In Amélie Wen Zhao’s debut novel, Blood Heir, we are introduced to a cold world filled with magic, oppression, revenge, and betrayal. Though not without its faults, Blood Heir is a solid debut and a strong start to a thought-provoking series.
Rating: 3.5 stars
Author: Amélie Wen Zhao
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Release Date: November 19, 2019
Synopsis: In the Cyrilian Empire, Affinites are reviled. Their varied gifts to control the world around them are unnatural—dangerous. And Anastacya Mikhailov, the crown princess, has a terrifying secret. Her deadly Affinity to blood is her curse and the reason she has lived her life hidden behind palace walls.
When Ana’s father, the emperor, is murdered, her world is shattered. Framed as his killer, Ana must flee the palace to save her life. And to clear her name, she must find her father’s murderer on her own. But the Cyrilia beyond the palace walls is far different from the one she thought she knew. Corruption rules the land, and a greater conspiracy is at work—one that threatens the very balance of her world. And there is only one person corrupt enough to help Ana get to its core: Ramson Quicktongue.
A cunning crime lord of the Cyrilian underworld, Ramson has sinister plans—though he might have met his match in Ana. Because in this story, the princess might be the most dangerous player of all.
Blood Heir centers on Ana, crown princess in the Cyrilian Empire, who has been stripped of her title and is thought dead by her people. Her only focus is to find the person responsible for killing her father and framing her for his death. This quest brings her to Ramson Quicktongue, a notorious con man, and the two agree, through some interesting means, to help each other achieve their revenge on the people who have wronged them.
Both Ana and Ramson are well fleshed out characters, their backstories showing how they came to be the people they are in the present of the narrative. It is the secondary characters that lack much characterization. I never felt invested in them and therefore couldn’t feel connected to anything that happened to them. I think there is potential for these secondary characters to grow in future books though. The bones of the characters were there, but they still need time to be fleshed out.
The magic system in Blood Heir is interesting, but I often felt vaguely confused about it. I never felt that I got a solid explanation of how it worked or how many affinities there are. At one point there is a granite affinity, which seemed totally random and an affinity that was just created to add something to that one scene. Again, I think the bones of the magic system are there, but it needed growth and more defined limits.
There is also the matter of oppression of people with affinities in this book. A lot has been said on this issue, and I’m not going to dive into a battle over this. I will say that, as in many fantasy books, magic is feared by those who don’t have it and the magic users are oppressed. There are numerous times where it is discussed as to how terrible this is and how it needs to be stopped. This book was written by a woman POC who pulled from her own culture to shine light on the terrible atrocities that have and are still being committed to her race and many others. I implore you to read the author’s writings about why she wrote this book https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2279470600?book_show_action=true&from_review_page=1 and this New York Times article https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/29/books/amelie-wen-zhao-blood-heir.html
At the end of the day I liked this book and I’d recommend this book to any YA fantasy reader. I certainly will be reading the next book in the series. I look forward to watching Amélie Wen Zhao grow into her writing.