Does anyone else have a knee-jerk reaction when they see a book description that says “for (blank) audiences only” and automatically think “Hey, I’m (whatever blank descriptor)”? It can be anything. For fun audiences only…for mature audiences only…for fantasy-addicted-nerfherding audiences only?
I can’t resist. If only to prove that I am, indeed, whatever the author thinks I need to be in order to appreciate their book–or, if I’m feeling spiteful that day, to prove that I’m NOT what the author needs me to be but I can read their book anyway.
Blood Oath takes place in the withering kingdom of Verald. The land is dying, the people are starving, and the tyrant sitting on the throne revels in the immortality he bought by drinking the blood of the Phaetyn, people so connected with life and the earth they can coax just about anything to grow. Ryn, our protagonist, longs for more adventure in her monotonous life, but she doesn’t complain about what she has: a mother who loves her, a childhood friend watching her back, and a job with a man who’s a father-figure, mentor, and friend.
Until the Drae, the tyrant king’s dragon-shifting hard-ass, marks her as a rebel and sets in motion a chain of events that leads her to the castle dungeons. There, the king and his minions attempts to break Ryn, beating her down and dragging her to ruin. But Ryn realizes she’s nothing more than a pawn being manipulated by the players in this blood-soaked game: the Drae servant, locked in a blood oath to a king he despises, versus the king, so consumed with power he’s starving the very land in his efforts to gain more. She’s going to have to dig deep to find some fight in her and learn the rules of the game. Because she refuses to be a pawn forever.
I’d bought this book to be spiteful. I mean, I’d spent that morning indulging in my immature side by sleeping in, ignoring bills, and procrastinating all the adult things live that thrown my way. So when Raye Wagner and Kelly St. Clare’s book, Blood Oath, popped up on my Facebook feed with the disclaimer that this book would appeal to mature audiences only, my immature brain responded with a “pffft” and I pounded that one-click button so hard, I ended up dropping my phone. But when I sat down and started reading, I realized rather quickly that I would indeed need to be mature to handle this book.
Because, holy torture scenes Batman, this book didn’t mess around.
It’s one of the things I love most about this book. So many YA novels nowadays tip-toe around pain. I mean, I’d just read a Twitter conversation wondering the merit of including swear words in YA novels a la Hamlet (to be, or not to be, that is the question) because what kind of things are we teaching our children with language like that, and shouldn’t we be shielding children from such adult concepts? But Blood Oath embraces the darker sides of life, reminds the reader that darkness can latch on to young adults as well as older ones, dishes pain out in dirty detail, and evokes such a visceral response, I had to pepper in my binge reading with chocolate breaks to feel some happiness again.
And that made it feel real.
The realness of this book got me. We have a heroine tortured, loved ones murdered, and mistakes leading to painful consequences. As we do in real life. So often in YA novels, we feel the main cast of characters is going to survive. Sure, they might be broken down, and yeah, they’re going to be a tad bruised, but generally, they come out at the end with most everything they wanted.
Yeah…not so much Blood Oath. Ryn suffers, she doesn’t always get what she wants, and I appreciated it. Because yeah, life has pain. A tad morbid, sure, and sometimes, just like everyone else, I need a black-and-white, good-versus-evil-but-good-triumphs story, but stories like this one–where the reality of pain and suffering bleeds through–resonate more deeply. Makes me appreciate what I have, reminds me to a potent degree the depths of consequences, and motivates me to keep on keeping on.
Blood Oath is a fantastic story. It’s beautifully written, with excellent descriptions and compelling characters. Gah, the descriptions. So well written that I felt like I could feel the cold stone of the dungeon floor, smell the dirt of the fields, and hear the snap of leather whips. I laughed, I cried, and I cringed at the torture scenes. And I can already tell you, I downloaded Book 2 and plan on binging that just as hardcore as I did with this book.
I’m giving this book a well-earned 4.5 out of 5 stars. My only problem–and it’s a very minuscule, less-a-problem-more-a-pet-peeve–is that Ryn kept reinforcing her motivations and feelings too often for my tastes. Not a big thing, but I did skim through some parts just because I already knew what drove her, what she felt toward other characters, and, a chapter later, I didn’t really need a reminder.