Vanessa Le’s The Last Bloodcarver is a Vietnamese-influenced YA fantasy. Set in a world in which rare blood magic allows wielders to heal, they are ostracised and hunted for their power. The fear of power being used to hurt others prevents their open use to help and save others. It looks at the shifting relationships between power and powerlessness, and how both of these states may apply simultaneously.
Nhika grows up an outcast, unable to share the truth of herself with the people around her. We meet her when she is claimed by Mimi and Andao, siblings due to inherit a fortune through their father. He was murdered and the only person who might give the siblings closure is in a comatose state after the attack – so when they figured out what Nhika is, it seemed serendipitous. They offer her a home, and in exchange she uses her Bloodcarver magic in their service. But matters are complicated by the suspicious Dr Santo and his pesky assistant, Kochin. Will Nhika find a way to navigate through this maze of threats and expectations?
Theumas is a hostile environment for the characters, a place in which science and magic intersect but only one is embraced. In The Last Bloodcarver, that conflict is even more present for Nhika than for many others. Mimi and Andao are heirs to a pharmaceutical empire, and Dr Santo, the physician attending their family, was a close associate of her father’s. Intelligent and full of knowledge and experience in medicine, he soon figures out what Nhika is. And anyone who knows her secret is a threat, given the general sentiment towards Bloodcarver magic in Theumas. How far are you willing to go to protect you and yours? This is the central question in The Last Bloodcarver, acting as a catalyst for the story to unfold.
The pacing is tight and full of narrative tension. The Last Bloodcarver is a book to be devoured, to be raced through. The plot and character relationships keep the reader fixed to the page, wondering what will come next. This is a young adult novel, though one with great appeal to the Grimdark Audience. Characters act in utterly selfish ways, wading through the sea of grey morality. None of them can be considered good or morally upstanding, which we love. There is a romantic element to the story – an arc that is well-developed, though does not take centre stage. And then, Le nails The Last Bloodcarver’s ending. A debut and debut author to look out for – The Last Bloodcarver is unique and thrilling, bound to make a splash when it releases.