YA Weekend Audio: Blood Heir by Amélie Wen Zhao

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Blood Heir by Amélie Wen Zhao

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Series: Book 1 of Blood Heir Trilogy

Publisher: Listening Library (November 19, 2019)

Length: 13 hrs and 57 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Emily Woo Zeller

Blood Heir was initially an eARC I received from NetGalley, but after Twitter drama caused it to be delayed and reworked, I decided to request an audiobook copy to review in order to experience the novel in its final form. And well, for all the fuss surrounding it, this one actually turned out to be pretty average.

Those who know me, however, will know that “average” is not always intended as a slight. I make it no secret that adult SFF makes up the bulk of my reading diet and that I only delve into Young Adult occasionally, which has made me extremely picky about the YA books I do check out since I only put those that sound interesting enough onto my TBR. But while I think Amélie Wen Zhao has written a solid debut, one that was in fact quite enjoyable from any perspective, a part me still can’t help but feel maybe part of the time spent reworking this book could have included some structural edits and overall polishing as well, because I found the pacing to be very unstable and much of the writing to be overly dramatic.

But first, a bit about the story. Blood Heir takes us to a vaguely Russian-inspired fantasy world where exists individuals with magic who are both reviled and prized for their abilities to control the world around them. Called “Affinites”, they are heavily exploited and trafficked within the Cyrilian Empire, treated as human chattel to be bought and sold. But what nobody knows is that the empire’s 18-year-old crown princess, Anastacya Mikhailov, is an Affinite herself, a secret she guards closely by shutting herself away from the outside world. It doesn’t help that her Affinity is blood, enabling her to affect the bodies and flesh of others in horrifying ways.

Then one day, Ana’s father is murdered, and she can hide no more. With the emperor’s death pinned on her, Ana is forced to flee the palace, escaping into the outside world with no protection. Still, she is determined to find her father’s killer and clear her name, leading her to seek the aid of a crime lord named Ramson Quicktongue. To navigate the corruption of the Cyrilian Empire, she reasoned, she will need someone just as deceitful and unscrupulous. But Ramson has secrets as well, not to mention his own mission and a personal vendetta to attend to.

I will say, there were moments of absolute ingenuity in this book, especially in the first third or so. I loved the world building and the way the magic system was handled, especially Ana’s affinity to blood. And boy, were there moments where things got dark. The author did an incredible job emphasizing the horrific and extraordinary nature of Ana’s abilities, as well as the way its effects have shaped her and defined her purpose. The story here doesn’t go easy on the character, putting her through one harrowing trial after the next. It made it slightly easier to understand the early self-loathing, the constant berating of herself, and the insidious undertones of insecurity that come through in her voice and everything she does.

That said, I think the writing might have taken the angst and melodrama a bit too far. Perhaps it was because I listened to this in audio, and in this format, problems such as these tend to be far more noticeable, but the prose was often overwrought and too flowery for my tastes. This flagrant overwriting got so extreme and eyeroll-inducing at times it would snap me right out of the story, and even though I’ve found this issue to be common with a lot of debut YA novelists and not just Amélie Wen Zhao, it nevertheless cast an unfortunate damper on the experience. Compounded with the fact that pacing suffered in the middle due to some plot meandering and repetitiveness, or that it took me some time to warm up to Ramson, there were moments where I had to actively push myself to continue, which was strange because I don’t usually need much motivation when it comes to audiobooks.

Happily, I think the book’s ending made up for a lot of these issues. One only has to look at the ways both Ana and Ramson have changed by the end as compared to their earlier selves to see why. The plot also came back in a big way, with a finale that was worth waiting for despite all the bumps along the way.

