Spells of Blood and Kin is a slow burn dark urban fantasy layered in tones of grief, depression, and inexorable loneliness. Author Humphrey throws out the book on urban fantasy; but at the same time, the oppressive darkness and anticlimactic end will likely alienate many readers.
Story: Maksim is kin – an immortal powerful nonhuman with a constant craving for violence. Lissa is the granddaughter of a Russian witch and drowning in grief over the recent loss of her Baba. A death that has released a spell keeping Maksim from the misery of his own actions. When Maksim loses control on the spur of the moment, he infects Nick – a young man enjoying rebelling: violence, drugs, and nightlife. As Lissa deals with a desperate Maksim’s request to make a new spell, Nick begins to change.
The story has a clear arc – Maksim finding Nick and his friend in early morning Toronto, bleeding after drunken fights. The rest of the story is Maksim and his fellow kin Augusta “Gus” tracking down Nick while Maksin desperately tries to regain equanimity through witch Lissa’s ‘eggs’ that keep him calm. At the end, the ‘infecting’ of Nick comes to a head in a very surprising way.
Side characters are just as intricately drawn as the mains – from Maksim’s friend “Gus” to Lissa’s quirky British step sister who abruptly charges into her life after the death of her grandmother. The expectation of tombstones over people’s heads is wholly thrown in the air and certainly the story goes in directions not expected. Unnecessary drama isn’t manufactured and there is no deus ex machina. If anything, Spells of Blood and Kin is the antidote to the melodrama of this genre.
But at the same time, the story has no glimmers of real hope. The oppressive tone is stifling and none of the characters are pretty – each is ugly in their own way as they deal with their natures of what life has flung at them. Lissa with her grief over her grandmother’s death; Maksim fighting to not kill what he loves ever again; Gus looking for a purpose in life; Nick not wanting to stop the partying/drugs/etc; Lissa’s stepsister Stella running from her stifling British parents; and Nick’s best friend deciding to forgo the punk extravagance and settle down with the nice girl he’s found.
The story really works on the character driven level. It’s not flashy and it is not what most would expect. None of the characters are even remotely likable – they are extremely flawed. Those aspects give the book a grounded perspective that lifts it above a lot of the poorly written stories that are so prevalent these days. Just don’t read this if you are depressed. Written from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.