Debut Review | For Blood & Glory by Cassandra A. Hendricks
As one of my anticipated YA reads for the year, For Blood and Glory was a debut that didn’t disappoint.
Let’s get into it.
Sefira is just trying to bounce back—from a lot. The institutionalization of her mother several years ago, the recent downward spiral in her mental health that had her adopted family uprooting themselves for her sake. She wants as normal life as possible, without the fear of her mother’s mental illness is the reason for her own, without the consistent hatred of her step-brother who blames her for his father leaving their blended family, and without the looming feeling that something just isn’t right in her world.
When things start getting out of control, when she finds out she’s able to do so much more than an average sixteen-year-old girl should be able to, when she meets a girl that is more like her than she could ever image—Sefira enters the world she always should have been a part of. What she finds there is magic, revelations about the woman who was her mother, and a familial bond that she never expected to have. Life never comes together so easily, however, and as Sefira comes into her new powers amidst being chased by forces from another world, she uncovers a secret that puts the universe into perspective and her and her family’s lives in danger.
As I mentioned in my post-read review on Goodreads, For Blood and Glory is teeming with themes, and these themes are what carries the book. Much like The Belles, it’s what grounds the book. The most prevalent, or perhaps most impactful, cycles around how black women’s bodies and black children have been historically used to further scientific gains. If it’s not the theft of black babies at the beginning of the novel (and the deception surrounding that theft, though I’ll keep spoilers to a minimum) then it’s in the way Sefira’s mother is kept in isolation to be studied when the government realizes she’s not entirely human, or the captivity and study of a young boy by his ‘adopted’ father. There are also strong themes of mental health—Sefira herself is working through having self-harmed and it’s a focal point between herself and her adoptive mother as well as her adoptive family as a whole, as it was the catalyst for them moving in the first place.
The thing that I enjoyed most about this wasn’t even the general presence of these themes, but the fact that in reading, they didn’t feel too heavy-handed. I think it’s very easy for writers to want to have specific themes in their work and they end up overworking those themes to the point it feels they’re being force-fed. Cassandra A. Hendricks leans into them, and they are often the glue that keeps character arcs together, but I thought that they were intelligently executed and in a way that assumed that the reader wouldn’t need to be told ‘this is a theme, or this is a parallel, see how smart I am for weaving those into my book?’
And then… there’s the characters, namely Sefira and Blythe.
If there are two girls as different as each other, Sefira and Blythe are it. Sefira is a good girl, and Blythe has wrong side of the tracks written all over her—but Cassandra A. Hendricks took these two general concepts for female characters, and made something really special with them. There is rhyme and reason that makes them as individuals compelling and interesting, and in turn, their dynamic really sharp, interesting, sometimes antagonistic, and towards the end, loving.
I liked their relationship the most out of all the relationships in this book, because to me it felt the most genuine, and seemed like the one that Cassandra A. Hendricks really wanted to highlight. There’s a splash of romance for Sefira and a love interest (given this is a fantasy YA, that’s to be expected) but unlike a lot of YA that tends to include romance, the relationship emphasis and its relevance to the book overall was more familial, and I appreciated that more than I anticipated.
This is the part that I struggled with the most with this review—the part that didn’t come together for me.
The plot as a whole.
If there was one way I could describe the plot of For Blood and Glory, it would be a ball of yarn: a thread wrapped around in on itself, not particularly neatly, possibly knotted in some areas, but you still at least can tell that it is in fact, a ball of yarn. At some points, it was dropped on the floor, unraveled, but was picked up and rolled back together, if not a little haphazardly. That’s how I felt reading For Blood and Glory, and it’s not necessarily in a bad way—but it was in a way that stood out.
To elaborate, we don’t actually start the story with Sefira, we start it with her mother. It’s a decent chunk at the beginning of the book that details how her mother, ahem, crash landed onto Earth from seemingly nowhere, in labor with triplets.
I Do Not Envy Her.
She’s then rescued from the ocean where she was found by a small group of sailing college-aged kids, and from there is brought to a hospital. Her mother is told two of her children died during their birth—but Sefira lived. Throughout this, you understand that Sefira’s mother is not from Earth, she is not even remotely human, even if she appears to be, and there is something deeply unsettling about her doctor.
After a few more chapters of backstory, detailing hints at something bigger going on out there, we then finally bump to Sefira, which is where we get more backstory—her mother is no longer with her, institutionalized for an incident that we aren’t fully given explanation for, and Sefira is just trying to get by with life as a teenage girl who worries that she has her mother’s mental illness, is trying to navigate complicated familial and social situations at school, and is, naturally, beginning to experience supernatural spookery. From there, she meets Blythe, a girl who also has inexplicable powers, plots to break her mother out of the institution that she’s being held in, and learns that she is the heir to a throne that isn’t exactly as alien as you thought it might have been.
The plot is a lot. And I think it’s a good foundation, but it definitely needed neatening. A lot of these elements are good ideas, but the execution ended feeling underdeveloped in some areas and rushed in others. This contributed to some of the worldbuilding problems I had with this as well—more of an information dump towards the end than having a lot of the discovery happen across the whole book. For me, I think this book could have easily been expanded on, giving a little more attention to detail where it came to the plot and world building.
I also think that this is why, while this is more urban fantasy, there’s a little bit of initial confusion on the part of a reader as to what this book actually is. The blurb and cover suggest fantasy, the beginning, and scattered concepts through the middle, suggest science fiction, and the end rounds back out into fantasy/urban fantasy.
Overall, I liked this book for what it was—a fun, exciting new voice and world for fantasy YA with the promise of a bigger world and higher stakes to come. Considering For Blood and Glory is a debut, a lot of the chinks that I saw in otherwise well-crafted armor were bound to be a given, but I enjoyed reading this book, and I enjoyed seeing Sefira and Blythe progress. I think Cassandra A Hendricks has a lot to offer, and I can’t wait to see what her future work has in store.