Bloody Spade by Brittany M. Willows

Book Description

A girl full of heart
A thief touched by darkness
A boy with a fiery temper
An unwitting servant of evil

The era of magic was once thought to be a myth, but after the Reemergence ushered forces both dark and light into the mundane world, it has since become a harsh reality. Now those affected by this strange power—a specialized group of Empowered called Jokers, known collectively as Cardplay—must protect their world from the darkness that threatens to consume it, all the while fighting for equality in a society clinging to normalcy.

But the Reemergence was only the beginning.

When another influx occurs on the seventh anniversary of that fateful event, an unfortunate encounter at ground zero lands Iori Ryone, a teenage boy in possession of a corrupt and legendary magic, in the care of recent Joker graduate Ellen Amelia Jane. From him, she learns the Reemergence may not have been the inevitable natural disaster it first seemed.

Someone is trying to tear down the barrier that separates the magical realms from the mundane. The question is, can Cardplay stop them before it’s too late?

Bloody Spade is the first installment in an urban fantasy duology that follows a cat-eared thief and a spirited girl as they try to navigate his wild magic, her hotheaded brother, a sinister plot, and the feelings they’re developing for each other.

Content Warning

  • Coarse language
  • Blood and violence, some gore
  • Moments of graphic violence/torture
  • Emesis
  • Body horror
  • Anxiety/panic attacks
  • Trauma related to kidnapping/physical abuse
  • One instance of a forced kiss (not intended to be romantic or sexual)

My Review

I was sent a digital ARC of Bloody Spade in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Brittany M. Willows!

Bloody Spade is Book 1 in the Cardplay Duology, and is a YA urban fantasy. I enjoyed this book immensely! I was initially drawn to the cover of this book, since purple is my favourite colour and I love to play card games. The figure with the cat ears was also intriguing!

The premise of the novel is that seven years ago real, powerful, dangerous magic returned to a world whose inhabitants were used to thinking of magic as cheap tricks and sleight of hand, entertainment for the masses. The new magic which reentered their world was far from tricks, however. Magic users have a varied range of abilities. Some can harness the wind, others can control light, or fire.

It came as shadow and light and fire and frost, and in a hundred other forms that manifested in the hands of children and adults alike.

The story is set in the city of Hildegrand in the not too distant future. The reemergence of magic means there are now “Empowered” people with magical abilities as well as non-magical people in the world. Cardplay is a private magical law enforcement office, funded mostly by public donations. It is run like a college, or academy by its Headmaster Hikaru Ritsuo and his partner, Elizabeth Howard, who trains the empowered law enforcement operatives, known as Jokers, in fighting techniques. Hikaru Ritsuo is a type of Professor X of Cardplay. They also have been acting as foster parents to siblings and Jokers, Alexander and Ellen Jane, since the death of their parents, caused by the Reemergence. The Jokers are a close-knit group of friends, working together as a team, and Cardplay is their found family.

I loved the uniqueness of the playing card theme that ran through this novel with Cardplay being the good guys, taking on Blackjack, the shady underground organization, and with each Suit having a Keeper. We meet the Keeper of the Spade early on in the story, in the form of the cat-eared teenage street urchin with a tail (and also a tale): Iori Ryone. Later we discover who the Keeper of the Club is and we witness the torture at the hands of Blackjack, that leads to the awakening of the Keeper of the Diamond. The identity of the Keeper of the Heart remains a secret until the end of the book, but I must admit I guessed who it might be quite a bit earlier. The Keepers are especially talented Empowered individuals:

The legends portrayed Keepers as heroes, champions, guardians. Protectors of the mundane world whose duty was bestowed upon them in the form of these Suits.

Iori’s power was corrupted by the Void during the Spade’s awakening and it manifests itself as ink leaking out of a wound in his chest, which he is unable to control when we first meet him. I loved what a fantastic concept this was with something as simple as ink being a malevolent force, able to solidify and stab at people. There are also deadly creatures called inkblots in this world who manifest via the power of the Void.  It is easy to visualise a cloud of ink emerging and forming shapes and I thought this was an excellent and highly imaginative idea. The Spade takes control when Iori is in danger and kills his enemies using the inky power of the Void. The reawakening of the Spade, brought forth by him enduring two months of torture at the tender age of ten, appears to be what caused the magical Reemergence.

An Inkblot by Brittany M. Willows

Alexander Jane and Ellen Jane are the other main characters in this book. Their parents were killed at the time of the Reemergence. Ellen and Iori find themselves developing feelings for one another, much to the consternation of Alexander, who blames the Spade for his parents’ death. The relationship developing between Ellen and Iori is beneficial to both of them, however, Iori has survived an awful lot in his young life and deserves a little love and compassion, and Ellen needs someone other than her brother to lean on occasionally, particularly when her headstrong brother is not acting very reasonably.

Iori was my favourite character, his vulnerability and quick witted sense of humour make him hard not to like. He also has a strong moral compass:

He had the makings of a hero in him; albeit, a reluctant one.

Another important character in the story is Kyani Oto. She has raven wings and scales on her legs, brought into being at the time of her magical awakening, much like Iori’s cat ears and tail. She is a tragic character, being held captive by BlackJack and forced to undertake tasks against her will, via an electric suppression collar, in fear of repercussions for her sick father.

I found the worldbuilding in Bloody Spade mostly solid, although in some places there was a little too much information given all at once, which made it hard for me to remember details, and the different levels of the realms were somewhat confusing – I am still not completely clear on the connection between the Void, the Domain, the Dreamscape and the human world and how they relate to one another.

Bloody Spade is a unique take on the age-old good versus evil theme. A fast paced novel with plenty of action, believable characters and relationships, a little romance, teenage angst, fear of rejection, of being different and fear of lack of acceptance by peers.  There is also a mad scientist creating monsters in a lab, funded by a shady businessman, magical transformations, journeys to a dreamscape realm, a few unexpected twists and an explosive conclusion.  I would recommend it to anyone who loves superhero type stories, or fans of fiction similar to that of Cassandra Clare’s novels or Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Bloody Spade character art by Brittany M. Willows

Amazon US | Amazon UK | goodreads


About the Author

Brittany M. Willows is a bisexual/asexual author and digital artist living in rural Ontario, Canada. Inspired initially by video games and the stories they told, she began building her own fictional universes and has no plans of stopping any time soon. When she’s not writing about post-apocalyptic lands, wild magic, or people gallivanting through the stars, she can be found hunched over a tablet drawing the very same things.

To keep up with the latest news regarding both current and future stories, and to find out more about Brittany or to delve deeper into the worlds she has created, check out the links below! She can also be contacted directly via these platforms.

Read an interview with Brittany M. Willows here.

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