Today, for my stop on The Black Veins blog tour I’m excited to be sharing a Q&A with Ashia Monet and my review of the book.
Make sure to check out tour host CW’s post as well as the other posts listed below!
Sixteen-year-old Blythe is one of seven Guardians: magicians powerful enough to cause worldwide panic with a snap of their fingers.
But Blythe spends her days pouring latte art at her family’s coffee shop, so why should she care about having apocalyptic abilities?
She’s given a reason when magician anarchists crash into said coffee shop and kidnap her family.
Heartbroken but determined, Blythe knows she can’t save them alone. A war is brewing between two magician governments and tensions are too high.
So, she packs up her family’s bright yellow Volkswagen, puts on a playlist, and embarks on a road trip across the United States to enlist the help of six strangers whose abilities are unparalleled—the other Guardians.
Thanks to the author for sending me a proof copy in exchange for an honest review. This in no way influences my opinion of the book.
The Black Veins is one of those books that hits the ground running. From the opening chapter, this book knows exactly what it wants to be. And what it wants to be is a fast-paced, dynamite-loaded urban fantasy, full of lovable characters and magic.
If you like your YA with a full squad of sassy, diverse characters you’re going to like The Black Veins. The seven main characters are magicians, chosen as Guardians of each element – Ether, Death, the Body, the Mind, Nature, Time, and Animals.
Blythe, the inadvertent leader of the group, is passionate, determined, and will do anything for her family. Her drive to save her family leads her to some rash decisions, but honestly? I loved her. She’s empowered, kind, and brings the best out in the other guardians.
“I always loved that unity, I guess,” she says. “That it’s a circle, without a clear beginning or end or hierarchy. Even though they’re in different positions in the sky, they are equal. And you can only see their true beauty when they are all gathered together.”
Cordelia is a wealthy, British tech genius, who starts the novel as what I can only describe as a ‘sourpuss’. She’s moody and easily angered, but she begins to warm up to Blythe as she learns more about her and they soon become close friends. Cordelia’s character development is my favourite in the novel because she goes from raging douche-princess to thoughtful, unwavering friend.
Antonio may well be the light of my life. He is An Actual Sweetheart™. Antonio’s kindness is boundless and he’s far too selfless for his own good. He’s enthusiastic about pretty much everything, a great chef, and an even better listener. Antonio is definitely my favourite character and I’m currently putting together papers to adopt him as my son, please and thanks.
As the youngest of the guardians, Daniel and has led a sheltered life in the countryside. He knows little about modern technology, which leads to some hilarious moments between him and the other guardians involving phones and video games. Daniel fears more than the other guardians and is often naive, but his quiet resolve leads him to conquer many of his fears, and he matures the most out of everyone.
Caspian is pretty ghostly, so as you can imagine, he and Daniel get on really well. Caspian likes to think he’s edgy and is described as having a bit of an ’emo’ look (think 2004 UK fashion), but despite his uncaring exterior, he’s a softie at heart. His dry humour made him grow on me, and I liked his close connection with Blythe.
As the powerhouse of the Guardians, Storm is fierce and no-nonsense. When we first meet her, she’s something of a vigilante, taking her rollerskates everywhere and fighting trouble-makers. Storm seems like the most street-wise of all the guardians, but she doesn’t open up easily and puts up barriers between herself and her friends. These barriers start to come down as she befriends Daniel and takes him under her wing as something of a little brother.
I don’t know how to put this any other way so I’m just going to say it: Jay is a massive flirt and I love him for it. He’s bisexual, confident, and dislikes public attention because of who his parents are, but he’s mentally and physically strong, and his connection with Antonio is really cute. Like really cute. I’m here for it, guys.
Having seven main characters is a challenge in any novel, but Ashia Monet balances their page time, personalities, and development with the poise of a seasoned writer.
There’s something special about seeing characters go from mistrusting each other, to caring for each other, to being willing to sacrifice themselves for each other. Everybody loves a bit of enemies-to-friends and The Black Veins certainly delivers this.
Dialogue and diversity
The quick-fire dialogue between the seven MCs created some of my favourite scenes throughout the novel. The way their individual friendships progressed was a delight.
“You just want to be able to say you shopped in California!”
“Sorry, Blythe, I can’t hear you.”
“You’re ten feet away and my voice is a public disturbance!”
