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by Julia Whicker

Reviewed by Galen Strickland

I received a free e-book of this title from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. I have two separate but distinct opinions about it. I rate the prose style as excellent, but I cannot give as high a rank for the characters and plot. Another negative is it's just the beginning of yet another multi-book saga, which might not matter if I was more invested in the characters and plot. Wonderblood will be released in two weeks, April 3, available now for pre-order at Amazon and other retailers. Whoever wrote the blurb there ("Set 500 years in the future") either hadn't read the book, or wasn't paying attention, or it can be assumed the characters themselves are unsure of the time line.

On several occasions, different characters talk about it being 1000 years following certain events. Considering the history of those events had likely been misremembered or altered over the years, we can't be sure of anything in that regard. Obviously, the Blood Rain occurred sometime after our era, and the exact nature and cause of it is only speculative, as is the history of the disease known as Bent Head, which might have been similar to Mad Cow Disease. Many people, animals, and plants died, leading to societal collapse. A few years later plant life returned in abundance, leading people to believe the danger was over, but it was short-lived. Towns had shrunk to just a few score inhabitants, fearful and suspicious of strangers, and strange animals, keeping people huddled behind fortified walls. Rumors and superstitions arose, and rituals created that everyone should have known was the exact opposite of what should be done.

The religion or philosophy of Wonderblood led people to kill strangers, or ones suspected of the wrong type of magic, beheading them and drenching the soil with their blood. Blood that was possibly tainted with the disease. Techniques of preserving and shrinking the heads were perfected, the heads utilized as talismans against enemies. Four major groups emerge: the fortified towns; roving carnivals of 'magicians'; the Walking Doctors, the few who utilize medical knowledge gleaned from books; and the royal family and entourage, utilizing the buildings and launch gantries of old Cape Canaveral as a base. All but the Walking Doctors believe in one form of magic or another, each suspicious of the others, and most participate in the head-taking and blood-letting rituals. King Michael claims to be a direct descendant of an astronaut hero, and most believe in and are anxious for The Return, when the ancient shuttles will come back to Earth to take them to Heaven.

If you take the above link to Amazon, click on the "Look Inside" feature, and you can read the opening pages. You will see what I mean about the evocative prose style. It's almost mesmerizing in its rhythm and pace. It also introduces the most intriguing character, for me at least. She either doesn't know her real name, or won't reveal it to anyone. Her mother was one of the Walking Doctors, but for some reason Gimbal decided to leave the girl with an older brother, Argento (probably not his real name), who was leader of one of the carnivals. She is later kidnapped by another carnival leader, a Mr. Capulatio, who gives her the name Aurora. He believes she is the embodiment of a vision he had that convinced him he is the True King. He plans to make her his Queen, even though he already has a wife. Tradition held that the carnivals traveled the land during the spring and summer, meeting at the Cape at the end of summer to give tribute to the King, but then winter in the north to allow the land to recover from their activities. Mr. Capulatio defies that tradition, aligning himself with four other carnivals, all converging on the Cape at the beginning of winter. If he is not able to convince King Michael that he should relinquish the throne to the True King, he will take it by force.

By the end of the book several characters have been killed, different alliances have been shattered, while others are formed, either by mutual agreement, or in one case through coercion. I had hoped I could say my favorite character remained Aurora, but a later action, while not as drastic and final as what had been expected of her by others, was still shocking and inexplicable. Everyone acts out of their own narrow view of 'reality' while not really knowing anything. None of the magical beliefs are convincing, and even 'scientific' theories supposedly derived from repositories of knowledge at the Cape make little sense. If you like pessimistic, post-apocalyptic dystopias, I suppose you might like it more than I did. I doubt I'll want to continue the journey in later books.


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Julia Whicker


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