Blood Heir by Amélie Wen Zhao
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Publishing Info: November 2019, Illumicrate Edition, Harper Voyager
Star Rating: 3.5/5
Back Cover Summary:
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.
You may or may not be aware that there was some controversy around this book prior to its publication. A Twitter backlash resulted in the author deciding not to publish the book initially, and later, having made some changes, going ahead with publishing it. There was a bit of a Twitter pile on by people who hadn’t even read the book, which seems completely ridiculous. If you’ve read the book you can form an opinion on it, but I don’t get it when people hadn’t even read the book. Besides, people shouldn’t be going round attacking authors on Twitter. I’m glad the author did decide to publish in the end. This post is going to be purely a review of the book. If you want to know more about what happened, a quick google will pull up a tonne of articles on the subject.
Blood Heir hooked me from the start, with a tense and compelling opening few chapters. Ana’s Affinity means she can control blood. She can sense it in other people and use it to kill people. There is the potential for her to use it to heal too, but she’s never been taught how to do this. Since her Affinity revealed itself, she’s been viewed by others as a monster, meaning she also views herself as a monster. Ana’s internal conflict revolves around the view of herself as a monster, and trying to accept that it’s how she uses her ability that shows who she is, that she isn’t inherently bad because of her Affinity.
The world in which Ana lives – the Cyrilian empire – is one that misunderstands and mistreats Affinites. Those with abilities are used for their magic and are looked down upon by society. When her family learn she’s an Affinite, Ana is locked away and attempts are made to ‘cure’ her. Due to being kept hidden in the palace, it’s only when Ana is outside of its walls that she discovers her Empire isn’t as good as she had thought, but is actually very corrupt. Affinites are trafficked and the Empire’s own soldiers are complicit in it. Many Affinites come to Cyrilia looking for a better life, but are separated from their families and trapped in work contracts they can’t escape. The author has drawn on her own multicultural experiences in writing the book. She moved from China to the US when she was 18. Amelie has stated that Affinite indenturement in Blood Heir reflects the issues of human trafficking in Asia. As the reader uncovers the truth of what’s happening in Cyrilia alongside Ana, it’s an eye opening experience to the corruptness of the Empire’s system and the conditions the trafficked Affinites endure.
The world building is well depicted, with the story being primarily set in the cold lands of the Cyrilian Empire. One thing that did seem odd to me was how whenever the characters were travelling between places there was always a convenient empty or abandoned dacha (house) for them to take shelter in. I don’t think they once had to take shelter in an inn or sleep under the stars. It just seemed too convenient for them to always be an empty dacha whenever they needed one.
Ana and Ramson are opposites in many ways. Ana has lived for most of her life unaware of the corruptness in her Empire and also oppressed by the prejudices against Affinites. Ramson came to Cyrilia from another part of the world, is aware of the corruption, but is guilty of simply looking the other way as so many people do.
We learn more about Ana and Ramson through flashbacks. I often see flashbacks as being a bit of a cheat way to tell the reader more about the characters, depending how it’s done and how many flashbacks there are. There are quite a lot in this book and I can’t make up my mind if it works or not. They do help the reader understand Ana and Ramson, slowly revealing bits of information about them. But I did at times find myself wanting to get back to the present day action.
I felt engaged throughout the book, although it was a bit predictable at times. One character’s death seemed to be included just for the sake of moving forward Ana’s character and for dramatic effect, which I wasn’t keen on. I would have preferred that character to have lived, as it was just too predictable for them to die, especially in the way that it happened.
To summarise, this is a great book with great writing and storytelling. It just didn’t give me the same ‘wow’ feeling when I’d finished reading as other YA fantasy I’ve read, which is why I only gave it 3.5 stars.