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  • Writer's pictureHannah Zunic

Welcome to New Orleans: A Review of Blood Debts by Terry J. Benton-Walker

Hello, Book Nerds! Welcome back to Reading Has Ruined My Life or welcome if you are new. As always, my name is Hannah and I am your captain on this journey into my bookcases.


Bears waving.
Hi! How's everyone doing today?

I got a good one for you today! I got a new review for ya! A new review on a new release! And oh boy, does this book have a lot. A New Orleans setting, magic, death, lots and lots of death, river boats, generational drama and trauma, and even more magic! That isn’t even scratching the surface on the deeper themes and darker parts of this novel.


Please welcome to the stage: Blood Debts by Terry J. Benton-Walker!


Book cover of Blood Debts by Terry J. Benton-Walker.

This one was a doozy. There is so much going on that I can only hope I’m able to cover it all. So let’s get to the synopsis.


As always, a spoiler alert is in order; you’ve been warned. I also must issue a content and trigger warning. This book has a lot of heavy topics and themes. First of all, Blood Debts deals with racism and homophobia. Both are pretty prevalent topics in this book. Blood Debts also kicks off with murder, a lynching, and a massacre. These events set the stage for this novel. There are a few brief mentions of abuse both towards a romantic partner and child, and there are mentions of sex trafficking and sexual assault. Also gore. Lots of gore at the end. If you’re not a fan of gore this book is not for you. For the most part it's a pretty clean novel, but the ending paints quite a picture. I think I’ve got everything, but please check for other triggers and content warnings cause this book is very heavy and I may have missed some things. Now onto the synopsis.


Bears waving.
If you're jumping ship, that's ok. I'll see you next week with something a lot more light-hearted.

Blood Debts follows 16-year-old twins Clemet and Cristina Trudeau. Their family is grieving. They lost their father roughly a year before the events of the book and their mother is gravely ill with a mysterious illness no doctor can diagnose. Turns out their mom isn’t actually sick; she’s cursed! Cursed by someone on the magic council the Dupart-Trudeau family used to rule.


Rihanna putting on a crown.
We got some magic royal families. My favorite type of royal families.

Thirty-years prior to the start of the novel, the murder of a young woman sparked a lynch mob and the lives of Cristina and Baptiste Dupart were snuffed out. Now it’s up to the twins to regain the family’s power and throne. They want justice for the curse that almost took their mother from them, and they want justice for the death of their grandparents.


Things will not be easy. The current rulers of the magical council obviously don’t want Clemet and Cristina to regain their family’s control. But on top of that, Clemet and Cristina, once each other’s most trusted confidant, no longer speak to each other the way they used to. Cristina also refuses to practice magic after she casts an ancient spell and her father died shortly thereafter.


There’s a lot to unpack here but the twins are determined to receive justice for their family. They will stop at no length to achieve it. But will they get it? Or will someone silence them first?


"dun-dun-dun."

I really wanted to like this book! I wanted to like this book so bad. But it falls flat for me. I found the pacing to be off, it would alternate between fast and slow, things felt unfinished and not fully thought out, and there were far too many POV characters. And all these issues intertwine.


Patric Star crying.
It's so sad!

The main issue is how unfinished some topics feel. The author clearly has tons of ideas running through his head and is attempting to include them all without fully fleshing them out first. Terry J. Benton-Walker wants to include racial issues, LGBTQIA+ rights, generational trauma, necromancy, first love, heartbreak, calling for magic control the same way people in the US are calling for gun control; there’s a lot going and after a while some of these topics are simply shoehorned in. There’s no time for these themes and plot points to breath. They’re introduced to the readers and then they keep coming and don’t stop coming.


Shrek. "Somebody once told me."
I wrote the above line simply so I could include a Shrek reference.

Instead of shoehorning some of these topics in, time could have been spent expanding on a few choice topics and world building. Want to know how exactly magic works in this society? Too bad, you don’t get that. Magic just magics. Want there to be time for Clemet to go on a date? Blood Debts has got you. Want the villains to fully disclose their plans? Sorry, not here. And I know not everything is going to be fully explained by the end. Blood Debts is supposed to be the start of a series, or at least have a sequel, so I expected there to be some unanswered questions in the end but as it stands there are far too many unfinished, unanswered questions.


This brings us to pacing. Things are either happening at lightning speed or nothing happens at all. Points are drawn out that don’t need to be and the things that should be expanded on are blink and you miss it moments. It’s messy. Everything’s messy.


It’s so sad. I wanted to like this book so much. I wanted to get into a new fantasy series. There were some things I liked in this book. The ending was phenomenal. And I don’t mean that in the mean “yay, it’s over” way. I found the climax to be the highlight of the book.


For starters, there’s some good gore. The gore is very limited but very effective. The ending as a whole is effective. It is somehow satisfying and a good set up for a sequel. I feel like the ending was written first and had the most editing done to it. The climax and ending are on a different level compared to the rest of the novel. Honestly tragic.


I wish this book was better. I wish I enjoyed it more. I can see the love and dedication the author put into this book, but it sadly falls flat in so many ways. This book has so much potential, NOLA is a magical place and can offer so much as a setting, the ideas and themes can go so far if given room to breathe; again there is so much potential but the book sadly doesn’t work.


With that, I must bid you adieu. I shall see you next week with another great post. It’s not a review but it is something super fun! Something you’ll all enjoy.


Until then, stay safe, wash your hands, and read some good books for me.


Bears waving.
See y'all then, bye!

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