Bi Book Club: The Black Veins
March 22, 2023
Photo credit: Pexels/Pixabay
Growing up in a predominately queer and totally nerdy friendship group, I found it frustrating how few media representations of teenagers reflected our experiences. In my friend group, there were no dramatic romances or break-ups, and we never attended house parties with hundreds of people. All we were concerned with was getting cheap McDonald's after school and crashing into someone's parents living room to play Just Dance on the Wii.
No film, television show, or book seemed to come close to capturing what it was like to be a group of teenagers like us just ... hanging out. Then I discovered The Black Veins by Ashia Monet.
It’s the young adult urban fantasy road trip of your dreams; a raucous romp of perfectly flawed and utterly loveable characters who will have you grinning so hard your jaw hurts whilst they’re hightailing it across the states to save their families ... I mean, come on, that’s perfection right there!
Their totally convincing teenage antics rang so true to my own experiences that I almost felt I had to question whether I had been on this madcap adventure myself! So, what is The Black Veins actually about?
Ether. Death. TIme. Nature. Animals. The Body. The Mind.
Grab the gang and hit the gas.
16-year-old Blythe is one of seven powerful magicians known as "The Guardians", each more than capable of causing apocalypse-level chaos and destruction with just a clap of their hands. But, instead of training and honing her powers, Blythe prefers spending time at her family’s coffee shop or catching up with her best friend, Jamie. That is, until a group of anarchist magicians crashes into the coffee shop, kidnapping her family and almost killing Jamie in the process. Terrified for her family’s safety, Blythe sets out in her parent’s sunshine yellow Volkswagen campervan to find her fellow Guardians and corral them into helping save her family, and with them, the world.
There aren’t enough words to describe just how fun The Black Veins is. Monet perfectly balances tense, emotional moments that the characters face in their journey with some absolutely golden comedic timing. Each has their own complex background, very different feelings about their burgeoning Guardianship, and how they feel about each other. Over the course of 500 pages, we're given a greater understanding of their motivations, biggest fears, and wildest dreams. From the literal ray of sunlight that is Antonio to the roller-skating vigilante Storm, every single one of them leaps from the page with vibrant conviction.
But you’re here for the bi rep, right? Well, you’ll be delighted to know there isn’t just one bi character ... But two!
Blythe, our protagonist, is the Guardian of the Ether. She scores a triple "B" by being a black, bi barista, and one of the best main characters I’ve read in the longest time, perhaps ever. In a cast of characters this strong, it takes one as unique as Blythe to stand out among the rest. Her resilience, humor, and compassion are unmatched. Then, of course, who could forget Jay? Still very much a central character, and also bi. Jay is the Guardian of the Body, and as a dedicated athlete, he’s certainly doing an excellent job at representing his cause. At first glance, Jay is just a flirt, who some might say is a "fuckboy" even, but at his core, he has a heart of pure gold and a true love for his friends and family.
Perhaps this is a little controversial of me, but one of my favorite things about The Black Veins (and what I feel sets it apart from the crowd of other young adult fantasy novels) is that it contains little to no romance. Without so much as a butterflied stomach or a lingering look, it is still a distinctly queer story. Each character is openly comfortable with their sexuality, unafraid to share experiences and ideas of love and romance whilst not involving themselves in all the overused tropes of love triangles and fake dating. They’re just friends. They're a found family in the most platonic sense, so much like my own teenage friendships that they are utterly convincing on page.
It was also incredibly moving to watch time and time again as Blythe makes difficult, heartbreaking decisions that prove the love you have for your family (given or chosen) really is unconditional. In the face of some of her biggest fears, she never backs down or turns away where fighting for her loved ones is concerned.
Somehow, through some weird twist of fate, these people have not deserted her. She has shown them the worst sides of herself, and yet here they stand, refusing to abandon her.
If there’s a downside to The Black Veins, it’s that it doesn’t have the most original plot. The magic system isn’t the strongest, varying in its consistency from scene to scene and creating minor plot holes. Admittedly, I struggled to understand the political dynamics of the book as well.
Explanations of the Black Veins (the "traditional" government) and the Trident Republic (the "new" rebellious government) were lost on me, and I frequently found myself flipping back through the pages to remind myself which was which. The two warring governments create problems for the gang, though this concept felt underexplored and interchangeable.
The Black Veins is a slow-burner in the beginning and it takes a good few chapters to get the show on the road - literally. However, after the action really ramps up and you find yourself so entertained by the chaotic antics of the Guardian gang it doesn't even matter. Seriously, just a scene of these guys cooking dinner or doing laundry would be entertaining enough to keep me hooked!
Overall, The Black Veins is a perfect read for anyone who likes an (almost) all-queer cast, found family, and fierce friendships. It’s hilarious and heartbreaking, and despite its flaws, still feels like a well-rounded and engaging story of what it means to find your own power.
I highly recommend finding a copy and losing yourself in all it has to offer.