Blood Debts by Terry J. Benton-Walker (Blood Debts #1)

Thirty years ago, a young woman was murdered, a family was lynched, and New Orleans saw the greatest magical massacre in its history. In the days that followed, a throne was stolen from a queen.

On the anniversary of these brutal events, Clement and Cristina Trudeau—the sixteen-year-old twin heirs to the powerful, magical, dethroned family—are mourning their father and caring for their sick mother. Until, by chance, they discover their mother isn’t sick—she’s cursed. Cursed by someone on the very magic council their family used to rule. Someone who will come for them next.

Cristina, once a talented and dedicated practitioner of Generational magic, has given up magic for good. An ancient spell is what killed their father and she was the one who cast it. For Clement, magic is his lifeline. A distraction from his anger and pain. Even better than the random guys he hooks up with.

Cristina and Clement used to be each other’s most trusted confidant and friend, now they barely speak. But if they have any hope of discovering who is coming after their family, they’ll have to find a way to trust each other and their family's magic, all while solving the decades-old murder that sparked the still-rising tensions between the city’s magical and non-magical communities. And if they don't succeed, New Orleans may see another massacre. Or worse. 

CONTRIBUTOR(S): Torian Brackett (Narrator), Bahni Turpin (Narrator), Zeno Robinson (Narrator), Joniece Abbott-Pratt (Narrator)
PUBLISHER: Macmillan Young Listeners
YEAR: 2023
LENGTH: 336 pages (14 hours 30 minutes)
AGE: Young Adult
GENRE: Fantasy

Queer Rep Summary: Lesbian/Sapphic Secondary Character(s), Gay/Achillean Main Character(s).

Clement (Clem) and Cristina (Cris) are twins, Gen(erational) magic users living in New Orleans. Cris has recently pulled away from her magic because she thinks a spell she performed is responsible for their father's death. It's a secret so terrible that she hasn't shared it with anyone, leaving Clem adrift and frustrated, not understanding why his sister refuses to do this thing she's so good at and used to love. Their family has been displaced from their previous position in the Gen Magic Council, of which their grandmother was the queen before she was killed and blamed for someone else's death. BLOOD DEBTS deals with trauma from racism, cultural appropriation, and self-interested cruelty, and how connection and family ties can help the Trudeau family withstand everything hurled against them.

Clem and Cris are the two main narrators, but occasional sections follow other perspectives, such as the girl who used to be Cris's best friend. Echoing what played out between their grandmothers decades ago, she turned cruel and seems to have made it her mission to wreck Cris's life. Clem has his own problems, frustrated with how his sister has pulled away since their father died, he's trying to feel connected with her seemingly revolving cast of brief links. He doesn't understand Cris dating a white boy and she doesn't understand him dating so many boys. I love the way their dynamic is written, because it really feels like teenage siblings who want to connect to each other but don't have the experience to understand the way that their mutual teasing is alternately a barrier as much as it's a connection. They're also stressed out by their mother's illness, but almost as soon as the story begins they discover it was unnaturally caused and the only way to protect their family is to get all of their aunts to come home and help cast a protection. There's a wonderful mix of showing and specifically processing the way the ways that the discord and difficulty communicating between their mother and her sisters has then made it harder for Clem and Cris to navigate their relationship with each other.

Digging into the past unearths old wrongs and tangled threads, highlighting misery in the present. The twins are following their own paths of restitution, reconciliation, and resolution as they work, not quite at cross-purposes, but on parallel tracks of investigation as they each try to find out who was hurting their mother, and whether anyone is still trying to hurt them. Cris is navigating her relationship with her with her boyfriend, and Cris meets a new boy who sweeps him away.  

I love the ending, things are wrapped up in a way that feels immensely satisfying for 95% of the story, and then rather dramatically unresolved for a plot point so tantalizing that I'm eager for the planned sequel. The dangling threads make it feel real and alive, but the way in which it's unresolved sets it firmly back in the realm of drama and fantasy in a way that I find very pleasing. 

Graphic/Explicit CW for grief, sexual content, toxic friendship, toxic relationship, forced institutionalization, confinement.

Moderate CW for sexual assault, rape, cursing, drug use, alcohol, bullying, racism, injury detail, medical content, car accident, parental death, death.

Minor CW for body shaming, fatphobia, mental illness, infertility, pregnancy, vomit, self harm, war.

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A Black teenage boy and girl stand back to back, the boy is in a red suit, holding a skull in one hand, the girl has a blue dress and red head-wrap, holding a lit candle in one hand. The moon shines large behind them.


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