2016’s standalone urban fantasy Spells of Blood and Kin is Claire Humphrey’s debut novel.
Lissa Nevsky’s grandmother dies and leaves her three legacies: intense grief, a large and mostly empty house, and a clientele that expects her to assume her grandmother’s role as koldun’ia (witch). Lissa is one of the few (perhaps the only) Russian-style witches in all Toronto.
One of grandmother’s spells stopped working when she died. This has some severe consequences for the beneficiary, Maksim Volkov. And incidentally for a student named Nick.
The infection that transformed Maksim into one of the kin is both a gift and a curse. Maksim is far stronger, far more durable, far longer-lived than an uninfected human. The price tag is one that has become increasingly onerous to Maksim as the centuries pass: an addiction to violence that he struggles to control. The grandmother’s spell gave him three decades of freedom from the urge, but that respite has ended.
Maksim has had centuries of experience keeping his brutal urges under control but those skills have become rusty. Maksim encounters two students, Nick and Jonathan, who have just been mugged. Maksim gives in to temptation and licks one of Nick’s open wounds. Maksim knows that he has probably infected Nick. He knows as the infection takes hold, Nick will become an increasing danger to all those around him. What Maksim doesn’t know is who Nick is or where he lives.
Lissa may be able to bring Maksim’s beast under control… if she is willing to pay the price.
While I understand people prefer to use familiar tools, I think Lissa, Maksim, and company are making a serious error by trying to resolve the issue of the kin entirely in-house. The condition is fairly clearly an infection1. At the least, Canadian authorities might like a heads-up that there’s a communicable disease that turns people into budget wolverines with serious impulse-control issues 2. Why, it’s even possible that conventional medicine could manage or cure 3 the condition.
As Canadian fantasies go, Blood and Kin is as Canadian as possible under the circumstances . “An infectious disease that turns people in aggressive rage-monsters” is how 28 Days Later and other works like it begin. Convention dictates that once Maksim’s self-control lapses, Toronto should be turned into a nightmarish, violent hellscape even worse than Vancouver.
That’s not what happens. In large part, this is because Maksim takes steps to limit the danger he and those like him present to Toronto. In large part, it is also because there are people like Lissa and her stepsister Stella who are willing to take personal risks to help Maksim and the other kin. Rather than a collection of paranoid, uncooperative, unconnected individuals each trying to survive despite the cost to others, Humphrey’s Toronto is a functioning society. Lissa opens her home to a stepsister she barely knows, Maksim does his best to help the kin he has created; Lissa takes up her grandmother’s duties. This is a Toronto where even the monsters are decent folk.
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Please address corrections to jdnicoll at panix dot com.
1: Something must limit the spread of the kin infection or the human population would have been converted into ageless rage-monsters centuries or millennia ago.
2: That said, Nick was a passive-aggressive jerk before he is turned into a kin. It may be some kin are profoundly changed by their new status but in Nick’s case, the infection only amplifies existing character issues.
3: Mind you, curing someone of a condition that greatly increases their lifespan may not be seen as a favour.