Cover Image: Blood at the Root

Blood at the Root

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Member Reviews

This was one of those books where I was more into the premise than the book itself. I think part of that might be how the author captures a youth voice, though, and maybe it will resonate more why my students.

I’m back and forth on adding this book to my classroom library. If I taught high school, then it would absolutely be there. With the profanity and violence, I would probably recommend the book to individual students if it seemed right rather than leave the book out on the shelf. I agree with other reviews that this is not a “trauma free” book by many definitions.

I think readers who enjoyed Legendborn by Tracy Deonn might also enjoy reading this book and drawing comparisons. Along with the connection of Root magic itself, the college setting similarity makes it an even more interesting side-by-side. While Bree is one of few Black students at Chapel Hill, Malik is at an HBCU surrounded by Black Excellence.

There were many interesting characters and shades of grey. I did struggle with fully understanding the rules of the magic and who had what. Some of it seemed a little overly dramatic (though, again, that might be less distracting for a teen audience).

Overall, I’d give this book 3 stars.

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I LOVED this! Ate this right on up. A fantasy with a magical HBCU, yea this kept me thoroughly entertained. This book took you from the past to the present. It follows a traumatic situation that happened to Malik when he was a little boy that results in him being an orphan. When he gets older, he decides to start a new life with a brother he meet in a group home. This journey leads him to meet his biological family, getting admitted into this magical HBCU , and uncovering the truth to what really happened on the traumatic night that changed his life. This book was so unapologetically black. It was black boy joy, vulnerability, and coming of age. I just know the author gotta be working on the next installment and I hope for a speedy delivery on the next part because I need more!!! I need to know what happened to grandma Aya’s sibling, what was his mama’s reason for her decisions, who is Malik’s daddy, and I’d love to get to know more of Taye’s story. Thank you NetGalley and the author for this ARC!

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Urban fantasy in YA is some of my FAVORITE. With a fun magical system, captivating characters, and a pulse-pounding storyline of family secrets and hidden magical schools all catering to Black magical individuals, Blood at the Root was a breath of fresh air.

Malik is a foster kid with magical abilities he’s had since he was a child. When he learns of blood family looking to take him in, a whole world opens up for him. Grappling with the idea that he had this whole family that never cared to take him in when he truly needed it and finally having some real family to call his own, Malik is thrust into a world of possibilities, both with family and his magic.

At Caiman University, a Black magical college, Malik thinks he can finally find answers about what happened to his mother. Reuniting with old friends and making new ones along the way, we see Malik step into his own with magic. I thought this was so fantastically written. I can’t wait to read more from this author!

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"Blood at the Root" by LaDarrion Williams initially excited me with its intriguing premise of a magical HBCU setting and a focus on Malik, a young Black protagonist. The early description of Caiman University, promising magic reflective of the diaspora's diversity, had me hooked. However, the initial thrill was short-lived as the book failed to follow through into how the magic operates, leaving many scenes confusing due to a lack of detail.

The book relies heavily on dialogue to advance the plot, which while effective, made me miss the vivid descriptions that usually draw me into a fantasy world. It felt like reading a screenplay where visual details are assumed, but unfortunately, they were lacking here. Additionally, the dialogue's attempt to capture an authentic Black voice felt forced and somewhat unnatural to me. I can’t claim to be an expert on AAVE, but the way in which the characters spoke made them feel inauthentic and difficult to connect with. I have read other books by black authors that centered black characters that have done this in a more authentic way. I’ve seen other reviews that mention the ‘Tyler Perry’ of it all and for me that perfectly sums it up.

Though marketing pitched this as a celebration of magical Black boy joy, the story predominantly featured trauma. Not just for our main character Malik, past and present- but other characters as well. While addressing serious issues is vital, I had hoped for a more uplifting read based on how this book was marketed.

Overall, while "Blood at the Root" offers some highlights with its unique setting and storyline, it requires a rewrite to fully realize its potential. If you're considering this book based on the marketing, manage your expectations and see what you think for yourself.

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The cover ✅
The synopsis ✅
The habitual 'be' and AAVE ✅

A good debut novel!

There were moments where the pacing felt a bit slow and the plot could have been more tightly focused.

I would have liked to see more depth in the exploration of the magical university and the different covens within it.

#BATR is a promising start to what I'm sure will be a captivating series. I look forward to seeing where Malik's journey takes him next and how he continues to uncover the secrets of his past.

If you're looking for a fresh and diverse fantasy read, I highly recommend giving this book a try.

I pre-ordered it, audio too. So I'm anxious to see how the VA bring the protagonist to life.


