We’re taught to fear blood, maybe because it’s so often tied to death and gore. In Toronto author Liselle Sambury’s Blood Like Magic, blood signifies other things, too – notably our link to our ancestry and community, living and non-living alike. In Sambury’s story world, blood is a matriarchal inheritance: a girl’s transition into her own selfhood and power.
Set in futuristic Toronto, Blood Like Magic centres on Voya Thomas, a 16-year-old with a family heritage of witchcraft. On the day she has her first period, she gains access to her powers through a coming-of-age trial. The trial is relatively simple but the stakes are high: the witch-in-training is visited by an honoured ancestor who assigns her a test. Pass it and you receive your unique powers. Fail it and your entire family’s reputation and ability to use magic fall to ruin. Voya’s test is to kill her first love. The problem? She’s never been in love and she doesn’t have long to find, fall for, and kill her perfect match.
Voya’s identities as a Black girl and as a witch saturate every page, in details from the social commentary to the food (you will be hungry reading this book). Voya will feel especially real to Black readers who know what it’s like to need coconut oil for your hair. Sambury’s eerie and evocative prose makes Voya’s world burst with emotion, science, magic, and gore. And yet she still manages to ground the supernatural in the realism of a fleshed-out, messy Canadian setting. Blood Like Magic’s futuristic Toronto comes alive with its multicultural diversity and familiar-to-locals landmarks, like OCAD University, Tim Hortons, and specific shopping centres. Blood Like Magic is not only inflected with recognizable details from the present day but is also imbued with the past; in particular, Sambury links Voya’s lineage and her coming-of-age trial to Canada’s history of slavery.
This ambitious young adult novel tackles many issues, such as racism, socio-economic inequality, drug addiction, genetic modification, and the roles of science and the arts in the future. At times, it feels almost too dense, but Sambury helps the reader navigate her incredibly detailed world through the eyes of Voya, who, for all her high-stakes magical conflicts, has relatable problems, strengths, and weaknesses. Blood Like Magic lands every heavy theme because of its honest writing. This spiritual successor to Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring will hit all the right spots for fantasy readers.