Series: Blood and Salt #1
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers on September 22 2015
Genres: Young adult, Horror, Paranormal
Source: Publisher, Comic Con 2015
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The nitty-gritty: An atmospheric and stylish tale of family secrets written in blood, with elements of horror that weren’t quite scary enough for me.
“Which way?” he asked as we stood in the center of the barren patch of earth.
As if answering his question, the breeze whipped through the field, revealing a path and a clearing in the distance.
Rhys and I walked faster. I think we were afraid the corn would swallow us whole.
Blood and Salt has been on my “most anticipated” list for some time, and I was excited to finally get around to reading it. And while I adored Liggett’s writing and the creepy atmosphere she created, the promised “horror” didn’t quite work for me. Instead of the “terror in the corn” story I was anticipating, Liggett delivers a somewhat confusing tale about a family who is bound by blood to a dark curse, a curse that seems nearly impossible to escape. But while the story didn’t always make sense, I did love the sense of dread I felt as Ash and her brother Rhys are drawn further and further into a centuries-old family mystery. Liggett has created some very complex and compelling relationships, and these were what really kept me going, when I started to lose the thread of the complicated story. I fell in love with several of the characters, which I’ll get to in a bit.
When the story begins, Ash and her brother Rhys are living in New York City with their mother, a woman who spends hours behind a locked door making perfume. Ash has been seeing visions of a dead girl for years, a girl who is hanging upside down and bleeding from her palm. She’s so used to this ghostly figure that it barely even scares her anymore. Ash’s mom Nina believes Ash needs protection from her visions, and her solution is to etch protection symbols into her skin, in the form of invisible tattoos.
But when Nina suddenly decides to return to Quivira, a commune hidden deep in the cornfields of Kansas, Ash and Rhys follow her, not knowing that by walking into Quivira they are walking into a trap. When they arrive, the residents of this strange town welcome Ash, believing her to be the “conduit” who will lead them to immortality. But her visions are getting weirder and more frequent, and even the attentions of a stand-offish but handsome boy named Dane can’t keep her from worrying about her family’s future. When Ash gets caught up in a dangerous ceremony to bring back her long-dead ancestor Katia, she must decide what is more important: her family’s survival, or her love for Dane.
I want to start by talking about the characters, because they were my favorite part of the book. I’m very fond of brother/sister relationships, and this one worked really well for me. Ash and Rhys are siblings who are fiercely protective, and even better, they actually like each other. The story is told in first person from Ash’s point of view, and even though I adored the moments when Ash and Rhys are together, Ash lost some of her charm when Rhys was off stage. But I really loved Rhys, a snarky but loving teen who is deathly afraid of the sight of blood, which I thought was a nice touch. Rhys meets a simple, mentally fragile girl named Beth and forms a growing attachment to her. I ended up rooting for their relationship way more than that of Ash and Dane, the “Romeo and Juliet” of the story. Beth in particular starts out a bit creepy, with her homespun clothing and dreamy outlook on life. But she shapes up to be smarter than she looks, and she really grew on me by the end of the book.
Dane felt like more of a stereotypical romantic interest, and the insta-love between him and Ash felt forced, rather than steamy and romantic. Maybe I’m just too old and jaded to believe in love at first sight, but when two characters that barely know each other agree to bond together (and that bonding involves blood!), I just don’t buy it, no matter what their family history is telling them. (Although there is a delightful twist at the end that involves Dane, which I really loved, that will hopefully play a big part in the sequel.) I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m not really the intended target audience for most young adult books, but I’m sure teens will fall hard for Dane and Ash and the sizzling hot sparks between them:-)
Let’s talk about the corn, shall we? I think corn is creepy to begin with, and the possibilities for hiding nasty things in it are endless. I thought Liggett chose an excellent setting for her story, where the corn is almost sentient and acts as a barrier against anyone getting into—or leaving—Quivira. Just about every horrible thing that happens in the book takes place deep in the corn, and I began to dread those moments when Ash feels compelled to chase a vision through the corn stalks.
As for the plot, it didn’t draw me in as much as I hoped it would, and I found myself struggling to get back into the story each time I put down the book. I think some of this was a lack of focus, maybe there was just too much going on. For example, at first, everyone in the commune thinks Ash is a conduit, but later they think she’s a vessel. I understood the terms by themselves, but used together I thought they muddied the plot a bit. But honestly, I usually don’t do well with stories that involve visions, and unfortunately, this one was no exception. I was also expecting a much scarier tale, but I think some of the confusing plot elements, as well as the romance between Ash and Dane, kept Blood and Salt from being truly terrifying.
But I still enjoyed it, especially the ending, which was the strongest part of the story, in my opinion. If Liggett can capture the magic of the last fifteen pages or so in her next book, then she’ll have something truly special.