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I was looking forward to this after seeing it on TikTok. I enjoyed the characters and thought the setting of the book was well done. The magic system didn’t always make sense to me and didn’t feel like there were any left and right boundaries on it. This can lead to some issues, but I am excited to see where the story goes in the next one.

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Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC!

This is a DNF for me ONLY because I am learning that my tastes are changing and I’m not much for urban fantasy.

The writing seems solid, the plot caught my interest - I just don’t love the “I’m a normal kid except magical powers!” Thing anymore, and I think that’s okay.

I do think book will be amazing for a lot of people - I’m just becoming much pickier about my urban fantasy and this one didn’t scratch the itch for me. But I’m going to add it to my “try again later” list!

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Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Children's for the advance electronic copy of this title in exchange for an honest review.

Malik has magic--he has known this for a while, but he has never really learned how to use it. When he is forced to grab his brother and flee, he suddenly finds a world that he never knew existed, including a grandmother who is famous in the magical world, a college of magic, and evidence that his mother may still be alive. As he is welcomed into this new world, he and his brother find new family and friends, but will Malik be able to figure out who the good guys are in time to keep them safe?

A very cool book! I am definitely not the intended audience, and I didn't understand all of the language, but I'm curious to see where the story will go next. Also, the acknowledgements indicate that it may be intended for the screen--will be watching for it!

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I truly wanted to like this book. I was excited for an own voices book about a POC. And for it to be fantasy, which is one of my favorite genres. I love dark academia, as well. Unfortunately, it just did not settle well with me. I felt the language was forced more than authentic. Like it was being used because it had to be used to make a point, rather than used because that is truly how the characters spoke. I felt the book was hitting on all the stereotypes people want to get away from. The world building wasn't there at all; super important when you're writing fantasy. I feel like the author didn't do his research at all when it came to magical systems and how they might be perceived or used in a modern world. And, the elements that were used were almost directly from Harry Potter. It was unoriginal. The characters were poorly developed, as well. I had zero connection to them. I could not find empathy for them. And, most of all, it felt like it was being written by a white person who was trying their hardest to write as a Black person. What a shame as this book, having been done right, could have really been special for young Black boys and for those wanting to learn more about POC. Finally, this book could have gone through a lot more editing. I feel if it had, the above surely would have been realized and changes could have been made to make it feel more genuine. I see it slated to be a trilogy and I hope the publisher and author can see the constructive criticism in the reviews that are posted and use them to their advantage.
Thank you to NetGalley and Penguin RandomHouse for providing me with a copy of this book to read and give my honest review.

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I applaud this book 👏🏿👏🏿 I have never read a story like this before from a male perspective and I loved every minute of Malik’s journey to discovering his true potential and finally healing from that hurt that happened 7 years ago. I can’t wait for more of this story.

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Marketing this as “trauma-free” is not only inaccurate, it’s harmful. The prologue begins with Malik seeing his mother seemingly murdered in their home. Once he arrives at Caiman, he learns about a slew of kidnappings of Black girls, which leads to a disturbing flashback scene of one girl’s capture, assault, and subsequent murder. This might be a story where Black boys “just get to be the hero for once”, but for Black girls and women, it’s gruesome.

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One fateful night changed the course of Malik Baron’s life, when magic became the dividing force between Malik and his mother. Ever since he was seven years old, Malik has been shuffled from one foster home to another, trying his best to make it in the world without any family to guide him. Now that Malik is seventeen, he is prepared to find a better life with his foster brother Taye. What he does not expect is to discover a grandmother he never knew he had and the chance to attend a college for people with magic just like his. Despite his initial reluctance, Malik agrees to attend Caiman Univesity, because it is perhaps the only place that will have all the answers he seeks.

This contemporary fiction novel takes readers on a journey through the childhood of a boy who had to survive in a world that never truly made sense. Instead of being exciting, Malik’s magic is frightening and ultimately distances him from most of the people he encounters. However, attending a college with thousands of other students with similar abilities helps Malik to process some of the trauma of his childhood and feel as though he is a part of something larger than himself. While the writing and development of the story are not the strongest, the premise of the novel is engaging enough for readers to continue through to the end.

Because the narrative is told in the first person from Malik’s perspective, readers are only able to experience the world through his eyes and voice. Malik has a clear and memorable speaking style that has a strong Southern cadence and rhythm. Additionally, it is filled with frequent slang and profanity, which may not suit all readers. Though the vocabulary can be jarring at times, its incorporation makes Malik feel like a real person and not just a character in a book. Poised for a sequel, this novel is a good fit for readers who enjoy African magic, language, and culture, especially within the context of a boy who was largely ignored by society for much of his youth. It is a unique addition to library collections for mature readers.

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This was such a fantastic first book in the series, and I cannot believe I must wait for the next one. Characters you will easily root for, exciting twists and turns, and fun story/world-building!

