N.E Davenport‘s The Blood Trials is the kind of book that blends fantasy and science fiction perfectly and kicks off a fast-paced, action-packed duology of loyalty and rebellion, in which a young Black woman must survive deadly trials in a racist and misogynistic society to become an elite warrior. Aka, it’s just our kind of book, and probably yours as well.
To prove it, we’re bringing you all the information, an except, and even a giveaway!
First, the synopsis:
It’s all about blood.
The blood spilled between the Republic of Mareen and the armies of the Blood Emperor long ago. The blood gifts of Mareen’s deadliest enemies. The blood that runs through the elite War Houses of Mareen, the rulers of the Tribunal dedicated to keeping the republic alive. The blood of the former Legatus, Verne Amari, murdered.
For his granddaughter, Ikenna, the only thing steady in her life was the man who had saved Mareen. The man who had trained her in secret, not just in martial skills, but in harnessing the blood gift that coursed through her. Who trained her to keep that a secret.
But now there are too many secrets, and with her grandfather assassinated, Ikenna knows two things: that only someone on the Tribunal could have ordered his death, and that only a Praetorian Guard could have carried out that order.
Bent on revenge as much as discovering the truth, Ikenna pledges herself to the Praetorian Trials—a brutal initiation that only a quarter of the aspirants survive. She subjects herself to the racism directed against her half-Khanaian heritage and the misogyny of a society that cherishes progeny over prodigy, all while hiding a power that—if found out—would subject her to execution…or worse. Ikenna is willing to risk it all because she needs to find out who murdered her grandfather…and then she needs to kill them.
Mareen has been at peace for a long time…
Ikenna joining the Praetorians is about to change all that.
Magic and technology converge in the first part of this stunning debut duology, where loyalty to oneself—and one’s blood—is more important than anything.
And, something even better! An exclusive excerpt:
I slam the shot glass down on the table. The amber liquid stopped burning on its way down my esophagus three swallows ago. I’m on my sixth shot. I think. I blink, and the room tilts. I cling to the latest shock of euphoria that floods my system. Triple-distilled Mareenian whiskey with legalized boosters is a glorious thing.
I don’t wipe the miserable look that steals onto my face in time.
My friends glimpse it.
“You good?” Selene asks.
I snicker at the irony. Usually, I’m the one looking after her when we’re partying.
“We should call it quits,” Zayne slurs. He stands up, adamant, only to sway and flop back onto his barstool.
Selene snorts into the ale she’s been sipping alongside the shots. “Lightweight.”
She’s not wrong. Zayne is only drinking so much tonight to indulge me. I insisted we celebrate with one last hurrah before Commencement in the morning busts up our trio. And they leave me behind.
Selene and Zayne will be declaring Praetorian, throwing in their bids to become two of the most fearsome and respected soldiers of the Republic. I’m not declaring anything. I’m doing what the psymedics who conducted our exit evals suggested and taking a year off. It’s been three months since my grandfather’s death, and according to the professionals, I’m still struggling at finding healthy ways to cope. Unprovoked brawls have become my friend. I’ve stopped attending most classes and combat-training blocks, filling that time with parties and drinking.
I grip the edge of the table, cursing the fact that while I still have a nice buzz, my euphoria is gone. The extra, numbing punch that boosters pack is fleeting, until you reach a certain threshold, and then the boosters drop you into oblivion. Oblivion is what I’m seeking tonight. The crooked room means I’m almost there.
Our waitress, a petite girl with red hair a shade lighter than Selene’s, saunters up to the table. “Can I get you another round?” Her green eyes framed by short, dark lashes don’t stray from Zayne. She’s been eyeing him all night. She angles her body so he gets an eyeful of her cleavage.
He grins, taking notice and flashing twin dimples. “Sure, Leslie.”
The way her name slips off his tongue is both an assertion and invitation. Selene and I roll our eyes at the same time. Zayne’s ash-blond hair, blue gaze, tanned complexion, and boyishly handsome features make him more than attractive. They make him gorgeous. He knows it, and every girl he comes across knows it.
Leslie blushes while nibbling coyly on her bottom lip.
Ha! She’s coy, my ass. The slow way Zayne’s half-lidded eyes rove over her curves is exactly the thing she was angling for each time she came over.
“What time does your shift end?” he says. She pauses, pretending she has to think about it. “One.”
“I’ll wait on you. Escort you home.”
I roll my eyes again.
She blushes redder and emits a breathy “Okay.”
“Drinks,” I butt in with the demand. “We’ll take two more rounds.” Two should get me to where I want to be.
“How about one more and we call it quits?”
I stare at Selene like she’s sprouted horns. “Since when does Selene Rhysien, party girl of our academy class, cut a night short?”
She and Zayne exchange a look. I bristle because the look is about me.
“Commencement is tomorrow,” Zayne says, slipping into his usual rule-following form. “We all need to be coherent, upright, and not nursing head-splitting hangovers in the morning. It’s probably wise to cancel the drinks and head to the barracks.”
Fuck that noise. I hiss in a breath at the pounding that kicks up in my head. The tilted room starts spinning. A glum, victorious smile twists my lips. “I think it’s too late for me to avoid any of that.” I laugh like it’s no big deal. “It’s not like tomorrow is as important for me as it is for you guys.