She makes these characters’ voices and personalities sing off the page. There were times when I knew who was speaking just by what was said (before I’d even read the speech tag on the page).
It can be difficult to write realistic yet entertaining (and witty) dialogue for a group of teens, without it becoming cliched, but for the most part Ashia Monet does this well. There are times when the characters’ exclamations stray into corny territory, but I imagine if I looked back and things I said when I was a teen, they’d be corny. And I wasn’t trying to save my family from a secret magical city, either.
One of the stand-out facets of this book was the character diversity. The majority of characters are not white and not straight, and I loved this. There’s bisexual rep, non-binary rep, biracial rep, POC characters, and black characters in this book. The diversity doesn’t feel tokenistic either, it feels completely organic and true to real life.
I can’t speak for the accuracy of most of the representation, but as someone who’s biromantic, I loved seeing more bi rep on-page. It’s particularly great to see more bi male characters, because they’re under-represented in YA literature and bi men deserve to see themselves in books just as much as everyone else.
“…I forgot he was unstoppably bisexual.”
“A powerful thing to be.”
Plot and pacing
The plot centres on Blythe getting to Electric City to save her family, but is quite episodic as she finds each guardian. Some of the best scenes come in the final hundred pages, when all seven guardians are together and the action is at its most intense. Politics, war, and unconditional love are at the heart of the story, and Monet drops in lines that highlight real-world social issues without seeming forced.
The pacing of the book alternates between some very quick-fire action sequences and some slower character-building moments. But where the pace decelerates, the humour increases, so we end up with a mix of fast, serious, action scenes and slower, humorous, character-building scenes, which keep the novel entertaining.
World building and themes
The Black Veins is set in an America where magic exists and magical cities are hidden from non-magicians.
One of the things that makes this book such a memorable urban fantasy is the way the author blends city and magic elements. The characters can be driving through Florida and in the next moment, the next they’re crashing through a group of trees (Platform 9¾-style) into the Tempore.
The Tempore is a magical realm for traveling between points in the real world at faster speeds. This and other parts of the magic system, like the Guardian’s powers, Electric City, and the magical items (the hockey stick undoubtedly wins) are what make the book so fun and captivating. Blythe’s powers were an enigma that I’d have liked to have seen more of, but I have a feeling we’ll be getting this in book two, and I can’t wait.
The Black Veins is a compelling new addition to the YA urban fantasy scene. Its charisma and snappy dialogue set it apart from other novels, and Ashia Monet crafts a refreshing narrative with some very poignant moments. This may be a plot-driven novel, but the characters elevate it to new heights, and book two promises more drama, more magic, and more adventures.
Pick up your copy of The Black Veins here:
Thanks so much for agreeing to this Q&A and huge congratulations on publishing your debut novel! What was your inspiration behind The Black Veins? Did the idea come to you all at once or bit by bit?
Thank you so much! And thank you for having me on your blog! I’m very excited to be interviewed haha.
As for the inspiration, most of The Black Veins came to me in pieces. I am very inspired by things I find cool, often in music, movies, and comics.
I often end up borrowing my favorite aspects from my favorite sources—for example, Blythe works at a magic café because of my love for magical café webcomics; Jay is a swimmer because I was very into Free! Iwatobi Swim Club at the time, and the Continental is just a huge shoutout to The Adventure Zone: Amnesty.
The Black Veins has a real urban fantasy vibe, which works well with the setting and plot. Did you always know you wanted to write urban fantasy or did you ever consider writing high fantasy, or a completely different genre like contemporary?
I’ve always had a special place in my heart for urban fantasy. As someone who was born and raised in a big city, I love blending elements of my own, everyday world with the “otherness” of fantasy.
I’ve tried my hand at high fantasy, but building a whole world from scratch is no easy task. Speculative fiction has always been my “safe” zone. However, at some point, I’d like to try to write something contemporary!
Blythe is a brilliant character (I want to be friends with her so badly) and is constantly finding new inner strength that she didn’t know she had. For those who haven’t read the book yet, what makes her tick? And just for me, what’s her favourite type of dessert?
I’m so glad you like her! Blythe is always driven by love for the important people in her life. For most of the book, those people are her family.
However, she is more of a hero than she realizes. And, just like all of us, she has an infinite capacity for love—which means there is an infinite number of things she can accomplish through just sheer determination.
