Reviewed by David T. Valentin
By Terry J. Benton-Walker
Narrated by Bahni Turpin, Joniece Abbott-Pratt, Torian Brackett, Zeno Robinson
Just a quick few things before we hop into this review: when’s the sequel, when’s the movie, and Angela Bassett most certainly has to be cast for Aunt Ursula (and perhaps Viola Davis as Marie).
Blood Debts kicks off right from the start with main characters, Clement and Christina Trudeau, twin heirs to a long line of powerful witch queens, discovering that their mom’s illness is not just any ordinary illness but actually the results of a hex doll mysteriously placed inside her room. Despite Christina and Clement’s mother’s insistence to not get involved, the twins find themselves digging into their great-grandmother’s, and queen of the magical community, crimes of murder 30-years ago to find she was falsely accused so that another can take the throne.
As the twins unravel a 30-year-old unsolved case, they must also deal with their family’s unhealed traumas and how dangerous magic, despite all its wonders, can really be.
Terry J. Benton-Walker fantastically weaves together a story with rich history, driven by complex and well-rounded characters that leave you feeling sympathetic for even the wickedest of his characters. I mean, that last Valentina, despite all her wickedness, had my tearing up.
Magic in this book is more as a backdrop which is why I’ve decided to describe Blood Debts more so as a mystery fantasy than a fantasy mystery. Despite magic being more of a backdrop (and perhaps the promise of magic being more at the forefront perhaps in a sequel), it unravels as the plot goes on, never really feeling overly expository or convoluted. I like that, in this novel, magic isn’t always totally reliable and that it works in more subtle ways than some other magic systems.
While Blood Debts is told in a variety of POV chapters, this story really is more Christina Trudeau’s than Clement’s and, in some cases, Valentina. Putting Christina in the forefront of the story beautifully tells a story of a Black woman not only reclaiming her heritage and her traditions, but also her agency and power through magic. It is a tale very much needed in both the current political and cultural climate.
Even so, Clement’s story of is not neglected in the slightest. His willingness to go to any lengths to find happiness and protect his family after everything he’s lost promises a dark future for the gay 16-year-old. Though, as Papa Esu says, his path may be dark but no less the right one. His tale is reminiscent of the way people of the queer community must carve out their own milestones of success and it promises a really thrilling tale of identity and magic interlaced.
I won’t sugar coat it. The ending of this book is one that will sit with you in more ways than you might expect. Despite the victories the Trudeau twins celebrate at the conclusion of the novel, there are plenty of loose ends that promise they’ll be rearing out their ugly heads in the sequel Blood Justice.