They Made Us Blood and Fury is a self-published fantasy novel that—despite my involvement with SPSFC and general awareness of SPFBO—wasn’t really on my radar before I saw it pop up as a Nommo Award finalist. Not sure whether I just missed it, or whether there’s a disconnect between the US/UK self-publishing scene and the African one. Perhaps both, but the latter is a different essay. At any rate, I had a passing familiarity with Cheryl S. Ntumy after having read one of her short stories last year, and I thought I’d give the award finalist series-opener a try.
They Made Us Blood and Fury takes place in an African-inspired secondary world in which one clan controls a renewal supply of magical Lifeblood. They happily trade (or give) the excess to their neighbors, until one day the supply begins to dwindle, and the Elders are split on how to respond to the crisis. While some seek divine aid, others activate an ancient warrior spirit that has been imprisoned in the body of an armorer’s apprentice in a neighboring land, herself having caught the attention of the most trusted of royal spies. Together, it represents the start of an upheaval that will leave none of them unchanged.
They Made Us Blood and Fury delivers plenty of perspective characters from the get-go, though they can be broken up mostly into three groups: the Elders, the armorer’s apprentice and her close associates, and the spy and his close associates. And the shape of the conflict is clear enough early on that the proliferation of points-of-view doesn’t provide any impediment to understanding. The reader knows the central characters, knows their concerns, and can easily incorporate the external viewpoints—typically of the core characters—provided by tertiary characters.
In fact, for much of the novel, the story may flow a little bit too easily. The prose is straightforward, the inciting incident is straightforward, and there seems to be no secret as to who are the heroes and who are the villains. It’s easy reading, with plenty of exciting scenes, but it lacks that driving question about exactly how things will go.
But as the story progresses, it becomes clear that there’s much more going on under the surface than the relatively simple (albeit still difficult-to-resolve!) crisis that drove the beginning of the narrative. These revelations add some real depth to the tale and a driving mystery that the early stages lacked. Unfortunately, they also lead directly to the climax of the first installment, leaving that deeper and richer story to be appreciated by readers of the sequel.
Ending a story on a game-changing revelation has a long and time-honored history in epic fantasy, and the use of the technique in They Made Us Blood and Fury doesn’t necessary speak against its quality. But at the same time, it makes it hard for a reader to dip their toe into a single book to see how it works for them. The climax certainly gives the reader something in return for their investment, but the increased depths it promises are to be appreciated by readers of the full series and can only be partially credited to the opener. As of 2023, book two is out and ready, and so series readers won’t suffer a long wait after They Made Us Blood and Fury. But this is definitely a book made for series readers. For toe-dippers, the simpler start and game-changing finish make for a less comfortable balance.
Recommended if you like: African settings, investing for a whole series.
Can I use it for Bingo? It’s hard mode for Set in Africa, Self-Published, Award Finalist, and Shapeshifters. And surely Cool Weapon, with a warrior embedded in a person, right? At any rate, it’s also written by a BIPOC Author who Uses Initials.
Overall rating: 14 of Tar Vol’s 20. Four stars on Goodreads.