Hello everyone and welcome to another Saturday Spotlight– where every month I feature an author and their recently released work. For the month of June I am thrilled to spotlight Liselle Sambury and her debut novel Blood Like Magic.
About the BookBlood Like Magic (Blood Like Magic, #1) by Liselle Sambury
Published by Margaret K. McElderry on June 15, 2021
A rich, dark urban fantasy debut following a teen witch who is given a horrifying task: sacrificing her first love to save her family’s magic. The problem is, she’s never been in love—she’ll have to find the perfect guy before she can kill him.
After years of waiting for her Calling—a trial every witch must pass in order to come into their powers—the one thing Voya Thomas didn’t expect was to fail. When Voya’s ancestor gives her an unprecedented second chance to complete her Calling, she agrees—and then is horrified when her task is to kill her first love. And this time, failure means every Thomas witch will be stripped of their magic.
Voya is determined to save her family’s magic no matter the cost. The problem is, Voya has never been in love, so for her to succeed, she’ll first have to find the perfect guy—and fast. Fortunately, a genetic matchmaking program has just hit the market. Her plan is to join the program, fall in love, and complete her task before the deadline. What she doesn’t count on is being paired with the infuriating Luc—how can she fall in love with a guy who seemingly wants nothing to do with her?
With mounting pressure from her family, Voya is caught between her morality and her duty to her bloodline. If she wants to save their heritage and Luc, she’ll have to find something her ancestor wants more than blood. And in witchcraft, blood is everything.
About the Author
Liselle Sambury is a Toronto-based Trinidadian Canadian author. Her brand of writing can be described as “messy Black girls in fantasy situations.” She works in social media and spends her free time embroiled in reality tv because when you write messy characters you tend to enjoy that sort of drama. She also shares helpful tips for upcoming writers and details of her publishing journey through a YouTube channel dedicated to helping demystify the sometimes complicated business of being an author.
1- For readers who haven’t read Blood Like Magic, can you tell us what the book is about?
Blood Like Magic follows a young Black witch living in Toronto in the near-future who after failing to come into her powers is forced to choose between losing her family’s magic forever, a heritage steeped in centuries of blood and survival, or murdering her first love, a boy who is supposedly her genetic match.
2- At the heart of the novel is an intricate generational magic system. What was the inspiration behind the magic in your book?
I started off with two very simple rules for how I wanted the magic system to work: 1, witches had to use blood to cast, and 2, using their gift was the only way to use magic without spilling blood. From there it was a process of expanding and adding rules and restrictions, and fixing things that didn’t work. In that way, a lot of the magic system was developed in layers. After creating those rules, for example, I ended up developing the system for how a witch comes into her powers because I knew that I needed Voya to fail and to be forced to do a terrible task. From there came the entire Coming-of-Age ceremony that decides whether witches get their magic and the ancestors who preside over that ceremony.
3- Similarly, when an individual successfully completes the task laid out for them in their Calling, they are given a unique gift. How did you decide which characters would get what gifts? If you could have the same gift as any one of your characters, what gift would you most like to have?
Honestly, I was very on the fly with how I decided which characters would get which gift. In some cases, for characters like Keis, I always knew I wanted a mind reader, so that gift was decided before I even created on the character. As opposed to characters like Alex, who I knew loved fashion, so I created a gift for her that would complement that. In the novel, everyone’s gift is a complement to who they are as a person, so a lot of the time, what I chose for them would end up being exerted in their characterization in some way. Some gifts were also just fun, like Keisha’s gift of sensing discomfort which isn’t particularly useful, but it’s great wielded by her, and I think it also says something about her character and who she is as a person when she receives that gift.
If I could have the same gift as any of the characters, I think I would want Keis’s gift, but then I remember how thin my skin is and that I probably wouldn’t want to know people’s unfiltered thoughts about me. I think I would actually like Alex’s gift the most because then I could make all these amazing clothes for myself whenever I wanted, and they would always come out beautiful.
4- There is a strong science fiction aspect to the story, which I really enjoyed. What was your research process like for the science and technology elements of novel? What was the strangest thing you learned during your research process?
My research process for the sci-fi elements were as disorganized as my magic system, unfortunately. I really did not do a lot of the worldbuilding in that first draft, and I ended up fixing a lot of things as I went on. But overall, my process was to take things I knew and reimagine them almost fifty years in the future, but in some cases I really didn’t realize just how advanced some things already are, so I really had to check on that. For example, I talk some about gender affirming surgery in the book, and the process outlined there is based in some science that is already being done and I just fast tracked it. So, I didn’t learn anything strange per say, but I learned that a lot of the things I saw as advanced are actually things we’re already doing, just on a smaller scale.
