Title: A Conventicle of Magpies (Bloodskill duology #1)
Author: L.M.R Clarke
Genre: Historical Fiction / Fantasy
Publication Date: 6 January 2021
What would you do to save your loved ones from slavery and a blood-draining serial killer?
Rook is an unapologetic thief determined to do anything to ensure her mother and siblings survive the squalid and dangerous streets of Stamchester.
Rook slips, like a shadow, in and out of the homes of the ruling elite, the Avanish, and steals what she needs. She feels no regret, afterall, the Avanish have enslaved her people, the Saosuíasei, and worse, have now determined the Saosuíasei to be disposable and worthy of nothing other than death.
However, Rook is not the only shadowy figure in Stamchester, and a far more deadly one haunts the filthy streets, striking fear into Avanish and Saosuíasei alike. A serial killer who drains every ounce of blood from his victims and satisfies the elite’s demand for blood to burn in the magical art of Bloodskill and enhance their own natural, and sometimes unnatural, abilities.
How can Rook outfox the serial killer and raise her people from the ashes left by the Avanish oppression?
Well, it’s been a long while since I’ve had the chance to post a review. I hope everyone is doing well and staying safe! With that said, let’s get to it…
I didn’t really know what to expect going into this one, as I’ve never read Clarke’s previous novels, so I won’t deny that it was this amazing cover that caught my eye! And I’m glad it did. A Conventicle of Magpies had a little bit of everything: a dynamic plot, diverse characters, and a solid chunk of social commentary to touch on topics of oppression and discrimination—a combination you don’t always find in a YA book.
Stamchester itself was an interesting setting and was described as a kind of fictional Victorian city made up of Avanish suburbs and Saosuíasei slums—a divide that fuels the main conflict throughout the text. But this certainly isn’t the only conflict. Much of the appeal for this story lies in its fast-paced plot. Each chapter feels like a new challenge that keeps you curious and flipping through those pages. For those who prefer a single central conflict, that’s not what you’re going to get in this book. Between Billy Drainer, the Avanish, and the main character’s own personal struggles, you’re in for a ride!
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: characters always make or break a story for me, and Rook was pretty solid. She was a strong and well-rounded female protagonist—a realistic mix of fantasy hero and flawed human—with a talent for using the magic known as Bloodskill. As part of a criminal organisation (The Conventical) known for protecting the Saosuíasei women of Stamchester, Rook managed to be both fierce and compassionate. I really enjoyed reading things from her perspective and seeing how she interacted with those around her.
Speaking of those around her, there were quite a few side characters in this story as well. While they didn’t always move the plot forward, they were diverse and easy to differentiate and didn’t take away from the story at all, so this wasn’t a problem for me. I also felt that the side characters had a bigger part to play, so hopefully we’ll learn more about them in the second instalment.
Overall, this was an entertaining read with plenty of mystery to keep you going. The story raises a lot of questions—about Billy Drainer, Bloodskill, Rook’s past and even her future. Some questions are answered, and the rest I look forward to discovering in the sequel.