Book Review: Spells of Blood and Kin by Claire Humphrey

After the death of her mother, Lissa is taken under her grandmother’s wing and taught the secrets of Russian witchcraft. Their customers are mostly her grandmother’s church friends, and all their spells are imbued into eggs. Eaten raw, the eggs work their magic.

The book begins with the grandmother’s death, and Lissa must take over as the official neighborhood witch. But her grief is only the start of her problems. Baba’s death means the end of a forbidden spell she cast on Maksim, a bloodthirsty kin, now going mad from his lust for violence. Her step sister Stella also appears on her doorstep, desperate to escape England and the stalker she left behind.

Humphrey masters the art of “show, don’t tell.” She never explains what a kin is, or how Lissa’s magic works. Instead, we simply learn about the magical world through flashbacks and quick explanations between characters. There is enough mystery about the nature of magic to leave readers burning with questions, yet enough answers are given that the novel feels very satisfactory in its conclusion. The characters don’t have all the answers, and neither do the readers.

Lissa and Maksim are equally interesting protagonists. Lissa is young, shy, and very unsure of herself. With her grandmother gone, she feels lost and without direction, and yet from Maksim’s point of view, she is a mysterious, powerful witch. Maksim’s life is told through flashbacks. We learn how he has struggled throughout the centuries and after a tragic frenzy led to the deaths of those he cared for, he consulted Baba to place a powerful spell on him to control his behavior.

Despite an original and intriguing plot, there are several weaknesses. Many of the support characters lack depth and are not very interesting; the mundane world feels far too mundane. The dialogue between the 'normal' people feels predictable and flat. Stella forces her way into Lissa’s life, and Lissa comes to care for her, but it’s hard to see exactly why. There isn’t much to Stella’s personality other than being girly and outgoing. Everything she does is to give Lissa motivation to come out of her shell. If Stella has any ambitions, dreams or even hobbies, the reader is never informed of them. Speaking as an introvert, I found the idea of having such a stranger barge into my secretive life and tell me what to do to be horrific, and I can’t understand why Lissa just accepts it and enjoys it. The romance is also shallow. We barely get to know anything about Rafe, Lissa’s boyfriend, and he seems just to be a reward for her character development.

Among the kin characters, there is a mixed bag. Gus, a girl Maksim infected with kin blood in the 19th century, does not get a  lot of attention, but she dominates most of the scenes she is in. We may not know much about her, but it is evident that despite her drunken, rowdy behavior, there is more to her. Nick is Maksim’s most recent creation, and I have to admit he is incredibly annoying. There isn’t much to him except that he is arrogant, and is jealous his best friend is moving in with his girlfriend. I am not sure if we are meant to feel pity for his transformation, but at all times he merely feels like a hindrance to better, more interesting characters.

Despite that, Spells of Blood and Kin is a strong debut for Claire Humphrey. The plots and world building feels fresh and original, even if some characters do not. It is published by St. Martin's Press and will be available on June 14.

Megan “Spooky” Crittenden is a secluded writer who occasionally ventures from her home to give aid to traveling adventurers.