Like some of the best sci-fi and fantasy writing, N.E. Davenport’s science fantasy novel The Blood Trials (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook) is as much about our world as it about the Republic in which it’s set. In the following email interview about it, Davenport discusses both the sad realities and the magical fantasies that inspired and influenced this story.
To begin, what is The Blood Trials about?
It’s always a bit hard to give a concise answer to this question since it has so many moving parts. I suppose, at its core, The Blood Trials is a story about war, brutality, indoctrination, spilled blood, obligation, and rebellion.
The protagonist is a young Black woman, Ikenna Amari, who was born and raised in a position of both incredible oppression and incredible privilege. When she finds out her high-ranking war hero grandfather was murdered by their nations’ ruling council, Ikenna plunges into deadly trials where she faces both bigoty and misogyny in order to achieve the rank and power necessary to seek vengeance and bring her grandfather justice.
Though it’s also, as the title suggests, about blood magic. It’s a gift that Ikenna possesses that’s long been outlawed in her society and if the ruling powers learn she has it, it could get her executed.
And what kind of a world does it take place in?
The Blood Trials takes place in a world that is highly regimented and highly regulated by a ruling council, down to what “proper” place in society citizens are allowed to occupy. More than that, however, the world is one among a distant galaxy that occupies a planet called Iludu where magic gifted to people by Gods exists alongside highly advanced tech, and the many populations and cultures that comprise Iludu grapple with which to uphold. Among some societies, magic is revered, and even weaponized. Among other societies, it’s technology that’s revered and weaponized, while magic is disparaged to the point of leveling death sanctions on those who wield it.
As you said, The Blood Trials also take place somewhere that’s racist and misogynist. But is it overtly or openly racist and misogynist, or is it more a subtle / less self-aware kind of prejudiced society?
Yes, The Blood Trials, for sure takes place somewhere that’s racist and misogynistic. In regard to the nation that Ikenna grows up and lives in, Mareen is absolutely overtly both of these things. It’s a Republic that hypocritically prides itself on enlightenment, innovation, and advancement while perpetuating some truly horrible ideas about the positions women, dark skin individuals, and impoverished individuals are supposed to occupy. However, this is not the status quo for every nation that comprises the planet of Iludu. There’s a kingdom comprised of dark skin peoples that heavily land on the side of upholding technological advancement over magic, but that kingdom also is very tolerant, open-minded, and all around tries to be decent foreign neighbors. Then, there’s territories which exist all along the continuum that rests in between these two.
So, did you set out to write a story that had social and political implications and The Blood Trials is what you came up with, or did you come up with the story and then realize having social and political implications would make it better?
I set out from the very beginning to explore the social and political violence that really any person of a marginalized population can be faced with in a prejudiced society that values supposedly ethnic purity, nepotism, and classism. I wanted to tell a story that parallels the challenges many Black individuals, and Black women specifically, grapple with in current society. We come from a terrible legacy of slavery, brutality, and bigotry that hasn’t vanished since slavery ended. We’re constantly still being regarded as an “other” and as “less” in many instances simply by virtue of our skin tone, and we are faced with the insurmountable hurdle of having to work twice as hard to gain recognition, respect, and whatever each person’s idea of success or a seat at the table is.
So then where did you get the idea for the plot of The Blood Trials?
A collection of numerous ideas inspired the book’s plot. I’m a big urban fantasy and military fantasy reader, I’m a huge Star Wars fan, and Black Panther is one of my favorite movies. On top of that, I’ve always been intrigued by how powerful magic, personal feuds, political clashes, and invasion plays out in fantasy stories. The Blood Trials’ plot ended up being an amalgamation of all of that. I basically wanted to tell a story that employed fantasy-leaning themes and magic against a science fiction-leaning advanced world and technology, where a Black woman grappled with the weight of possessing a deadly, illegal magic in a world that hates her but also unknowingly needs her to save it from a looming threat because she possesses the illicit magic.
It sounds like The Blood Trials is a fantasy story, though obviously not a Lord Of The Rings / Dungeons & Dragons kind of one. How do you describe it?
I think I’d describe it as a science fantasy story. There’s heavy fantasy elements to it, but there’s also heaping doses of sci-fi tropes with a little bit of mystery and thriller aspects, too.
Now, The Blood Trials is your first published novel, though I’m sure it’s not the first thing you’ve written….
No, it is absolutely not the first thing I’ve written. There were many manuscripts that came before it that I’d be horrified if anybody set eyes on today.
Then, are there any writers, or stories, that had a particularly big influence on The Blood Trials but not on anything else you’ve written?
Hmmm… Thinking about specific writers or stories that have influenced The Blood Trials but not anything else is hard because many of my favorite literary works show up as influences in most things I write in some way. Though Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels books might be one. It’s the first series I read with blood magic and I’ve been fascinated by the fantasy trope ever since. Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember In The Ashes series is another. I was drawn to the brutal military society Tahir created in the series from page one. Pierce Brown’s Red Rising books also had an influence. Its sci-fi setting was sweeping, immersive, imaginative, and just really cool.
