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Because It Is My Blood

Because It Is My Blood - Gabrielle Zevin Because It Is My Blood takes its name from a twist on a line from the Stephen Crane poem, In The Desert, which is also the epigraph to the novel.In the desertI saw a creature, naked, bestial,Who, squatting upon the ground,Held his heart in his hands,And ate of it.I said, "Is it good, friend?""It is bitter-bitter," he answered;"But I like it"Because it is bitter,"And because it is my heart."It's an almost perfect fit for the second book in Gabrielle Zevin's birthright trilogy, although the full extent of its application only becomes clear at the close of the novel. It also happens to be one of my favourite poems, and piqued my interest in picking up Anya's story again.This is going to sound like a backhanded clunker of a compliment, but nevertheless, I feel that I enjoy this series in spite of myself. I think what I mean by that is that there are several things that, theoretically, I shouldn't like. But Zevin makes them work, and I do. I like this series a lot.Because It Is My Blood deals essentially with Anya's birthright and what this means for her in practical terms. Accepting that she is not just a daughter of chocolate, she is chocolate. It's about Anya's surrender to what is (or she believes is) her true nature, and much of the conflict in this story extends from the internal arguments she wages with herself, attempting to reconcile her opposing notions of family loyalty and staying on the straight and narrow. Anya's growing understanding of what's behind chocolate, its illegality, its production, and the role it has played within her family contributes to the eventual decision she makes, and the consequences she will reap. Perhaps the largest criticism levelled against All These Things I've Done was the world Zevin presented: a decaying and beleaguered New York in which caffeine and chocolate are illegal. Cue eye roll. Discriminating readers are exacting when it comes to dystopian or futuristic worldbuilding and rightfully so. I also like to consider myself among their numbers. I need to believe the world in order to feel invested in the story. But for me, this series was never about the logic of outlawing chocolate. Because I believe that here Zevin is presenting illegal chocolate as more of a symbol than a strict possibility. In this sense, chocolate or cacao may be representative of both the current and future possibility of banning or regulating substances, with exception for certain medicinal uses. Are you seeing what I see? We're on the same page? Ok, good.To be fair, this idea is examined in greater depth in Because It Is My Blood than in All These Things I've Done, and I think it becomes much clearer in the second book that there is another layer of interpretation that can be applied to the text. It's revealed that the reasons behind the ban are actually economic and political, as opposed to the health claims presented to the public. BUT THIS IS IRRELEVANT TO ME BECAUSE POLITICIANS DON'T LIE. Also, no government has engaged in a little fear mongering to their own ends.Right?*crickets*My point is, I believe that the most rewarding reading of Zevin's series lies in an analysis of how Anya's world parallels our own, or our possible future. This idea of propagating misinformation to manipulate public opinion is not new, nor is the fact that prohibition of substance use will be always challenged. I think there's much to be gained from considering Anya's world from a current standpoint, and what it says about control and influence of power.This is a firmly character driven series. While there is some action that provides the plot with momentum, and necessitates some machete wielding, the focus is strongly on Anya's development. Though she makes mistakes and is occasionally blinded to the real danger by her own fierce protective instincts and family loyalty, Anya is a character with agency. She isn't buffeted through the story by romantic drama, though there is a romantic thread to the plot. She isn't a victim, though she's the target of injustice. The story develops because Anya does. Because she is forced to adapt, scrutinise, fight and make decisions. Above all, she is compelled to question herself - her future, her faith and her very nature. Is Anya a “good Catholic girl” on the straight-and-narrow and distanced from the Family, or is she a criminal-record-holding future figurehead of organised crime? Or something else entirely?Because It Is My Blood develops existing minor cast members, and introduces several new characters - most notably the Marquez family, with whom Anya takes refuge when circumstances necessitate her flight her from New York. Through this development, Anya's connection to chocolate is cultivated beyond it being merely the commodity her family deals in. It becomes part of her. I thought this was an interesting direction for the story to take. While All These Things I’ve Done reads largely like a mafia/crime drama, Because It Is My Blood is focused more on the ramifications of Anya’s choices, and her full acknowledgement of her heritage. The theme of family is prevalent once again, and all of the main relationships undergo change. There’s very much a sense of unease in the novel, an uncertainty as to whom Anya can trust and where her allegiance should lie, that keeps the story tense and compelling. Because It Is My Blood maintains the direct, confessional style of narration, with Anya occasionally speaking directly to the reader in pointed asides. This appears to be a hit or miss approach with readers, but I find that I enjoy it a lot. Despite the confiding tone of Anya’s commentary, there’s also a definite sense that she keeps some distance, that she reveals and withholds information as she sees fit. In this sense, she’s an interesting narrator – apparently open, yet at times not strictly unreliable. I think this is a strong book in what is proving to be an intriguing series – and I think that fans of All These Things I’ve Done will find much to enjoy and contemplate in the sequel. As for the eventual denouement - Zevin has stated that the three titles of the books will amount to a synopsis for the trilogy:All these things I’ve done because it is my blood …I really need to know how that sentence is going to end.