The Certainty of Blood by Tim Frankovich — SPFBO 9 REVIEW

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One would think that the first thing I read would be the first thing I reviewed. That would be the case if I were smart and organized. I aspire to those attributes and fail more often than not. So, here we are, I’m reviewing the book that started my SPFBO 9 batch — and I started here purely because of the cover. Fucking dinosaur gladiators or some shit, I’m down.

So, I think this will appeal to those who enjoyed Combat Codes by Alexander Darwin, there are a lot of similar elements, the most obvious being a younger boy training and fighting in an arena setting. He’s been yanked away from his village because of his uncanny ability to burn other people’s blood, and this is a world where blood is everything. Blood determines magic, currency, culture, like everything. Little vials of sealed blood are used as a kind of currency in the cities, so when it’s discovered that Aldan burns blood it’s considered a curse. He’s called tainted, forbidden to marry or father kids, and is referred to as “clanless.”

After being sent to the arenas to fight he’s been blood bound, basically a type of magical enslavement, he’s not able to go against the wishes of his captors. He’s got to learn to get along with these kids, but also keep a distance since death is common and getting attached to people may not be the best idea. Especially considering they are pitted against each other to the death.

The writing itself was pretty fast paced and “got out of the way of the story.” I found this writing style fit the tone and theme of the story in that it would have been weird to hear this story told in a flowery way, lol. The pacing of the plot points, however, slowed things down for me a bit, particularly in the middle. At 610 pages I felt like maybe some of this could have been dropped to make it go a little faster, but I suppose your opinion will vary depending on how much you enjoy training sequences and fight scenes. I also felt like scene transition sometimes worked and other times didn’t. There were time skips and scene changes that were a little abrupt. It might have to do with the fact there are two timelines and I wasn’t always clear “when” we were in the story.

The narrow aspect of the world where the character is living in has been vividly created. However, the world at large was a little more vague creating a little bit of island-like effect. There is a bit of explanation of what’s going on outside of our MC, but it’s done through some info dumping. Although I don’t dispute kids talk to each other about stuff, the fact that they were explaining some world building aspects mid-sparring match was a little awkward. Once upon a time before my knees were crackly and old I did kickboxing, and I had to focus on breathing, so I definitely wasn’t chatting with my sparring partner all that much.

Overall, despite this being a cut I made it through to the end and I think this will appeal to those who enjoy training scenes, forced-family, coming of age, Gladiator, and moral dilemmas facing younger characters.