from its opening pages that involve a literal blood bath as part of a family ritual to the cost – in literal lives – that some witches choose to sacrifice in the name of greater power. But it’s also honest about the fact that this is the world Voya has been raised in and that has irrevocably left its mark upon her.  Plus, the Calling she’ll have to fulfill in order to access her magic and protect her family – including her younger sister’s very life – will require her to commit murder, and the question of whether or not Voya will or even should go through with it sits at the very center of the novel.

Blood Like Magic’s effortless representation feels natural and necessary

Blood Like Magic isn’t just a story of witches. It’s a story that effortlessly weaves together different cultures, sexualities, and gender identities to create something that feels fresh and necessary. Yes, it’s about witches, but they are specifically Black witches with specific ancestry (Trinidad-Canadian) and history. Family ancestors are groundbreaking scientists and former slaves, and their experiences help shape and guide the current generation.

The story features trans love interests, lesbian and demi-sexual supporting characters, elders, children, and everyone in between. Blood Like Magic is positively bursting with needed representation of all kinds and, as a result, its story feels rich and well-grounded – and, despite its occasionally fantastical premise seems to truly reflect the world we know.

Plus, the representation in this book is not preachy or there to simply tick boxes on some teen fantasy checklist. Instead, BIPOC and queer characters are natural elements in the larger story this book is telling, and their lives are as rich and authentic as any other character. Seeing such necessary representation woven so deftly throughout the larger fabric of the story truly feels like a breath of fresh air.

Blood Like Magic is set in a fascinating technological future

Blood Like Magic is set in a contemporary future that looks a lot like ours – with a few key differences, beyond the fact that magic exists and is hereditarily passed down through a few select families. This is a future that’s driven by both complex technology and public hunger for information – social media is clearly as popular as ever, as evidenced by feed shows and public rating systems for individuals. Modular and genetic hacks allow people to modify their personal appearances to reflect their true and/or best selves, and your physical identity is firmly tied to your digital life.

It’s one of the few contemporary fantasies I’ve read recently where all the high-tech gadgets don’t feel that removed from our own world today – I could easily see some of these “hacks” being introduced by Facebook in the not too distant future. Yet, most of these advancements don’t feel like warning signs, but rather an intriguing idea about where we might go next.

Next. 3 reasons Tricia Levenseller’s Blade of Secrets stands out from the spring fantasy pack. dark

Blood Like Magic is available now. Let us know if you plan to give it a look!