Petals of Blood caused a stronger critical reaction than Ngugi's previous novels. The use of the past and historical memory is far more widespread in the novel due largely to the use of flashbacks, and questions relating to the past "from the central concerns" of the novel. The strong political motif that runs throughout the novel has also been discussed, focusing on the relation of political ideas to the Petals of Blood's wider framework: Ngugi was lauded for his "successful marriage" of political content and artistic form. During the 1980s the novel was adapted by Mary Benson into a two hour long radio play starring Joe Marcel by BBC Radio 3.
Ngugi was criticised however for his stylistic form in Petals of Blood. It was suggested that the social realism of the novel did not accurately represent or complement the socialist ideals put forth. John Updike suggested that Ngugi's desire to permeate the plot with political ideas detracts from his writing. The novel's plot was also deemed to be "rambling" as well as being too short, or too much curtailed.