When most people think of urban fantasy, authors like Faith
Hunter, Seanan McGuire and Patricia Briggs come to mind.
Claire Humphrey's debut novel, SPELLS OF BLOOD AND KIN,
most closely associates with urban fantasy but doesn't
resemble the aforementioned authors. Magic, witches and
paranormal creatures make appearances in Humphrey's tale
but not in a traditional manner, and the story moves at a
Lissa Nevsky's grandmother, or Baba as she's known, has
died of a sudden heart attack, elevating Lissa to the
position of koldun'ia or sorcerer, to her local Russian
neighborhood in Toronto. In this story, spells are cast by
creating a mixture and painting it onto the shells of raw
eggs. The spells take effect when consumed raw, ideally in
Lissa runs into a bigger problem when Maksim Volkov seeks
her help. Lissa learns from a conversation with her dead
grandmother—that gets explained—that Maksim is kin and
should be assisted. Lissa misunderstands kin to mean family
rather than an immortal paranormal creature who has a need
for violence that is difficult to keep leashed. The closest
association I can come up with from past reading is a
Maksim accidentally infects a college student, Nick, by
licking a wound on his forehead. He asks Lissa to help
him better contain his rage and track down Nick to prevent
him from hurting someone.
This likely sounds complicated and confusing. And it is...a
bit. The story is told from all three perspectives.
Humphrey is a talented writer and her descriptions are
lively, but it takes too long for things to happen, and her
characters never really grabbed my attention. Also, I don't
mind violence in stories at all, but some of the ways the
kin relieve their rages is to beat up on each other, which
doesn't do anything for me. I'm a huge sports fan, but
boxing doesn't appeal.
I wish Humphrey had given some context for how the kin came
into being or at least given them some kind of context.
Much of the book focuses on the relationships among the
characters: between Maksim and Lissa; Lissa and her
grandmother; Maksim and Augusta, a woman he infected more
than 100 years ago. Lissa starts out as a shy and very
unlikeable character, but she learns to build better
relationships with people once out from under her
grandmother's tutelage. Often times I pick books by their
titles, and this one had such promise, but I can't say that
it lived up to the interesting premise.
Some families hand down wealth through generations; some
hand down wisdom. Some families, whether they want to or
not, hand down the secret burdens they carry and the
dangerous debts they owe.
Lissa Nevsky's grandmother leaves her a big, empty house,
and a legacy of magic: folk magic, old magic, brought with
Baba when she fled the Gulag. In the wake of her passing,
the Russian community of Toronto will depend on Lissa now,
to give them their remedies and be their koldun'ia. But
Lissa hasn't had time to learn everything Baba wanted to
teach her—let alone the things Baba kept hidden.
Maksim Volkov's birth family is long dead, anything they
bestowed on him long turned to dust. What Maksim carries now
is a legacy of violence, and he does not have to die to pass
it on. When Maksim feels his protective spell fail, he
returns to the witch he rescued from the Gulag, only to find
his spell has died along with the one who cast it. Without
the spell, it is only a matter of time before Maksim's
violent nature slips its leash and he infects someone
else—if he hasn't done so already.
Nick Kaisaris is just a normal dude who likes to party. He
doesn't worry about family drama. He doesn't have any
secrets. All he wants is for things to stay like they are
right now, tonight: Nick and his best buddy Jonathan, out on
the town. Only Nick is on a collision course with Maksim
Volkov, and what he takes away from this night is going to
crack open Nick's nature until all of his worst self comes
Lissa's legacy of magic might hold the key to Maksim's
salvation, if she can unravel it in time. But it's a legacy
that comes at a price. And Maksim might not want to be saved…