How about non-literary influences; was The Blood Trials influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games? You already mentioned Star Wars and Black Panther…
There’s a lot of these. G.I. Jane, G.I. Joe, Black Panther, Star Wars, Game Of Thrones, Avatar The Last Airbender, and the Assassin’s Creed games are the biggest.
The Blood Trials is the first book of a duology you’re calling The Blood Gift. Do you know what the other book is going to be called and when it will be out?
I’m not sure I can answer either of those questions yet. Sorry. I have the answers but Harper Voyager hasn’t officially announced anything, and I don’t want to accidentally spill the beans on something I shouldn’t.
No worries. Don’t want to get you in trouble. But what was it about this story that made you realize it needed to be told in two parts as opposed to one long one or three or thirty-seven?
Actually, I initially envisioned The Blood Trials told in three parts. Never thirty-seven though. Wow, I just shuddered even thinking about writing that many installments. I’d get so bored and so ready to play in a new story world with new characters so quickly.
[sighs] No one ever says thirty-seven…
The Blood Trials switched from a planned trilogy to a planned duology when my publisher bought it in a two book deal. After working on The Blood Trials, my editor and I had a conversation where we hashed out the plot of the sequel and how to fit everything that Ikenna, the protagonist, needed to learn, battle, decimate, and accomplish in Book 2. Still, it was brutal to write. I just turned in the first draft of the sequel at the beginning of February. I’m anxiously awaiting editorial notes, but I feel very good and very strong about the first draft.
Upon hearing that The Blood Trials is the first book of a duology, some people will decide to wait until the other one is out before reading it, and some will also decide to read them back-to-back when the time comes. But is there any reason why you think people shouldn’t wait?
I think there is a story-based reason against waiting to read it. A lot happens in Book 1. Even more happens in Book 2. There’s so many twists, turns, reveals, heavy losses, growing pains, and weighty exchanges that reading them back-to-back might be overwhelming, and you’ll want a little bit of breathing room.
Earlier we talked about the movies, TV shows, and games that influenced The Blood Trials. But to turn things around, do you think The Blood Trials could be made into a movie, show, or game?
It’s my greatest hope that The Blood Trials gets made into all three. I think it’s a story that offers enough depth and breadth in its setting, characters, and politics that there’s enough material and content for a TV show, movie, and a game. The format that might work best will depend on what aspects of the world and story the adaptation aims to zero in on and display. The Blood Trials can make a fantastic movie if the adaptation chooses to focus on Ikenna’s sweeping and heroic journey alone. But there’s also an ensemble cast and expansive world with tons of conflicts and important, compelling things going on outside of Ikenna’s sphere, so I can totally see The Blood Trials being adapted into a TV series in the vein of something like Game Of Thrones that isn’t just about the journey of one protagonist, but that tracks the journey of many protagonists. As for a video game, The Blood Trials’ world offers tons of cool boss fights, realms, and mysteries, and side quests that could be explored in an open-world game.
If someone wanted to adapt The Blood Trials into a movie or TV show, who would you want them to cast as Ikenna, and the other main characters?
Obviously, a dark skin woman would have to be cast. It’s important representation that’s lacking in Hollywood as much as it’s lacking in publishing, and it’s one of the chief reasons I wrote The Blood Trials and made a dark skin Black woman it’s protagonist. I really enjoyed watching The Old Guard movie, so I’d love to see Kiki Layne play Ikenna. She’d kill the role.
And if someone instead wanted to make it into a game, what kind of game should it be and who should make it?
I’d be over the moon if somebody like Ubisoft was at the helm. Assassin’s Creed is one of my all-time favorite game franchises. With Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, specifically, I don’t think I’ve come across a more visually stunning game or more brilliant fight optics — and The Blood Trials is full of thrilling battles that would translate super fun onto a gaming system.
So, is there anything else that people interested in The Blood Trials should know before deciding whether or not to buy it?
We’ve talked about The Blood Trials tackling some weighty issues, but at its heart, I truly wrote it to just also be a fun fantasy read that delivers a bloody damn good time and that serves SFF readers who enjoy books like Pierce Brown’s Red Rising or R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War all the things we like most in SFF reads: war, bloodshed, banter, a kickass protagonist, and a thrilling heroic journey.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Blood Trials, what similar kind of fantasy novel of someone else’s would you recommend they check out while waiting for the second book to come out?
R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War, C.L. Clark’s The Unbroken, Pierce Brown’s Red Rising, S.A. Chakraborty’s City Of Brass, and Scott Reintgen’s Nyxia. Each of these books feature determined protagonists and fun ensemble casts who question, challenge, and battle the power structures around them. They each also dive poignantly into questions about the ethics of combat and / or war, the value of human lives, and the cost of ushering change upon a people.