Monday, August 22, 2016

Book Review: Bloodwalker by L.X. Cain

Author's Note: The author provided a free ARC of the ebook in exchange for an honest review.

Rurik, scarred and freakishly strong from being struck by lightning twice, works security at the Zorka circus. Normally that involves just keeping general order, but lately he has noticed children disappearing. After saving a boy from a murderous clown, he begins an investigation into the child's disappearances. However, even though the circus is supposed to be a family, Rurik finds that the subtle divisions and tensions make his job much harder.

Meanwhile, Sylvie, a bloodwalker of the Skomori clan, has come to the circus to be married by the Zorka ringmaster's wife. While there, she discovers a horrible secret, and must decide if she should risk being cast out of her clan to warn others.

This was a very compelling read. One thing I've complained about in the past was that it was hard to distinguish the different voices of the characters. But Cain does an excellent job of giving her characters unique narrative voices. Rurik is terse but often sensitive. He is treated as a monster due to his scars, and he knows he has a tentative link to the circus as his father can no longer work and he is there only because the ringmaster of the circus favors him. Despite his outwardly "monstrous" appearance he is a deeply compassionate character; often flawed and sometimes reckless, but his main motivation is to prevent the death of any other children.

Sylvie was a very relatable character. She seemed to be an anxious kind of person, which I can definitely sympathize with, and in her character arc she must overcome her natural hesitation and timidity to act. I found it difficult to read the chapters in which her new husband abuses her because they were very well written. I loved that the book depicted her escaping from an abusive relationship and coming to understand that her husband was in the wrong, not her.

The supporting characters were colorful and well-written as well, and I enjoyed that otherwise unsympathetic characters were complex.

Finally, the twist at the end was very creepy. I started working out who the actual "villain" was about halfway through; I think it's a fairly obvious twist. But that was only half the fun. The entire revelation was incredibly bizarre and very unique.

I did find Rurik's immediate feelings and jealousy for Sylvie a bit odd, but their connection was based on mutual human sympathy rather than the lust often depicted in fantasy books. I found their eventual relationship to be believable and sweet.

I also enjoyed the little blurbs from the Bloodwalker book at the beginning of each chapter. Bloodwalkers are, basically, those who prepare bodies for burial in a traditional way. I was unable to find out if these were real Romanian practices; when I tried to Google it I got a lot of sites about Orthodox funerary practices. I'll keep looking. Anyways, it helped build a picture of the Bloodwalker culture, and it was easy to understand why Sylvie cared deeply about her job as Bloodwalker even though her society was flawed.

Overall, it's an excellent and strange book-part mystery, part horror, and lots of fun all around.