The Blood Keeper by Tessa Gratton. Random House. 2012. Reviewed from ARC from publisher. Companion to Blood Magic.
The Plot: Mab Prowd, 17, has grown up in the world of blood magic. She and others keep themselves isolated on a Kansas farm, practicing magic and taking care of each other. Mab is strong, proud, and sure and confident of her abilities. When the leader of their community died, it was young Mab left in charge.
Mab was also left with an instruction. Destroy the roses. Mab decides, instead, to figure out what secret the roses holds.
What Mab creates takes on a life of it’s own, and in chasing it down she meets Will Sanger. She thinks, they both thing, that what Mab created is destroyed.
It’s not. It’s growing stronger. There are secrets held in the land, in the roses, dark secrets, that may destroy all Mab knows and loves.
The Good: One doesn’t have to read Blood Magic to understand The Blood Keeper. To be honest, while I remembered some basic elements so recognized Reese, the boy who had been turned into crows, his sister, Silla, and her boyfriend, Nick, I’d forgotten other details, such as Nick’s mother Donna, or some of the long history of magic practitioners. So, in a way, I was in the same position of someone coming to the book fresh. My conclusion: you don’t have to read the one to read the other.
Mab has dug up things best kept hidden; but one wonders why the powerful practitioners before her did nothing to destroy the danger and instead left it to Mab. The Blood Keeper gets complicated — Mab’s and Will’s story, Mab learning more about those who have talent who were not raised like she was, the danger that is out there and what happens as Mab and Will try to stop the danger, all of it tied to the way blood magic works. (Let me add, I wonder how these books could ever get filmed because there is a lot of blood!) But wait, there’s more! A story is told, set in the past, about a young woman and the two men she comes between. The reader can guess that this has something to do with the roses, and the secret, but it’s unclear exactly what happened in the past that haunts the future. It gives the reader more knowledge, and at times a bigger sense of dread than Mab or Will have about what is happening or may happen.
Another area where I’ll be honest: I didn’t like Mab right away. I found her a bit too arrogant. She’s been born into power, she’s had her talent prized, she’s been taught how to use it and when to use it. All of which is good: a strong woman who is confident of herself, her abilities, her place in the world. I liked all that. But. But, she thinks she knows it all, and it bites her, as well as Will, when she directs her power at discovering the secret of the roses instead of destroying the roses. I found it interesting that Gratton began with this, because Mab’s initial activities involve sacrifice to gain blood magic, creating something, and having it quickly spin out of control. I believe I’m supposed to realize that Mab just went a step too far. I also confess: there was an interaction between Mab and Silla, regarding Reese, that annoyed me, because I felt Mab lacked any type of empathy to Silla’s situation. That lack of concern for another is a flaw that is addressed, because Mab discovers that power is more than having power, or being left power, or being the most talented person at the party. It’s about how that power is used, and how others are treated.
The Blood Keeper is not just about Mab and Will having to confront the danger she’s brought to life. It’s also about Mab realizing what power is, what blood magic is, and what that means in a broader world beyond Mab as an individual. What is terrific is this happens while Mab doesn’t back down, or apologize, or reject her power or position or talent. It’s about Mab’s world view growing larger, not about Mab being humbled.
Will is intriguing; a guy who seems to have nothing in common with Mab, yet when the two meet, there is a connection. Will is from a military family, and he’s expected to join up just like his older brothers. A family loss has changed that and Will questions his life, his role, his future, at the same time that Mab appears adding another thing for Will to question: his understanding of the world and magic and reality.
Other reviews: Leila Roy at the Kirkus blog.