5- One of the many key themes in Blood Like Magic is systemic racism and its impact on our society, particularly in the perpetuation of poverty across generations. Can you speak to this concept in your book? What role do you think literature plays in highlighting such pertinent social issues?
Growing up, it took a while for me to understand the impact of generational wealth and property ownership. To fully process and realize all the opportunities a person had could almost always be traced back to the people who came before them and what they had, and so on and so forth. And the reality of systems like slavery and systemic racism in general, is that that game is rigged from the start. Even places like Canada that very much applaud themselves for being multicultural and “nice” have deep rooted systems of systemic racism. Voya, however, a character who has direct contact with her ancestors, has always known how much privilege comes with her family reclaiming the home they built for masters that becomes their ancestral home. Especially in a city like Toronto where prices for homes are sky high and gentrification is continually on the rise.
Once I realized how important that knowledge was to me, it just naturally ended up being something that I wanted to share in the book. I didn’t set out to teach people things, if they learn, great, but that’s not my aim. My goal in showing these things is partially to build upon the reality of my character’s lives, but also for any readers who may see themselves in that representation, so they can feel seen and not alone. I think that’s a way that literature can really highlight those issues even in a fantasy book. And of course, there are books out there where the aim is to actively teach people and to have them interrogate that reality, which they may not have experienced themselves.
6- Do you have a favorite fantasy trope to write? To read?
For fantasy tropes in particular, I do really enjoy reluctant heroes which is why Voya is somewhat cast in that light. I like it as both something to write and read. I just really enjoy the journey of what has them embrace that role even if they don’t want it. I do also like a chosen one trope when I read if I feel that they’ve earned the title and really lived up to it, or if the author does a twist on that trope.
7- What surprised you most while writing your debut novel?
I think I was just most surprised that I had come out with something to be proud of in the end. Obviously, that’s what I was aiming for, and I’ve loved my story throughout even when it’s been hard, but it’s very surreal to read it in the final stages and know that’s the end of me working on the story, and I’m happy with it. I’ve worked on Blood Like Magic since 2017, so it’s been a long journey and I guess it’s pleasantly surprising to come to this happy ending because when you’re in the midst of that journey, you don’t always know if that will happen for you.
8- What, if anything, can you tell us about book 2?
I thought that writing book 2 would be this horrible hell because I’ve never written a sequel before, and you hear horror stories from authors about writing book 2, but I’m honestly really proud of what I have so far and am excited for readers to get to it. In the sequel to Blood Like Magic, readers can expect larger roles for characters who didn’t have as much page time in the first book, more hard times for Voya (sorry!), and a deeper dive into the Black witch community as a whole.
9- Do you have any reading or writing quirks?
I used to very strictly not reread any books. I had no interest in it and felt very sure that I would never be doing it. But since the pandemic, I’ve found myself to be a lot more nostalgic and I’ve been diving into rereading some of my favourite childhood books. As for writing, I find that my writing process is pretty normal beyond being able to draft quickly.
10- What are some books that shaped your love of reading? What books made you want to become a writer?
A series that I’m actually rereading now is The Saga of Darren Shan by Darren Shan which is a series that I loved as a kid and am also really enjoying as an adult. That was definitely the longest series I ever read as a kid, and it brought together my love of horror and the paranormal. I started writing on my own, so no books in particular made me want to be a writer, that came just because I had a love of writing in general. But there were definitely books that inspired what I wanted to create. I read a ton of paranormal like the Darren Shan series so that ended up being primarily what I wrote.
11- As an author, what would you like readers to know about author life, writing books, etc?
I suppose I would like readers to know that every book is its own journey. As authors evolve, their writing styles can change and the sorts of stories they create can too. I do think a lot of readers know that already, though. There is a lot of emphasis on debut novels and authors in the publishing industry, but it’s great to see readers exploring an author’s backlist or trying out other books even if they don’t like one book from an author.
Rapid Fire Questions
1- Favorite season?
2- Where is your favorite place to read?
Inside, on the couch
3- What was the last book you read?
Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart
4- What are your reading essentials?
Outside of a good book of course! Tea and snacks
5- What are some 2021 releases you are excited about?
So many, wow. Bad Witch Burning by Jessica Lewis, The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould, White Smoke by Tiffany D. Jackson, Redemptor by Jordan Ifueko, Other Boys by Damian Alexander, and A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee to name a few.
6- What do you hope readers will take away from Blood Like Magic?
I hope that they’ll have a good time, that they’ll feel seen, and that it can take up some space as a loved urban fantasy. I have always adored that genre, and I hope it can give them the same joy I get from my favourites.
7- Lastly, where can readers learn more about you and your work?
I’m online at lisellesambury.ca and I’m also on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok, all under @lisellesambury
What About You?
Do you have any questions for Liselle? Have you read Blood Like Magic? Let me know in the comments!