Overall, I’m glad this book got published, though I have to wonder if it would have been a blip on most people’s radars if it hadn’t been for the controversy surrounding it. I enjoyed Blood Heir, but also must confess it indulges in a lot of YA fantasy tropes and contains some very typical debut hiccups like pacing issues and purple prose—things that I concede would probably not pose a problem for most readers who are not as picky as I am, or are reading this book in a non-audio format. That said, the audiobook is one I would still wholeheartedly recommend, and it is in no small part due to the fact is is narrated by the amazing and very talented Emily Woo Zeller. I’m a big fan of her work, and her mellow and dignified voice was simply perfect for this novel. I honestly don’t think she’s capable of delivering a bad performance, and once more she really hit it out of the park with this one.

25 Comments on “YA Weekend Audio: Blood Heir by Amélie Wen Zhao”

  1. I was curious about the controversy you mentioned and went to search for information, which then led me to wonder if the whole affair was not the proverbial storm in a teapot.
    That said, the story looks intriguing but what worries me is that you had to struggle through some parts of it, since I’ve by now learned you are a very steadfast reader…
    Thanks for sharing! 🙂


    • I know, I myself missed the drama entirely this summer, until someone told me about it on this blog and I went to look it up. Why can’t folks just read for enjoyment anymore, now we have gatekeepers and thought police trying to determine what we should and should not read, it really is a shame what the YA twitter community has become!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah damn Mogsy!!! And yes Emily Woo Zeller is my favorite narrator but as she is really acting the stories I can get why you’d say the audio format would highlight the flaws (flourishes and all) to the point of inducing eye rolls!


  3. I guess the cover is a giveaway that this is probably going to be dark. I don’t really mind purple prose and I like the idea of the Russian setting so I’ll keep this one in mind. Is it just me or did the start of the description put anyone else in mind of Frozen!
    Lynn 😀


  4. Oh well, I only know of the book through the whole controversy surrounding it. I wish it turned out to be a better book, but maybe the author will improve with the next one – hopefully she’ll write another!


  5. Honestly, it doesn’t surprise me that this was pretty average- it was on my radar before the controversy and I didn’t want to read it, cos I felt like I’d read many other books like it before (albeit this had a slightly different world). That said, just cos I didn’t feel like reading it, I feel like lots of people do like this sort of thing and it just irks me that people made it their personal mission to stop this being published. That’s basically the only reason I’m considering reading it now 😉 It’s good that the ending made up for all the pacing issues and melodrama, still on the fence about it. Great review!


    • You hit the nail on the head there. Honestly, without the controversy, this would have been just another YA fantasy debut going through the same hype cycle. But yes, screw the people who tried to shame this author and made her feel like she had to censor herself and cancel her own book. I am glad this book got published and I was gonna read it regardless, but because of the drama I made it point to do it 🙂


  6. Well seems like I missed the Twitter drama. I think sometimes stuff that like helps hype a book that normally wouldn’t be so maybe it was all a tactic? Who knows, like I said, I missed it. I’m not sure this is one I’ll gravitate toward now.


    • I missed the drama when it happened, and only found out about it because a commenter on here pointed me to the details earlier this summer. Apparently it got pretty ugly so I doubt it was a tactic, but that being said the controversy has definitely helped the author get her name and her book on more radars. Sigh, that is why I don’t even go on social media much these days, so much I would just rather not know 😛


  7. It sounds like this is one that could have done with more editing… It seems increasingly this is the case with traditionally published books, which is a real shame. Thank you for an interesting review, Mogsy.


  8. Pingback: Bookshelf Roundup 12/7/19: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

  9. There are so many YA books out now, I feel like I have to be a bit picky about which I choose to read. I feel like I’d probably still enjoy this one, but for now it’s on the back burner. Great review!


  10. This just came into the library the other day and I ummed and ahhed over it (didn’t connect it with the controversy at all, just couldn’t decide if it was going to go heart-shaped from the blurb or not). I managed to palm it off on a reader this morning at work with the promise of hearing what she thinks of it when she’s done. 🙂 I’m glad I passed on it now … it just doesn’t sound quite my thing. Thank you! 🙂


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