REVIEW: Forged by Blood by Ehigbor Okosun

Ehigbor Okosun debuts her refreshing new voice in a tale following Dèmi, a young woman who has had everything taken from her in an empire that wants her dead. Magic-users, known as Oluso, are enslaved and tortured in the land that was once their own, but is now controlled by the non-magical Aje. The murder of Dèmi’s mother, a renowned user of healing magic, sets Dèmi on a path of vengeance. Years later, after biding her time, she is approached by Lord Ekwensi, an Oluso hidden in the throes of government. Dèmi is offered the perfect opportunity to avenge her mother, as well as the prosecution of her own people. Ekwensi proposes that she kidnaps the tyrant king’s nephew and heir, and bargain with his life to save what is left of the Oluso. When Dèmi is suddenly faced with the fact that this is the same prince that she had once trusted in her youth, consequently leading to her mother’s death; she is determined to carry the plan through. We follow Dèmi, alongside childhood friend Colin and Prince Jonas, in their hopes to bring justice to the Oluso. Along the way, they are met with communities and tribes that have effectively played branches in Dèmi’s family tree, all of who are paths in the prophecy that Dèmi has found herself at the centre of.

Forged by BloodThe world-building in this novel is incredible; the story is weaved through a rich tapestry of Nigerian folklore, and it is exquisite. It was a truly immersive experience reading through the mythology in this book, and one that I hope is continually explored in the sequel. It is a feat within itself that Okosun was able to paint such a vivid picture in each setting as a debut author. This is my first foray into Nigerian folklore, and what an introduction it was! A bar has definitely been set.

Okosun encompasses the essence of the novel in a sentence she drops in chapter 27: Breath:

“People will always fear those with more power, and those with power will always fear that they will lose it.”

Whilst this of course related to the tyrants at the helm of this genocide, it is one that is also reflected within the protagonist. Dèmi’s role as a heroine goes beyond that of vengeance. She holds the foundations of the Oluso faith in her actions, in that she will never cross the boundaries she has been placed within. She fears that the powers bestowed upon her as an Oluso will be stripped from her once she takes the life of another.  Dèmi, whilst deeply angry at all that she and her people have suffered, is an idealist. In the fight for justice, she believes there is no space for murder. I both enjoyed Dèmi’s unwavering faith, whilst also slightly hoping she would let vengeance steer her choices for her. Dèmi is firm in her beliefs, but I wonder if the sequel will be willing to challenge her character a bit more. I look forward to seeing where Dèmi goes in the sequel.

In a similar vein, I must point out that the morality that drives the characters are quite one-dimensional. Thus lacking the classic morally-grey element that often drives the grimdark genre. Almost all the of characters’ intentions are laid out quite clearly in front of them, so it was difficult to be moved by any character’s grand gestures when they have all acted fairly predictably. The storyline steers over to young-adult territory, whilst still wrapped in swaths of grimdark. Whilst it feels very YA in its execution, the visceral violence within the book does aid in somewhat aging the story up to the ‘epic adult fantasy’ label it has been dubbed as, although not enough to convince me entirely.

The story ultimately follows the easiest path set out, and drinks in all the mainstream tropes that have populated YA fiction, such as love triangles, fated mates/partners, and prophecies. The romance felt juvenile and rushed, especially when Dèmi would flit between the two love interests quite openly, without truly establishing a foundation of their relationships beforehand. I had hoped the love triangle did not take such a central theme within the book, as it often gave way to weakening the political intrigue. Prince Jonas is infatuated with Dèmi, and she him. The focus of the book often felt unbalanced, staggering between trying to free the Oluso to falling in love with the nephew of the king who had brought upon the genocide. It’s a classic and well-loved trope, just not executed as well as it could have.

Whilst the storyline is punctuated with thrilling twists and turns within the second half of the novel, readers are not given much time to steep in the grand turn of events that are take place throughout throughout. This isn’t to say that Okosun fails in surprising the reader throughout. There were several turns in the novel that had me practically tearing into the next page. I’m super intrigued to see how the sequel plays out.

Read Forged by Blood by Ehigbor Okosun

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Saberin C

Saberin C

Saberin lives in London and works in publishing. More often than not, you can find her with her nose in a fantasy book or doing whatever it takes to get her cats attention! You can find her on @sabisreading on instagram, where she posts all about her current reads, reviews, fictional fixations and general ramblings on life (with the occasional picture of Kiara, the meanest cat to ever exist).