Book Review: The Bloodprint by Ausma Zehanat Khan
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 2 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1 of The Khorasan Archives
Publisher: Harper Voyager (October 3, 2017)
Length: 448 pages
I’ve had my fair share of disappointments when it comes to books this fall, but not enjoying The Bloodprint as much as I thought I would somehow makes this one feel worse. I wanted to like this one so badly, and not least because of the gorgeous writing or incredible premise inspired by the author’s own background and knowledge of Middle Eastern history and mythology. This is also an important book as it also deals with some weighty themes, such as religion, slavery, and women’s rights.
So why didn’t this book work for me, when it should have been right up my alley? I suppose it might just be the simple matter of being unable to click with the author’s style. Despite her clear talent for writing elegant and lovely prose, something still felt missing. The opening sequence, for example, which introduces our protagonist Arian and her apprentice Sinnia as justice seekers who fight against the oppressive rule of the cruel organization known as the Talisman, should have been stirring and heroic as the two women ambushed the enemy and shattered their slave-chains. But instead, all I felt was indifference and boredom. Ausma Zehanat Khan can write beautiful sentences and fill the page with detailed descriptions, but in the end she does a lot more telling than showing and the writing itself lacks heart and soul.
Still, I pressed on because the ideas in the story were promising and I wanted to see where they would lead, plus admittedly I was curious to know more about the characters. Arian and Sinnia are part of a group of women who called themselves the Companions of Hira, their power deriving from as sacred scripture known as the Claim. They have dedicated themselves to fighting the Talisman, whose ideology of spreading hatred and fear goes against everything the Companions of Hira believe in. Attacking their caravans and rescuing their slaves are just a few of the things they do to combat the enemy, but without a miracle, our protagonists have concerns that the Talisman’s power will only spread and grow.
But then one day, Arian and Sinnia come upon a piece of knowledge that can help turn the tide. Legend tells of The Bloodprint, a dangerous text that the Talisman has tried to erase from the world because they know it would lead to their downfall. Now our heroines must embark on a quest to find The Bloodprint, a task that would lead them into many dangers deep in the heart of enemy territory.
Like I said, it’s a fascinating premise, which is why it pains me so much to admit that my initial apathy for the characters did not improve, creating a hurdle which prevented me from embracing this tale fully. Others have described the plot as a treasure hunt, which gives the impression that this is an adventurous novel, but I didn’t feel that at all either, given the plodding pace. Also, it’s hard explaining what exactly didn’t appeal to me about the writing, but it had the frustrating quality of being too descriptive and yet not enough at the same time. Khan’s writing is rich on details when it comes to the immediate and small things, but when it comes to the big picture, her world-building was lighter than I would have liked. I wish we could have gotten more background information into the Companions of Hera and the Claim, considering the hazy explanations given into the connection between their religion and magic.
The characters also felt lifeless to me. For one, I was surprised at Arian’s lack of agency and inability to influence many plot developments, given how she’s one of our central figures. Her relationships with others around her also felt muted, and again, I think this might have been a side-effect of the writing, which caused the characters’ personalities to feel emotionless and sterile. The result is a distance between Arian and her friends, making her interactions with Sinnia feel somewhat stilted and her romance with her love interest Daniyar the Silver Mage feel very unconvincing. These problems ended up marring the whole experience, given how so much of Arian’s quest was motivated by her personal reasons which were never effectively communicated.
The last straw, I’m afraid, was the cliffhanger. If you weren’t excited about the story before, the ending might incentivize you to pick up the next book, but personally, I think my journey with this series ends here. I probably should have listened to my instincts and set this book aside as soon as the first few chapters failed to hook me, but curiosity and hope prompted me to continue, and unfortunately things did not turn around for me in this case. It’s a shame, really, because the author is clearly very talented and she has built the story of The Bloodprint around a compelling and meaningful premise. If the book’s description interests you, I would urge you to try it for yourself, but ultimately I just couldn’t connect to the writing style.