Book Review: One Blood by Qwantu Amaru
By Qwantu Amaru
Reviewed by Rory Abel
Qwantu Amaru’s debut novel is an encouraging if uneven first effort that suggests an author with a strong future of pulpy thrillers to come. “One Blood” falls squarely into that category of books known as “airport novels.” It should wear this definition with pride, because while it’s meaty plotting and writing won’t win a Nobel prize in literature it will keep readers entertained and coming back to read the author’s successive works.
The story itself is a sprawling saga of multiple families at war with each other and themselves. The book starts off in the past with a death, that of Joseph Lafitte, and introduces two of the novels most important elements, Joseph’s son, Randy, and a voodoo curse, which ensures someone in the Lafitte family will die three days after one of them turns 18. Once Joseph is dead the story jumps forward 40 years to the present. There, Randy, now Governor of Louisiana, must face the results of years of despicable actions as a hurricane rushes towards his home state. The cast expands exponentially at this point, introducing character after character, each with intertwining and opposing motivations and objectives. There’s Lincoln Baker, the former basketball star, former gangbanger, current prisoner who murdered Randy’s son, Malcolm Wright, the imprisoned black radical who has made it his mission to kill Randy, Amir, his son and right-hand man out in the world, and Jhonnette is a wildcard who’s motivations don’t quite align with anyone else’s no matter what she claims. Then there’s also Snake, Randy’s own right-hand man, Coral, his depression ridden, perpetually medicated wife and Karen, his rebellious but loving daughter. Not to mention Kristopher, Randy’s dead son who still has a tendency of popping up in places anyway. Significant new characters are introduced with each chapter but are, luckily, never hard to keep track of. All of these characters, unknowingly already deeply intertwined with one another, are placed on their own courses that will inevitably lead to collisions with the others when Karen is kidnapped on her 18th birthday.
“One Blood” is a supernatural thriller that takes an unusual approach to its supernatural elements. They slip into the story in such a matter of fact way that they feel like just another tool in the characters’ arsenal of weapons, nothing more than another knife or gun. Many of the characters simply accept the supernatural and keep going, the action and violence so heavy that they have little time for shock and disbelief. Amaru constantly toying with whether or not the supernatural elements are even real compounds this. The familial curse stretching back centuries is book’s central supernatural element but its authenticity is constantly being called into question, leaving the reader on uneven footing, wondering if all the horror and violence is really the result of the curse or just people’s anger and own evil deeds.
But “One Blood” is not perfect. It is clearly Amaru’s first novel and his inexperience shows in places. The dialogue and prose can be unintentionally hammy or leaden in places. More significantly is the story’s tendency to randomly jump around through time. Flashbacks will even take place during flashbacks. This can lead to the story feeling scattered and fragmented at times. Worse, if you’re not paying close attention to the titles at the start of a chapter you can miss that the story has jumped through time once more, leading to confusion. Another determent to the story is that for most of the beginning there are no sympathetic characters for the reader to invest in. We’re asked to dedicated time and energy to reading about characters that are mostly eminently unlikable. Reading over the author’s notes at the end of the book I can understand why Amaru made such a decision but it leaves the reader floundering, pulled along only by the riptide of the plot and action rather than an investment in the characters and their fate. This obviously changes over the course of the book but it does make the beginning difficult to get through.
Ultimately, “One Blood” is rough around the edges but worth the time to read. It’s not horror by any stretch but it is a fun, meaty action thriller with a supernatural undercurrent.