By Ehigbor Okosun

Harper Voyager


386pp/$30.00/August 2023

Forged by Blood
Cover by Garisinau

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Ehigbor Okosun's debut novel, Forged by Blood, is billed as the first book o the Tainted Blood duology. It tells to story of Demi, a young woman whose mother is killed in the opening chapters of the book because she is able to use magic, and has done so to heal a wounded boy, brought to her, partly, in an attempt to entrap her. Although Demi escapes a similar fate, she harbors a need for vengeance against those who have killed her mother. A decade time jump brings her more control over her own powers, the strength of a found family, but no closer to achieving the vengeance she desires.

All too often, fantasy novels follow familiar tropes, and at one level, Forged in Blood does as well. Demi lives in a kingdom that has been conquered by foreigners and she belongs to a despised minority that the conquerors want to eradicate. What makes Forged by Blood stand out are they ways Okosun uses those familiar tropes in unfamiliar ways. Demi's culture in clearly based in Nigerian folklore rather than the more typical European influences fantasy world, although the conquerors appear to be European in nature. This provides a strong sense of colonization to the novel rather than just neighboring a kingdom conquering another.

The magic system Okesun introduces is also quite different from those which are used in so many fantasy novels. The ability to use magic is hereditary, but must also be learned, and each person who has magical abilities can employ them in different ways. The world is also inhabited by magical beings who are neither inimical nor allied to humans, but work with or against humans as their own agendas, or prophecies, require. Demi has a longstanding alliance with some of these creatures, but at the same time, she can never be entirely sure of how they will respond to her.

The novel is driven not only be Demi's need for vengeance, but also by her relationships with other Olosu, the magic users of this world, such as Colin, her best friend who is in love with her, and the complicated relationship she has with the crown prince, who she has been hired to kidnap by the ambitious Lord Tobias Ekwensi, one of the king's nobleman who sees the crown prince as a means to advance his own position in the conquered lands. Okosun gives the reader the impression that the reader knows more about the situation than any of the characters in the novel, but that knowledge is often illusory and things the reader thought they knew are subverted by Olesun's deft handling of common tropes used in uncommon ways.

The pacing of the novel doesn't quite work. The very fact that Okosun is using ideas that are fesh means that they need to be explained to the reader. At times these explanations are woven into the narrative, but other times, the reader is left to figure out the details on their own over the span of several pages or even chapters. This isn't to say that Okosun should be spoonfeeding readers information, but just that the pacing of the information, along with the action around it often seems at odds, especially when viewed in relation to the opening chapters of the novel which set the stage for Demi's issues and way of confronting the world.

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