& Review: Written in the Blood by Stephen Lloyd Jones

Written in the Blood by Stephen Lloyd Jones. Fiction. Publisher: Mulholland Books.

Written in the Blood by Stephen Lloyd Jones. Fiction. Publisher: Mulholland Books.

The Book Itself: Pretty awesome effect, with drips (claw marks) clearing a space in the fog to reveal a girl (Leah, I presume). Ominous, eye-catching, and cool.

My ReviewSee the girl. Leah Wilde is twenty-four, a runaway on a black motorbike, hunting for answers while changing her identity with each new Central European town.

See the man, having come of age in extraordinary suffering and tragedy in nineteenth-century Budapest; witness to horror, to love, to death, and the wrath of a true monster. Izsák still lives in the present day, impossibly middle-aged. He’s driven not only to hunt this immortal evil but to find his daughter, stolen from an Arctic cabin and grown into the thing Izsák has sworn to kill.

See the monster, a beautiful, seemingly young woman who stalks the American West, seeking the young and the strong to feed upon, desperate to return to Europe where her coven calls.

I reviewed The String Diaries, the first installment in this series, back in May. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and was pretty excited to see Written in the Blood on the shelf right after its November release. Just as a note: it is definitely necessary to read The String Diaries before its sequel. You’ll be lost otherwise.

The gang’s all here: Hannah and Leah, and the looming danger of the hosszu elet…only this time the threat is vastly different. Instead of running from a horrifying sociopath who just happens to be a shapeshifter, Hannah and Leah are trying to increase the population of the shapeshifters they once fled from. I loved that the book subverted the danger of the first story. You rooted for Hannah to save her family from a ruthless killer in Diaries. Now you come to understand that Jakab was just a bad seed in an otherwise proud but persecuted race.

We have some new Hungarian-based vocabulary in Written in the Blood. Our new enemies are the lelek tolvajok. If the hosszu elet are shapeshifters, the lelek tolvajok are body snatchers. They target the hosszu elet because their unnaturally long lives provide more sturdy stock than regular humans, whose fragile bodies and short lives run ragged too quickly. Their description is physically, brutally nightmarish. Where Jakab was sadistic and emotionally manipulative, the lelek tolvajok are physically terrifying, and ratchet up the demented mentality by about a thousand degrees. Their description and ominous introduction builds in an impressive way. It’s a horror element that I think is really well done.

Just to add another race in there, we have the kiretesztett, a kind of “Mudblood” if you want to get all Harry Potter with it. In Hannah and Leah’s attempt to raise the hosszu elet numbers, they try to turn to this exiled group of people who are neither “normal” or “special.” They are both heartbreaking and twisted, sympathetic and strange. It’s another set of characters that I think is very appealing from a story standpoint. And luckily the world expansion slows there. If we’d had another batch of characters with another Hungarian name to memorize, I would have had to break out the charts.

The book is a whirlwind, but an incredibly intense, well-structured one. You get over a dozen perspectives, from Hannah and Leah to the human victims of the lelek tolvajok, to the broken kiretesztett, and you  even get a little bit from Jakab and his brother Iszak (and you thought we were done with those two…) The climbing action is some of the finest I’ve seen in a story. By the end you’re turning pages as fast as you can to see how it all turns out.

I loved this sequel. It was as fast-paced and brutal as Diaries, and I even think it took that frantic energy and kicked it up a notch. The characters are equal parts likable and horrifying, complex and simple to understand. I’m not sure if this will become a trilogy. But if it does, I will be reading the conclusion.

My Grade: B+

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