Disclaimer: So, I avoid twitter disputes and arguments that may occur but it appears that Blood Heir was involved in some controversy, which I was unaware of when I requested and read this book. As an overview, this book deals with some hard-hitting themes, particularly slavery, and the author was called out for this as people claimed it was racist/anti-black, or her portrayal/use of some characters where racist. However, looking into the inspiration and research Amelie Wen Zhao conducted/used for this, it seems this is based off of her own experiences of being demonised and research she conducted into slavery, particularly in Asia. As a white reader I accept my view is limited to the narrow scope of the box in which I exist, but I believe her book is positive and has a vast range of representation for POC, almost all of the characters are described as being POC’s with skin ranging from tawny to olive etc.. with only a few being described as ‘pale’, and the themes are dealt with very well. As for the anti-black claims, which arose due to the death of a character people considered to be black, the character is not actually described as such specifically and their death was crucial to the plot, this book has a lot of death and many different people die in the story so again I fail to see this as being problematic – please remember that this is my personal opinion on the book but I simply adored the diverse cast of characters and felt that Amelie Wen Zhao did a wonderful job with diversity, representation and dealing with the themes she explored – I do not wish to partake in arguments surrounding this, my stance is that of support for the book and that is all I will say on the matter. Now let’s dive into the actual review because let me tell you this book is AMAZING.
Synopsis: Anastacya (Ana) Mikhailov, the princess of Cyrilia was born with an Affinity, magic, and that is bad enough – but to make matters worse her one is the Blood Affinity, the power to utilise a persons blood. After her Affinity spirals out of control, her father organises for her to be ‘cured’, with no luck Anastacya finds herself confined to the palace. That is until her father dies. Murdered by a trusted member of the palace, Anastacya tries to save him, only to find herself accused and her Affinity blamed.
Escaping the castle, she vows to find the true killer and prove her innocence. However, this proves more difficult than she originally believed, as a result she attempts to find and use the con man Ramson Quicktongue’s skills to find the killer.
With an untrustworthy partner, a power she despises and a label of monster attacking her mind, Ana is determined to gain justice for her father and prove her Affinity, her difference, does not make her a monster.
Blood Heir, by Amelie Wen Zhao is a dark Young Adult Fantasy that seems loosely based off of Anastasia but is wholly unique, gorgeous and gritty. It uses popular tropes but infuses them with originality and is a dark, violent but glorious story of self acceptance.
First, the covers are gorgeous, beautiful and magnificent- It caught my attention and the synopsis secured it. Secondly, the title. This is one clever title that, to me, works on a few layers. Firstly, in the defined way, Ana is the Blood Heir to the throne, she is the Princess, she was born to rule. But, secondly, she is a Blood Affinite, she can control it, and she seems to be the only one, or at least one of very few, she is the heir to that line of power too. So, that was a great start!
— Immersive And Beautiful —
The Writing Style And Narrative. Amelie Wen Zhao’s writing style is immersive and beautiful and it had me hooked from the start. I read this in two sittings, because regretfully sleep is a necessity, and I couldn’t put it down. From the first line you are immersed in the story, and the first chapter is so dynamic and interesting that there was no doubt in my mind that the rest of the story would be equally as amazing. There is a map at the start too, so you know you are in for a great read. Not only is the writing immersive, but they style is beautiful and easy to read. Amelie Wen Zhao is incredibly descriptive, and the beauty of the world and the people is evident, it makes you want to experienced it yourself. But, she also uses direct, harsh and pointed language to show the horror and dangers of the world Ana is a part of. The beauty of the people, and a lot of their Affinities, is a sharp contrast to the ugly and evil underbelly of the Cyrilian Empire where these beautiful attributes are seen as monstrous and are exploited. The balance created of the light and the dark adds a great deal of depth to the story and illustrates the horrors suffered but also the beauty of individuality. I loved the writing style and found myself completely absorbed by the story.
The narrative was equally as efficient. The main crux of the story is from the perspective of Ana which allows us insight into her thoughts, feelings, plans and emotions. However, it also maintains a sense of mystery and suspense. We only see what Ana sees so we know little about Ramson, his past a mystery, and we also learn a lot about the kingdom through her eyes so there is a sense of mystery about the other parts of the world we don’t see, but also the truth of the kingdom we are in which we learn of little by little. However, we also get some chapters from the perspective of Ramson, and they are equally as amazing. We learn about his past in snippets, while also learning his plans while he is helping Ana – it makes us dislike and love him at the same time and it added a unique dynamic to the story as we also get to see how he views Ana and the kingdom.
— Dark And Interesting —
The Plot. Blood Heir’s plot is dark and interesting. It is well paced, unique and the tropes it does use, it does very well. Moreover, the story is well paced, action packed, witty and complex. While it may be loosely based on Anastasia, this story is wholly its own and has a great balance throughout. The idea of Affinities is incredibly unique and interesting, and the story of redemption is amazing. I love how it is, at its core, a story about self-acceptance and belonging, but also a story of justice, freedom and difference. People with Affinities are exploited, sold and used as slaves simply because they were born wit an Affinity, and the plot deals with this, the horror of the exploitation, and the idea that the Affinites are just another attribute that should not be all you see about the person.
