Plot Summary: Magic is alive and acknowledged in the 19th century, but in Amanusa's little back corner of Austria it's illegal for women to practice magic. When a strange Englishman appears at her cottage and talks of her being a blood sorceress, Amanusa recoils from the idea. Jax has been searching for a successor for over 200 years, ever since his last sorceress was slain. When hostile rebels and magical Inquisitors threaten them both, Jax and Amanusa must flee to Paris, where a great magical council is meeting to solve the problem of the encroaching dead zones. To take her place, Amanusa must convince this sexist, bigoted, all-male body that she is a valid magic practitioner.
This intro book was too long in my opinion, but author Gail Dayton has laid out a complex magical world that held my interest. Tor is calling this a paranormal romance, and I sorta, kinda, agree. This book falls into that same no-man's land as Soulless (The Parasol Protectorate) by Gail Carriger; it's half historical fantasy and half paranormal romance. Oh, and with a dash of steampunk sprinkled throughout. I must say that I enjoy this combination a lot, and I think these authors have bright futures.
I've been drawn to the cover ever since I first saw it, because I like gore, and having the heroine in a white, blood-splattered frock was eye-catching to say the least. It's an accurate detail because Amanusa is a blood sorceress, which is a highly misunderstood branch of magic. Everyone believes blood sorcery is inherently evil, including Amanusa herself, and Jax has a hard time convincing her otherwise.
In most romances the guy is usually the one holding all the cards - wealth, power, and status - but Ms. Dayton has flipped this story on end. Jax is a bound blood servant, and instead of arriving at the beginning of the story with everything intact, he must slowly build up to becoming his own man again. I enjoyed the novelty of it, and his broken past as a virtual slave gave him a powerful connection to Amanusa, who's own tragic youth is slowly revealed.
What I'm really looking forward to is the next book, Heart's Blood, because now that I have the gist behind this fantasy vision, I want to see how far Ms. Dayton will take it. There are four branches of magic, each complex and distinct, and only the blood sorcery was explored in depth. There is a disturbing rise of dead zones all over the world, where the magic has vanished, and vicious machines rule. All of that was left hanging at the end of this introduction book, so there's a lot to explore.