“Bring two more rounds only for me,” I tell Leslie, in case I need an extra push over the ledge. “My friends do need to be done for the night.” I, however, don’t. Who cares if I make it to Commencement at all? I won’t have family present eager to see me graduate from Mareen’s most prestigious academy, and there’s no grand next step for me afterward.
“You need to be done too,” Selene says without the tact Zayne used.
Our waitress watches the exchange awkwardly.
“Let’s compromise.” Zayne, of course, is ever the diplomat. “We all have another round together then we all leave together.”
I glare at him.
He and Selene stare back at me, an unyielding and united front.
“Fine,” I lie, already thinking of ways to skirt the promise. “One more round, since apparently it’s gang-up-on-Ikenna night.”
Leslie smiles in relief, then makes her escape.
“For real, Kenna. We’re all leaving. I’ll drag you out of this bar if I have to.” Selene gives me a humorless look that tells me You know I’ll do it.
“Okay,” I say, exasperated. “We all leave together to get some rest for a Commencement ceremony that will mean nothing to me and everything to you.” Bitterness drips from my words. It shouldn’t. The psymedics’ recommendation is a good thing. It allows me to keep numbing the pain by shirking all duty and indulging in reckless shit for the next year.
Embarking on my personal grand adventure early, I look around for Leslie, willing her to hightail her ass back to our table with the next round.
She reappears not a moment too soon.
I swipe up the full shot glass she sets down in front of me and toss it back. A new high instantly hits. The euphoric numbness lasts longer this time, perching me on the ledge of oblivion but not yet pitching me over. My stupid system is purging the alcohol and boosters too damn fast.
I nod toward Leslie, who’s taking the drink orders of rowdy Praetorians at an adjacent table. “Weren’t you planning on going home with Miss I’m-pretending-to-be-coy-but-I’m-game?” I ask Zayne, trying to maneuver out of the promise my pushy friends muscled me into making.
But I don’t really care about his answer the moment I recognize the people at the table she’s serving. I instantly wish I hadn’t looked over at the Praetorians, because it blows my high and sends me sprawling back from the ledge on my ass. The tiny symbol emblazoned in gold above the left breast pocket of their maroon dress coats marks them as belonging to Gamma cohort.
One of the guys sees me watching his crew. He salutes me with a raise of his glass before downing its clear contents. His chestnut-brown hair is buzzed half an inch longer than an induction cut. He has dark cobalt eyes and a leanly muscled, powerful form shown off by the way his dress uniform is specially cut to his body. The tip of an inktat peeks from under the stiff white collar of his coat. He’s attractive, but it isn’t his good looks I’m staring at. It’s the wretched Gamma symbol. An ache blooms in my chest, and treacherous, unbridled thoughts of everything I’ve lost pummel into me like steel-fisted blows. My grandfather. Our plans for my future. My friends come morning. I don’t just need to be back on the ledge again, I need to be careening over it. But to do that, I’m going to have to stay in the bar and engage in a fresh bout of heavy drinking.
Which means ditching these two before Commencement.
I need another shot.
“Isn’t your father expecting you at home tonight?” I remind Selene. Her father is a Tribune, one of the fourteen powerful generals who sit on the Tribunal Council and help govern Mareen. His rank places her family among the great war houses of the Republic, and it’s a long-standing tradition for their children to spend the night at home instead of the barracks on Commencement Eve. At dawn, breakfast feasts will be held by all the war houses in honor of their graduates, who will undoubtedly declare and be confirmed to the venerated Praetorian rank. I should be returning to Grandfather’s residence tonight. He and I do not hail from a war house, but I should be waking to an intimate breakfast between the two of us in the morning.
Instead . . .
Selene shrugs. “He’ll get over it. I’ll be at Rhysien Manor by sunrise. If he wanted me in residence overnight so bad he would allow you and Zayne to sleep over with me. I’m not letting you stay in the barracks alone.”
I curtail a wince. After tomorrow, I won’t be a cadet anymore and I’ll have to move out of the barracks. The only other place for me to go will be Grandfather’s vacant apartments. I will be passing many nights alone then.
I lash out, mustering a bravado I don’t feel. Snorting, I say, “I can’t believe you wasted your breath asking.” It’s true—her Tribune General father would never abide me or Zayne sullying any of his private dwellings. I’m not the right skin color, and Zayne doesn’t have the right pedigree. But she’s not her father, and she doesn’t deserve to bear the brunt of my fear and anger. It’s my baggage. Not hers.
Selene opens her mouth to say something in defense of her father then snaps it shut. Consternation creases her forehead, and she’s about to speak again when she’s cut off.
“You’re Amari’s get.” The derisive voice comes from behind me. Already disgruntled, I swivel to face whoever it belongs to and glower at the dark-haired male with a gold Alpha insignia stitched into his maroon dress coat.
I return a sneer as contemptuous as the one he’s giving me. “No shit.”
He towers over me with a superiority that’s meant to intimidate. Smug arrogance due to his rank makes him dismiss the threat laced through my stare. He’s confident he can kick my ass. I’m confident he can’t. I was reared by the best combat mind Mareen has ever seen.
And I want this fight way more than he does.
The smile that carves onto the bastard’s chiseled face is cruel. His features are flawless. That fact is about to change if he doesn’t march away from my table. The temper Grandfather jumped through painstaking hoops to help me tame is running hot. Since his death, I haven’t bothered much to keep it in check. What I’m hurtling headlong into doing is a million times brash and stupid.
It’s the perfect way to top off the night.
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The Blood Trials by N.E Davenport is available now.