Blood Justice

A Chaotic New Orleans Mage Crew: Blood Justice by Terry J. Benton-Walker

I’ve seen Terry J. Benton-Walker’s Blood Debts series described as the Black queer YA contemporary fantasy version of Game of Thrones, and yeah, that perfectly describes it. We’ve got battles for the throne, the young’uns reenacting their elders’ rivalries and grudges, ancient magic used in dangerous ways, and family trees that are increasingly more complicated and interwoven. Blood Debts was a brutal introduction to the compellingly chaotic New Orleans mage crew, and the sequel, Blood Justice, keeps the momentum going.

Blessed be to Benton-Walker for doing a big recap in the first few chapters. So much happened in the first book that it really helped having Valentina, Cris, and Clem catch the reader up. After having some space to breathe after the events of the first book, twins Clement and Cristina Trudeau are tossed back into the fray. Their mom, Marie, is back as Queen of the Generational Magic Council after an attempt on her life and Cris and Clem’s violent retribution, but it is a bittersweet victory. Cris is still processing the trauma of her ex-boyfriend Oz’s love spell that stole her consent, while Clem is desperately trying to figure out how to restore the soul of his zombified boyfriend Yves. Things get even messier when Cris dabbles in deadly magic, an anti-magic cop targets the Gen Council, and their mom is framed for the murder of the mayor of New Orleans. 

Meanwhile, Valentina Savant is licking her wounds and plotting her revenge after the deaths of her grandparents and the loss of her inheritance. She teams up with her bestie, Sofia, in a trap to bring the Trudeaus down once and for all and hand Valentina the throne on a silver platter. Also lurking around the edges is Zac Kingston, Clem’s arch-nemesis, and his father, who is rapidly descending into madness. The gods have their own schemes going, and the siblings are caught in the middle of it. Something wicked this way comes, and it has its eyes set on Clem.

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Blood Justice
Blood Justice

Blood Justice

Terry J. Benton-Walker

I often feel like An Old when reading YA, and I’m fine with that, but this book got me good. In the front matter are several family trees, and I had the surreal moment of realizing Marie and I are the same age. She had her children young, as far as Millennials are concerned—having kids at 20 isn’t rare for my generation, but it also isn’t the norm—but it still feels discombobulating. However, what I appreciated was how Benton-Walker leans into their intergenerational relationships. In an activist community, you need both the fiery young’uns and the more cautious elders (oh God, does this mean I’m an elder? *wilts*). Although each generation thinks they’re right and the other is wrong, in reality both are right, both are wrong, and we need that contradiction. Marie and her generational peers are more strategic, something Cris and her generational peers interpret as risk-averse and an unwillingness to fight back. Cris and her generational peers are more active and fired up, something Marie and her generational peers interpret as hotheaded and impulsive. The elders and the young’uns cannot succeed on their own; we need intergenerational collaboration in order to build and sustain a movement. This is a lesson we seem to learn over and over again. 

The central conflict between Marie and her children is that Marie believes in changing the system while the siblings believe in burning the system down and creating something entirely new. I tend to fall on the latter, but I also understand that isn’t always the best way to convert skeptics to your cause. Living in a society means sometimes you have to work with the system you have right now in order to make something better in the future. Cris has a lot of fun burning things down and Marie holds onto her morals by playing the respectability card, but Clem pays the price for both of their choices.

I expect there will be readers complaining that Cris, Clem, and Valentina act without thinking, make poor decisions, and are terrible at making and sticking to plans. And yeah, all that is true. It’s also true of many 17 year olds. Add magic to the mix and frankly the only thing that does surprise me is that they haven’t yet found a way to spell their way into perfect SAT scores. Teenagers in a YA novel acting like teenagers in a YA novel doesn’t bother me. They’re doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing. If they always made the right choices, it’d be a hella boring story. I love when a character looks at their options and picks the worst one and then struggles to deal with the consequences. The protagonists in Blood Justice are infuriating in the best possible way. 

To whoever is in charge of deciding if we get more of the Blood Debts series: I want a dozen more books. I want this series to be as long as the Wheel of Time. I want to be handing new books in this series to teens every year for the next decade at least. Let’s make it happen, people!  icon-paragraph-end

Blood Justice is published by Tor Teen.

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