In the acknowledgements of The Blood Keeper, Tessa Gratton’s follow-up to Blood Magic, Gratton thanks Robin McKinley, for writing about roses and beasts and transformations. Pieces of this book have been in my head since I was ten years old.

I feel that’s worth mentioning as I know that many readers, myself included, are likely to pick a book up based on that knowledge alone. And this book deserves to be picked up. Not because it’s a McKinley clone—far from it, actually, though it shares some of the same sensibilities—but because it’s a flat-out super book. It shares the same format as its predecessor, he said/she said narration interspersed with entries from a long-lost journal. But while Blood Magic was a perfectly enjoyable, well-written read, The Blood Keeper outshines it completely.*

Read the last Bookshelves of Doom on Allen Zadoff's 'Since You Left Me.'

As you may have gleaned from the titles, the magic in these books isn’t like the magic in most other YA contemporary fantasies. It requires sacrifice, and as it deals with “the interconnectedness of all things,”* it requires balance. You have to give to get, and while our heroes and heroines use blood and power that is freely given, there are others who are very willing to use coercion, violence and murder to get what they want. It’s magic that’s full of beauty and wonder, but there’s some very, very dark darkness there, too.

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While the books are set in the same world and even feature some of the same characters, they work as stand-alones. Set five years after the events of Blood Magic, The Blood Keeper features two completely different narrators in a different setting, a different old journal and a different antagonist. So if you haven’t read the first book, there’s nothing at all to stop you from jumping right into this one.

Despite the change in focus, fans of the first book will recognize and appreciate what this one has to offer. The main characters of Blood Magic, Nick and Silla, appear in minor roles, and Silla’s brother, Reese, plays a much more pivotal part. Even more enticing is the return of villainess Josephine Darby, even though it’s a tangential and historical role, as she appears in the pages of the journal, but she’s also the mother of our heroine, Mab.

Mab, who has grown up using magic, takes her role as caretaker and protector of her land with the seriousness the office deserves, but she also takes great joy in it. She’s a bit wild, but not so wild that she’s socially inept, which makes the insta-lurrrve that develops between her and Will, the youngest son of a military family, that much more believable. It’s romantic—both in the simple two-hearts-beat-as-one way and in the part-of-something-so-much-bigger-sweeping-epic way—and tragic,** feels fresh and still classic, and at moments, is just plain breathtaking. Like McKinley, Gratton creates magic without resorting to the woo-woo and conveys a completely earnest—yet matter-of-fact—wonder and appreciation for the natural world.

Very highly recommended to fans of Maggie Stiefvater’s Faerie books and other dark-ish contemporary fantasy.


*Ah, shades of Dirk Gently. Completely unrelated, of course, but that phrase always makes me think of him.

**Word of warning: I cried all over the place.

Let's be honest. If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is most likely being tragically unproductive due to the shiny lure of Pinterest.