“Blood Debts” by Terry Benton-Walker (ARC Review)

Benton-Walker, Terry. Blood Debts. New York: Tor Teen, 2023. 

ISBN-13: 978-1250825926 | $18.99 USD | 416 pages | YA Fantasy 



Terry J. Benton-Walker’s contemporary fantasy debut, Blood Debts, is “an extravaganza from start to finish” (Chloe Gong) with powerful magical families, intergenerational curses, and deadly drama in New Orleans.

Most Anticipated from Buzzfeed, BookPage, Nerd Daily, Forever Young Adult, and more. Featured on NPR Weekend Edition Sunday.

“A conjuring of magnificence.” —NIC STONE • “A force.” —ROSEANNE A. BROWN • “An extravaganza.” —CHLOE GONG • “Powerful.” —AYANA GRAY • “Sings with hope and rage.” —TJ KLUNE • “An unforgettable thrill ride.” —J. ELLE • “Steeped in magic.” —ALEXIS HENDERSON • “Crackles with mystery and ferocity.” —MARK OSHIRO

Thirty years ago, a young woman was murdered, a family was lynched, and New Orleans saw the greatest magical massacre in its history. In the days that followed, a throne was stolen from a queen.

On the anniversary of these brutal events, Clement and Cristina Trudeau—the sixteen-year-old twin heirs to the powerful, magical, dethroned family—are mourning their father and caring for their sick mother. Until, by chance, they discover their mother isn’t sick—she’s cursed. Cursed by someone on the very magic council their family used to rule. Someone who will come for them next.

Cristina, once a talented and dedicated practitioner of Generational magic, has given up magic for good. An ancient spell is what killed their father and she was the one who cast it. For Clement, magic is his lifeline. A distraction from his anger and pain. Even better than the random guys he hooks up with.

Cristina and Clement used to be each other’s most trusted confidant and friend, now they barely speak. But if they have any hope of discovering who is coming after their family, they’ll have to find a way to trust each other and their family’s magic, all while solving the decades-old murder that sparked the still-rising tensions between the city’s magical and non-magical communities. And if they don’t succeed, New Orleans may see another massacre. Or worse.

★ “Riveting and relevant.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review


4 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

Blood Debts is an intriguing YA contemporary fantasy debut, weaving Black history and social justice into a magical story. I was immediately intrigued by the magic system, which is inspired by voodoo, and how it ties into Black heritage and community. And while I’ve never been to New Orleans, I felt I got a sense of the landscape and scope of the place, albeit with an infusion of magic. 

The family dynamics form a central part of the narrative, from that between co-protagonists, twins Clement and Cristina to the rest of the Dupart family. They’re a bit messy and chaotic, but endearing all the same. I also enjoyed seeing Clem and Cris come into their own, both individually and together, especially as they faced some of the magical and societal challenges life threw at them. Cristina’s arc in particular struck me, as she is dating a white boy, and he is one of many white people who express a bit too much covetous interest in their magic. But Clem also won me over, as he’s also navigating his own misadventures in love as a Black queer teen boy. 

There’s a lot of unrest and intrigue, and myriad twists and turns, so there’s pretty much always something going on. Sometimes the story feels a little too intricate, but I managed to follow it, from the murder mystery to the “smaller” situations, fairly well. The pacing does take time to build, but the intrigue is there early on, and picks up steam gradually before really hitting at around the halfway point. 

This is a solid debut, and I am interested to see what Benton-Walker writes next. If you’re interested in contemporary fantasy set in New Orleans and/or following Black leads, I recommend checking this out! 

Author Bio

TERRY J. BENTON-WALKER grew up in rural GA and now lives in Atlanta with his husband and son, where he writes fiction for adults, young adults, and children. He has an Industrial Engineering degree from Georgia Tech and an MBA from Georgia State. When he’s not writing, he can be found gaming, eating ice cream, or both. Blood Debts is his first novel.


Buy links

Bookshop (affiliate link)

Little Shop of Stories (signed copies)


Barnes & Noble


Google Play

Apple Books

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