Review: Blood Heir by Amelie Wen Zhao

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BLOOD HEIR is the first book in an epic new series about a princess hiding a dark secret and the conman she must trust to clear her name of murder.

Princess Anastacya Mikhailov of Cyrilia has lived her life in safety, hidden behind palace walls. But when she is framed for her father’s brutal murder, she must leave behind everything she has ever known to find his killer and prove her innocence. And there is only one person corrupt enough to help her – Ramson Quicktongue.
A cunning, silver-tongued crime lord of the Cyrilian underworld, Ramson has his own sinister plans – though he might have met his match in Ana. Because in this story, the princess might be the most dangerous player of them all.

For almost a year, crown princess Ana Mikhailov has lived in exile and seeks to find the man who has haunted her dreams since the night he murdered her father, the King of the Cyrillian Empire. It was easily framed that Ana murdered the King because Ana is a rare blood affinite – with the ability to control the blood running through anyone’s veins.
In order to find her father’s murderer and prove her innocence, Ana turns to Ransom Quicktongue: a disgraced criminal who’s seeking a way back in to the underground ranks of Alaric Kerlan’s criminal network. When Ana and Ramson come face to face, their fates are tied more than they know and they find they can’t pull off their schemes without one another’s begrudging help.

Blood Heir’s opening chapter left me speechless. Quite frankly, this is one of the best beginnings to any fantasy story I read in 2019.

The story unfolds through the alternating perspectives of Ana and Ramson, and was brilliantly executed by the author. Zhao wasn’t afraid to show you the nasty side of these characters, especially Ramson in the earlier chapters. I loved this. It made me love the characters even more, because they were made bare and open to the reader, in all their good and bad.

I immediately took to Ramson, which I don’t think was avoidable (at least to me) because he reads like he’s got a Han Solo/Harrison Ford vibe going on, which I totally digged, due to how endearing he was. I have to applaud Zhao for illustrating the different dimensions of Ramson’s character. When it comes to fantasy stories and canon ships, I’ve found YA author’s can be quick to dismiss portraying the guy’s perspective. The only other YA fantasy I’ve read this year that illustrated it of equal measure was A Curse So Dark and Lonely.

Ana is a likeable female lead, who regrettably does cause a great deal of frustration. She’s brash and naive, which very rarely if ever works in the favour of the main character. Luckily, Ana is also compassionate and very powerful, to the point where it almost makes overlooking her shortcomings possible. I really hope Ana develops more between now and the sequel, because I’d really love to love her, like I loved Ransom, rather than settling for just liking her.

My biggest qualm with this book is there is quite a striking similarity to Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse and Kaz Brekker’s story in Six of Crows, in relation to Ransom’s character and the book’s magic system (i.e. affinites that control blood, wind, fire etc.)
So I do feel Blood Heir suffers from a lack of originality when compared to recent YA series, but Blood Heir’s charismatic characters heavily compensate for this.

This is so atmospherical. For the first time in a while, I actually used the book’s map because of how immersed I was. The snowy wintry unforgiving woods, the picturesque villages… I was transported to another world. It’s truly one of the best cold climate reads I’ve read because of how clearly it was illustrated.

The other issue I had was repetitive prose… but this is a tricky one to comment on. Prior to this book’s publication, there was a lot of controversy on how the topic of slavery was written. The long story short is: the author actually pulled this book from publication to apparently make edits/revisions in response to the controversy, before eventually publishing it. I don’t know what changes were made by the end, so I’m only commenting on the actual book published.

Right, the point of all that information is: I actually think this has been to the detriment of the quality of the book. Through Ana’s character, the reader continuously reads about how wrong slavery is. Initially, it’s fine, because it’s stating the obvious and outlining the problem within this fictional world, and it’s alright the next time too, as it feels like Ana’s eyes are being opened and she’s growing into her saviour role. But by the latter parts of the book… it just feels like an insult to the intelligence of the reader. We know slavery is wrong, I don’t need Ana repeatedly telling me so. It got to the point where it felt like the author was screaming this message to the reader through Ana, rather than it actually being Ana’s voice.

And this is how it’s tricky: is this simply repetitive writing? Or is it the author trying to pacify critics by continuously ramming a message down the reader’s throat, at the expense of the quality of the plot? If I had to pick, I’d say it was the latter (because there wasn’t much repetition in the book beyond the topic of slavery ). But I don’t think I can confidently answer which one it is. So I’ll err on the side of “looking past it” but I couldn’t not mention this, as it really did disrupt the pace and my enjoyment of the overall book.

Regardless of any issues, I was excited at the thought of jumping back into this story whenever I had to stop. I looked forward to continuing it, which really says it as it is on how much I enjoyed reading it.
The climax of this book had me dropping my kindle in a huff of frustration whilst I stared into space wondering why the author would inflict such inconvenience and pain on me. But the conclusion refuelled me with its brilliance, and I’m ready for more. Blood Heir is a decent debut that has really enjoyable characters, a good writing style and has left my brain whirling and buzzing for the sequel.

 

Buy It Now

Blood Heir by Amelie Wen Zhao
Published December 2020
Genre: YA fantasy, YA fiction, fantasy, first in series

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