In Schmidt’s (Cold & Blood, 2019, etc.) dark-fantasy series-starter, an exiled blood mage returns to her home country to carry out a divinely commanded assassination—and, possibly, to find revenge.
When Scarko Kadezska was young, her family members were murdered for heresy in Warskia, where magic-using is considered blasphemous. She escaped to the Vrakans’ Order of Saints, where her talents with “blood magic”—“her ability to make bones do what she willed with her blood, to use her blood as a literal weapon, a poison that burned, that killed”—make her a unique addition to their force. Other members can control fire, ice, wind, and shadow. The Order’s leader, Vojtech, becomes a father figure to the orphaned Scarko; as a bone-eating demon, he intimately understands her appetite for blood. The Order wants to restore magic to Warskia, and when Vojtech receives a vision from their gods, he sees the Order’s chance to strike. He tells Scarko to return to Warskia to kill Zephir Crista, a fighter who’s immune to the effects of magic. Obediently, she sets out for the city of Kezda to find him, but she wonders if she can find time, during her assignment, to exact vengeance on the Warskian Praeminister, who traumatized her in captivity. Scarko isn’t the best strategist, so Zephir quickly picks her out of a crowd during one of his matches. After he corners her, she realizes that they have more in common than she thought. This is a violent novel that’s full of grim joking between comrades and terrible crimes that give the book a hard edge. (Readers should also be warned that Scarko has a complicated relationship with self-harm.) Schmidt brings the country of Warskia to life with a smattering of fantasy language that gives it the feel of a dark, snowy Eastern European land. As this novel is the first in a series, the story is weighed down by background material, but the author excels in describing the sharp tensions between her characters: “Scarko watched him leave, wondering as she felt the warmth of the bird skull close to her chest, what his bones would look like with her blood on them.”
A bloody, gothic tale that sings when it’s not busy setting its stage.