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I found this world to be fresh and utterly thrilling and so different from what I'm used to seeing in the best way. The shocks at the end held my attention and I am excited to dive into book two!

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Did not end up finishing, but what I read was strong, just sadly not my favorite. The world building was solid, and the author has a strong voice that really shines. My issues lie in the pacing; I read 40% and felt that the plot lacked a strong narrative line to move it forward. There were hints at where we were going, but the characters were not strong enough to lead this as a character study. I could see myself enjoying this physically or as an audiobook, and would attempt again later. I still will recommend this to patrons, because I appreciate the work and goal of the author, and hope it finds its way to readers who need it.

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Did not finish this book. I could not buy into the magic and characters--it may be a good choice for some but not for our library.

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Thanks to NetGalley and Random House Children's for the early copy in exchange for an honest review.

A very fun, fast-paced magical story set in a Black college separated from the non-magical world. Malik is a hothead with lots of love for his brother, Taye, and will protect him at all costs.

Admittedly, it got a bit confusing to me toward the end with the plot twists every 5 seconds like a soap opera, but I can understand why since publishers are reluctant to give series a chance to grow anymore and demand everything to be condensed in 1 book. I wish this book was spread out across 4 books--there was certainly enough content in it for that much.

Unlike some reviewers, I did enjoy the pop culture references, Everyone has their preferences, though.

Still, an enjoyable read and a much-needed addition to the slowly growing Black magic book collection!

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This is a book takes place in a magic university (not high school!) for Black students and faculty. That said, the two weakest points in the story, for me, were the magic system and the school setting. As far as magic goes, there appear to be no rules. Most of the magic seems to consist of flipping cars over or using the powers of your mind to break someone else's bones and twist them up like a pretzel. But anybody could do it: first-years, seniors, teachers. Main character Malik can call down a storm, his uncle has death magic, and his grandmother can turn shadows into fierce animals that attack at her command, but everybody else does the same things: flip cars, choke people from a distance, break bones with their minds, and just shoot magical energy at each other. I don't know that I've seen a magical system so underdeveloped. I guess the sky was the limit, but it was just chaos to me.

There were some things about the school that were really well done. My favorite part is when the main character steals something from a special collection at the library, which has special wards in place. The dorms are described in great detail. I feel like I have actually sat in the chancellor's office. The students all share an app, which wasn't a thing back when I was in college but probably actually is now, and that's a good idea for sharing news. But other than that, I believe we only attend two classes with Malik, when he is brand new at the school and doesn't know anything about anything. I feel like the reader missed out on a lot of the college experience that we could have been shown. There are some "magic duels" on campus but again, the magic system is so random, it was just people throwing magic energy at each other and I wasn't really invested in the outcomes of those battles. At least when the bad guys attacked, they flung cars. lol

Okay, those are my only real complaints. As for the rest, the plot of this book was really cool! There were a lot of twists at the end I didn't see coming. (And one that was a little too obvious, but it's fine. You still feel the impact.) It was complex without being convoluted.

Main character Malik rescues his adopted brother Taye from abusive foster parents using his powers, then they go on the run. Their escape plan is complicated when Taye has a diabetic episode, having forgotten his medication at the foster home, then a stranger appears (favorite character alert!!!) to show Malik that he has the power to heal, not just harm. And he guides the boys on their journey to Malik's long-lost grandmother and the secret college for conjurers.

Malik has plenty of challenges ahead of him. He's met family he didn't know he had, navigating a new school, trying to figure out if his childhood crush still feels the same. There's a faction of evil spellcasters kidnapping and killing students from the university, and he's finding out more about the mother he never knew than bargained for.

There are a lot of characters in this book and they're very entertaining. Uncle Samedi is my favorite. To me he was just so unique and interesting. He's more of a necromancer than the general run-of-the-mill mages in the book. He didn't seem quite human. I liked the students and faculty at the school a lot. They gave the book some flavor and sometimes even comic relief. I felt like there was a good balance of queer content, too. And it keeps you guessing the way some characters seem to walk a fine line between "good guy" and "bad guy," like the school chancellor, another of my faves.

I'd be glad to read more in this series, but hope some of the kinks will be worked out in the future.

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4.5 stars
I was super interested in this after the authors video about the book came up on my FYP. This was such a cool, interesting read. I can’t wait for it to come out so I can talk to customers about it!

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Thank you to NetGalley, the publisher and author for this book.

The book was very deep. I enjoyed the storyline, character and plot. The book was often hard to follow due to the language and at times disturbing.

It is nor a book I would recommend for younger teens. Perhaps older more mature teens and adults.

Four stars for me with content warning.

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