Review | Red Blood: Card Holders Book One, by Kaitlyn Legaspi

Arena Combat with a Tabletop Card Game Twist

Kaitlyn Legaspi’s YA fantasy “Card Holders” series came to me directly from the author. I hold a soft spot for both of these genres, as I firmly believe young adult literature produces some of the most imaginative books in popular fiction, with fantasy being my own entry into the world of “serious” English literature. When I was a budding young adult reader myself it was the grandaddy of fantasy itself – the Lord of the Rings – that propelled me into studying English in college. Let’s dive into Ms. Legaspi’s Red Blood.

My first impression of this self-published e-book was that it was, indeed, highly imaginative. From the get go the heroine of the story Neela Blydes is described as a 17 year-old, “unbound” vigilante, with a combination of two mutant-like powers. So, right away I’m hit by the combination of SF/fantasy references to the worlds of comic book mutants, novels like Pullman’s his dark materials, and then the unmistakable influence of tabletop gaming. Moreover, Legaspi throws in the combined affects of a Blade Runner and Hunger Games combination of place-setting. Interested yet?

If so, this may be an e-book well worth your time and money. While the plot-pacing is steady and kept me engaged, I must admit I felt areas of the book were a bit slow for me. I chalk this up to a young writer still finding her footing.

Vigilantism from a Teenage Heroine

Overall, I really like Red Blood. The main characters are very original, and despite the heavy influences from the world of popular entertainment, the author kept her story truly her own. When Blydes first enters the inner core world in which the gladiator-like competitions take place, I was struck by the great descriptions of the helicopter ride into the domed facility. Furthermore, the interplay between the protagonist, Neela, and her cohort of compatriots is well done.

It is in character development that I find the greatest strength in this fantasy installment. Not only the individual protagonist and antagonist portraits, but the relationships. Neela’s relationships with her brother, boss/father-figure Brochan, and paramour Amil are all layered and intricate. Something I find impressive from a young self-published writer. Antagonists are also well done, with several baddies interspersed with craft. The Galway elder son, Cael is the first up. He’s a downright bully from a family of Assassins. However, it is Red Ember, revealed towards the end of the book that is the real nemesis, and an integral part of a clear plot line that takes this book into its intended multi-part story arch.

I’d be remiss to leave out the action sequences. They’re solid parts of this book. They ought to be considering it is an action-focused story with a protagonist that wields highly potent powers of, “Enhancer of speed and a Naturalist of lightning” capabilities. It is, in fact, these powers – described as unbound – that separate her from the general population and make her the star of this gladiator-like arena. I’m not quite sure how the general population views all of the competitions, that’s sort of unclear. Is it entirely in-person viewing, or is there tv coverage – or both? Either way, Blydes becomes a quick star in this league of mutant warriors.

This is the type of book for anyone that enjoys good SF/Fantasy arena combat fiction. Steeped in the traditions of the master O.S. Card. Yes, there have been a lot of derivatives in recent years, but let’s face it – they are all based off of the ancient gladiatorial thing, and timeless entertainment is timeless for a reason. Check it out!

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