Moreover, the story also deals with justice and morality- Ramson is morally grey right off the bat but so are most of the characters. Ana, at heart, is good and kind, but can be brutal if it is the only way and often lets her emotions best her. the story looks at right and wrong and how blurred the boundaries are in terms of fighting for what you believe in. But, of curse the characters are largely good at heart and their aim is to help, to create unity, to prevent exploitation.
Furthermore, the royal plot-line is a great one. Ana doesn’t want the throne, it is her brothers, but she does want justice for her father and to have her family around her again. My favourite part was the ending because it is unexpected, but it is incredibly clever and creates a cyclical structure which I adored. But, I also loved that the story had people die-it is a story of war, revolution, justice and power, and death is usually avoided by authors but Blood Heir has consequences and you are never certain who will die and who will live making the dangerous situation have more impact and suspense. The deaths are actually heart-breaking, just as a warning, and I felt the impact of them and appreciated the consequences and effects they created.
— Rich And Complex–
The Magic And World Building. The Magic is amazing and unique in this story and both the world and the magic systems are rich and complex. The Affinities in the story can range from elemental control to emotional they are diverse and differ in power, some are weaker than others or more specific. However, each Affinity we are introduced to is well crafted and portrayed magnificently. The root of the magic is unknown, some believe it is a curse, it means you are a demon, while others believe it is the result of the Deities blessing the people – but each power is unique and has its limitations. Moreover, the power can be subdued and weakened by a potion and Blackstone is resilient to it. The limitations, weaknesses, or counteractive measures are useful, it adds a sense of realism while also maintaining a decent story as magic cannot always be the answer. Not only is the magic individual but it also has physical traits when used! Ana’s eyes turn crimson and her veins grow prominent and engorged, the physical manifestations of the magic add a depth to the element, a sense of realism for this attribute.
The world building is also a masterpiece, there are different empires, towns, cities and beliefs, the people look different depending on where they are from, they have specific accents pertaining to their homeland, their names are reflective of their heritage, and their religious and mythical beliefs also differ. This world is multi-cultural, much like our own, and it is well developed. I loved the look we got at the places Ana went to, the descriptions, the seasons/weather, and the beliefs added realism and interest to the story and I cannot wait to see more.
— Well Crafted And Multi-Dimensional —
The Characters. Each of the characters we meet are Well-Crafted and Multi-dimensional, but I will only go into depth about Ana and Ramson as I fear it will be too spoilery otherwise! However, Linn, May, Sadov, Yuri, Kerlan and Tetsyev are all great characters that were well developed, very original and excelled at their roles making us love them and hate them respectively. I loved May in particular – fiesty and loyal and adorable! Kerlan and Sadov did well in their villanous roles too, they made for great opposition and I hated them – it was glorious.
Anastacya. She is a wonderful main character described as dark haired and olive or tawny skinned. She is headstrong, witty, kind, loyal, determined and an all round wonderful character. She is naive at times, which is understandable, and always seems to find herself in danger, but she is smart too and will risk her life for those she loves. Ana believes she is a monster, and the story follows her trying to come to terms with her Affinity and accept herself for who she is. Her emotions often get the better of her causing devastation, but she will try to right her wrongs. Having been the princess she had little knowledge of the horrors that occur in her kingdom, but once she has seen it she is determined to fix it, to try and help. Her Affinity is insanely strong but casing physical damage is she overuses it, she has little control over it but tries to subdue it and refrain from using it. I loved her character and her development was great to watch as she begins to accept herself- I cannot wait to see her become more confident, more controlled and self accepting.
Ana’s relationship with Ramson is amazing. I wont spoil it but the wit, the sarcasm and the general snide and snarky dialogue between the two at the start is so entertaining as they have such an incredible dynamic. The development of their relationship, the (MINOR SPOILER FOR THEIR DYNAMIC) way they become more loyal and trusting of one and other is wonderful. I am a sucker for enemies to lovers tropes, and while they are never actually romantic, there are enough scenes to suggest it is a possibility and I adored it the two have a great chemistry – but I like how the war, the fight, the story comes first and is not impeded by any potential romance. I cannot wait to see how this plays out.
Ramson. Despite being an untrustworthy criminal, I ended up loving this character. Initially he is cruel and manipulative,as you would expect, and I disliked him but there was something about the character that intrigued me regardless. As the story goes on and this silver tongued, quick thinking, skill full and loyal conman became one of my favourite characters- I love him he is funny, witty and kinder than he makes out, even if he can be cruel and calculating. He is a wonderful morally-grey character and I want to see so much more of him.
— Dark And Action Packed —
Overall. This is a dark and action-packed fantasy that has some great diversity, important and well explored themes, wonderful characters and an amazing set of magic and world-building. This story was gorgeously written, well-paced and an exciting read.
I would recommend this to anyone who loves fantasy, magic, diversity and morally grey characters with a penchant for getting into dangerous situations. There is so much more I could say about this novel, but I wouldn’t want to spoil it as it is such a wonderful read!
Content warnings: Blood, violence, slavery, abuse, death, drowning, torture, abandonment – I am sorry if I have missed any!
*I received an eARC of #BloodHeir by Amelie Wen Zhao @ameliewenzhao from #netgalley @harpercollins @harpervoyageruk @harpercollinsuk #harperfiction in exchange for an honest review*