Today’s review is about FORGED BY BLOOD by Ehigbor Okosun, the first book in a duology inspired by Nigerian mythology. This debut incorporates quite a few themes, including colonialism and racism, balanced with magic and mythical elements.
Author: Ehigbor Okosun
Series: The Tainted Blood Duology, 1
Age Category: Adult
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Publish Date: August 8, 2023
Print Length: 400
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A brilliant new voice brings a brilliant new novel: debut author Ehigbor Okosun’s first book in an action-packed, poignant duology inspired by Nigerian mythology–full of magic and emotion and set in a highly atmospheric, complex world in which a young woman fights to survive a tyrannical society, having everything stripped away from her, and seeks vengeance for her mother’s murder and the spilled blood of her people.
In the midst of a tyrannical regime and political invasion, Dèmi just wants to survive: to avoid the suspicion of the nonmagical Ajes who occupy her ancestral homeland of Ife; to escape the King’s brutal genocide of her people–the darker skinned, magic wielding Oluso; and to live peacefully with her secretive mother while learning to control the terrifying blood magic that is her birthright.
But when Dèmi’s misplaced trust costs her mother’s life, survival gives way to vengeance. She bides her time until the devious Lord Ekwensi grants her the perfect opportunity–kidnap the Aje prince, Jonas, and bargain with his life to save the remaining Oluso. With the help of her reckless childhood friend Colin, Dèmi succeeds, but discovers that she and Jonas share more than deadly secrets; every moment tangles them further into a forbidden, unmistakable attraction, much to Colin’s–and Dèmi’s–distress.
The kidnapping is now a joint mission: to return to the King, help get Lord Ekwensi on the council, and bolster the voice of the Oluso in a system designed to silence them. But the way is dangerous, Dèmi’s magic is growing yet uncertain, and it’s not clear if she can trust the two men at her side.
A tale of rebellion and redemption, race and class, love and trust and betrayal, Forged by Blood is epic fantasy at its finest, from an enthusiastic, emerging voice.
I received a free, digital, advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. My review is my own and reflects my honest opinion about this book.
FORGED BY BLOOD by Ehigbor Okosun is a Nigerian mythology-inspired fantasy that incorporates themes of racism, colonialism, and power. The official synopsis provides a thorough overview of what to expect in this novel: vengeance, secrets, and rebellion. Dèmi seeks retribution for her mother’s murder, biding her time until the moment is right. What she didn’t initially bargain for in her personal quest is to play a role in giving her people, the Oluso, a voice.
Nigerian mythology is not something with which I’m familiar. Thus, I don’t feel that I have the knowledge base to comment on that aspect of the story. Nonetheless, I enjoyed reading about the various mythical and fantastical elements included in FORGED BY BLOOD. What I found the most interesting was the history of the Oluso and the various powers that manifest among them.
The thematic elements are obviously incorporated, but in such a way that they flow well with the story rather than reading like a push of every agenda imaginable. Racism is a very dominant theme. The Oluso, who are Black, are the oppressed group and the Eingardians, who are White, are the oppressors. The Eingardians’ major goal is to wipe out the Oluso and fully seize power in the region. To make their point to the people, the Eingardian rulers continuously facilitate the fear of magic, held by the Oluso, to justify racism, genocide, and imprisonment.
The Eingardians are also the colonizers, which, along with racism, results in destruction of Oluso culture and identity. This includes the loss of ancenstral lands and the erasure of languages and historical knowledge of things such as medicine and nature. That is, except for when it benefits the Eingardians and their own methods prove fruitless. The demonization of the Oluso and the relative deification of the Eingardians even permeates the Oluso community. There are examples of colorism and attempts to try to “fit in” with the Eingardians by lightening skin or ironing hair.
FORGED BY BLOOD is easy and straight forward to read. At times, though, I found the writing style a bit too plain and matter-of-fact for my preferences. Additionally, it reads as more of a Young Adult novel despite its Adult marketing in the U.S. Dèmi, the female main character, is 17 and what transpires feels more like a coming-of-age story that transitions into one that challenges authority. Some events also came together a little too easily. There were several instances where something became difficult, but conveniently another kind of ability presented itself for utilization. However, I appreciated the nuance of Jonas’s character, who is the Aje prince of the Eingardians. It’s not possible to share more details without including spoilers. But suffice it to say that allyship can also come from outside one’s culture.
Overall, FORGED BY BLOOD is a pertinent statement about racism and colonialism wrapped in an approachable fantasy format. Those who enjoy Nnedi Okorafor’s The Nsibidi Scripts series, which includes AKATA WITCH, will no doubt appreciate Okosun’s debut novel.
Content warnings: parental death, genocide, racism, blood, implied rape
Reading format: Kindle e-book