It was really important for me to write about a bisexual Black girl who was more than just the “cool” girl—Blythe gets to be capable, but also confused and scared. Se gets to be nerdy and silly and soft, but also determined and powerful and capable. She gets to embrace her queerness without having it define her. She gets to be human.
And as for dessert, unlike Cordelia, Blythe is not a fan of super sweet things. But she loves anything that’s matcha flavored! There’s something about that subtle, warm sweetness that she loves.
Some of the key themes in the novel are power struggles, family, and politics. What made you want to write about these topics?
We live in an age where power and politics are hard to ignore. They are prevalent, harmful, and terrifying.
But I love making people smile. And knowing that I could write something that would be a positive force in people’s lives—especially the lives of marginalized people who are so often ignored—was too compelling to ignore.
As a marginalized writer and reader, I’ve often felt alone and erased by stories, and in the world at large. I want to make sure other readers, and other people, don’t feel that when they read my work. I want them to have a fun, heartwarming story that makes them feel soft inside. I want them to know they are loved.
Family—especially the found/chosen family of marginalized young people—is central in The Black Veins, because love is central. Love and hope are the two things we need, primarily, to get through any situation, no matter how bleak or dark. And I intend to provide both of them as best I can.
Can you tell us what you favourite scene was to write? (Without spoilers of course!)
I love this question! My favorite element of The Black Veins was the Guardians’ interactions.
For most of the book, the Guardians are slowly trickling into the adventure, one at a time, so we get a lot of one-on-one interactions. But there’s a scene that occurs soon after the last Guardian joins the team, when all seven of them are just bonding and being themselves.
It’s one of the “breather” moments in the novel and it’s my absolute favorite one. We get to see all of the Guardians playing off of each other and being silly, bonding as a whole, complete group for the first time in the novel.
I vividly remember writing it too—I was in public with my friends and typing very quickly, trying not to show how emotional I was getting over these characters!
Describe a typical writing day for us. Do you have a schedule or a playlist? How many words on average do you write in a day?
I can write almost anywhere, as long as I have headphones and my laptop.
During the semester, I can usually do around 1k words in the morning, spend the rest of the day out and about, and return home in the evening to get another 2k words done before I sleep. Generally, if things aren’t too busy, I can write a chapter a day!
I quick draft, which basically means I write a basic skeleton of all my scenes—sometimes not even including dialogue tags!—until I know, for sure, that the current timeline of events is how I want my final draft to look. Then I’ll go back and flesh everything out.
And I can write without music but I prefer to have something playing. I know a lot of writers enjoy calm, coffee shop music, but that just makes me lose focus! For me, the faster and louder the song, the better. It also helps to pick music that fits the mood of the scene!
(And, fun fact, each of the Guardians has their own playlist!)
Finally, what’s next for you? Do you have another project on the go? A sequel? *waggles eyebrows*
I do! Admittedly, I take while to develop my projects. I like to devout a ton of time to every intricate detail of my story.
But, of course, I have fun plans for Book 2 of the Dead Magic series! The Guardians will be back with their usual energy and hijinks, and while Blythe is still a very central character, Book 2’s story focuses on another member of the crew!
Ashia Monet is a speculative fiction author whose work almost always includes found families, diverse ensemble casts, the power of friendship, and equal parts humor and drama.
Some of her favorite things are The Adventure Zone, Ariana Grande, and the color pink. You can follow her on Twitter @ashiamonet and Instagram @ashiawrites.
The Black Veins Blog Tour Schedule
CW @ The Quiet Pond (Introduction + Review)
Fran @ The Ramblebee (List + Playlist)
Fadwa @ Word Wonders (Review + Aesthetic)
Sage @ sageshelves (Review + Discussion Post [Benefits of No Romantic Arc])
Kate @ Your Tita Kate (Review only)
Vinny @ Artsy Draft (Review + Lockscreen/Wallpapers)
Lili @ Utopia State of Mind (Review + Hand Lettering)
Noémie @ Tempest of Books (Review + Discussion [‘No Romance’])
Marie @ Drizzle and Hurricane Books (Review only)
Surina @ Book Reviews by the Bloggisters (Review + Author Interview)
Saoudia @ Recs From Ur Friend (Review + Quiz [Which Guardian Are You?])
Gretal @ Books and Breadcrumbs (Review + Discussion [No Romantic Arc])
Kate @ Reading Through Infinity (Review + Author Interview)
Vanessa @ The Wolf & Books (Review + Moodboard/Playlist)