Browsed by
Month: February 2019

Review: Bloodleaf by Crystal Smith

Review: Bloodleaf by Crystal Smith

‘Princess Aurelia is a prisoner to her crown and the heir that nobody wants. Surrounded by spirits and banned from using her blood-magic, Aurelia flees her country after a devastating assassination attempt. To escape her fate, Aurelia disguises herself as a commoner in a new land and discovers a happiness her crown has never allowed. As she forges new bonds and perfects her magic, she begins to fall for a man who is forbidden to rule beside her. But the ghosts that haunt Aurelia refuse to abandon her, and she finds herself succumbing to their call as they expose a nefarious plot that only she can defeat. Will she be forced to choose between the weight of the crown and the freedom of her new life?’

At this point, I don’t need to say again that I love retellings of fairytales, myths and legends, but I will do this in stating so, because Bloodleaf falls into the category of a retelling, if a loose one, and is a book that I enjoyed from start to finish. I read a lot of YA novels, particularly fantasy, and no matter how fantastic a great deal of them are, there are undeniably similar and predictable plot twists to a lot of them, and I’m happy to say that I honestly didn’t see the main twists of Bloodleaf before they leapt up from the page. I won’t go into any more detail than that, as I don’t want to ruin them for anyone else, yet I will say that the novel is particularly well-paced and structured, some plot threads unravelling slowly while others continue apace.

Bloodleaf is a novel that is steeped in the darker elements of storytelling without being a dark and depressing read (though I feel that I should warn that there is a scene that involves attempted rape that forms perhaps the most uncomfortable pages of the book, at least in my reading of it). It does not shy away from death, which actually forms one of the core components of the story, since Aurelia has been seeing spirits/ghosts all of her life,¬† her response to them something that only fuels her people’s belief that she is a witch and must be destroyed. I loved the use of the spirits left behind as ways for Aurelia and the reader to see the past (and the future) and explore the many meanings and impact of sacrifice and loss. The Harbinger is a character employed well in terms of both plot development and structure, and if there are to be more novels in this series, I hope that she’s seen again in whatever form she may take. Though the story seems self-encapsulated and stands on its own, I’ve heard that it might also be the beginning of a trilogy.

The magic system was one that I found a little confusing to begin with, as, though blood magic and blood mages were mentioned, the specifics of how it works were left unclear. This may well be owing to the fact that Aurelia herself isn’t exactly sure how to embrace her powers or make them consistently work, leaving the reader to discover how it all works along with her. In this sense, that there are no vast passages of exposition to inform¬† readers of how the magic functions is in-fact a positive, what initial confusion might be had preferable to an info-dump at the novel’s beginning. Some of the mechanics of Bloodleaf itself, a plant that requires sacrifice to reach its full potential, reminded me of the Witchblood plant from the Black Jewels series that has similar ties to its roots in death and is one of the magical elements that I’ve always found the most intriguing, and I found the history of Bloodleaf and its uses just as fascinating here.

Admittedly, I’m not often a huge fan of the romances found in YA novels, as they seem to inevitably involve a young woman having her agency taken away from her by a male character, whether in ways she’s made to ‘change’ or because she spends the narrative pining for him. However, I did enjoy the romantic elements of Bloodleaf, mostly because, though Zan might initially ‘rescue’ Aurelia, it is in-fact the reverse for much of the story. Zan is not painted to be the brilliant and infallible male lead, and though sometimes snarky, he isn’t cocky and doesn’t demean Aurelia to get her to bend to his will. What arguments happen between them are not the ‘battle of wits’ that is seen so often in YA literature, but often of a teasing and genuinely humorous nature that make him endearing early on in the novel. More male characters like Zan, please.

Bloodleaf hits the shelves in March!

Review: The Storm Crow by Kalyn Josephson

Review: The Storm Crow by Kalyn Josephson

‘In the tropical kingdom of Rhodaire, magical, elemental Crows are part of every aspect of life…until the Illucian empire invades, destroying everything.

That terrible night has thrown Princess Anthia into a deep depression. Her sister Caliza is busy running the kingdom after their mother’s death, but all Thia can do is think of all she has lost.

But when Caliza is forced to agree to a marriage between Thia and the crown prince of Illucia, Thia is finally spurred into action. And after stumbling upon a hidden Crow egg in the rubble of a rookery, she and her sister devise a dangerous plan to hatch the egg in secret and get back what was taken from them.’

The following review contains vague spoilers.

First of all, I want to say that there was a huge amount about The Storm Crow that I liked, such as the concept of the crows themselves and their different abilities and their bonds with their riders (reminiscent of the Dragonriders of Pern series). I also loved what the reader gets to see of culture in Rhodaire before the kingdom is attacked and I hope that we one day get to see more of it. There are lots of different elements of the narrative that should be applauded, such as Anthia’s battle with depression, the LGBT representation and the female friendships, and while I genuinely enjoyed reading The Storm Crow and look forward to the next instalment, there were unfortunately some aspects of it that kept jarring me from the story.

I think the main issues I had with the storyline were with Ericen and Caylus. The former keeps insisting that he isn’t as bad as Anthia assumes him to be, to the extent that this happens in almost every conversation they have after their initial meeting, and whether or not this is actually true, given his history, I would much rather have been shown this in some other way than through him actually saying it. As regards the latter, that he becomes one of Anthia’s romantic interests seems to appear out of nowhere, especially given that she hardly knows anything about him – certainly less than Ericen – beside what he tells her of his work and other purposes. Perhaps Anthia is looking to form connections where she can, especially taking into account her situation in a new land as she reaches more and more of an understanding of just what Caliza has been forced to tie her to, but it felt as if there were more pressing things for her to worry about and that what Caylus aids her with would have worked just as well without any romantic element.

This said, I love the women in this novel and I hope that we get to see more of them in the next book. I would be thrilled to learn more about Kiva’s background and see more of how Caliza is handling her role as queen, particularly as she has been through the same as Anthia (if not worse) and has the added burden of having to rule, not to mention having to go against her sister’s wishes in agreeing to marry her off to protect the kingdom. The relationship between Kiva and Anthia is another of the novel’s strengths, their scenes being some of those that I enjoyed the most, and I hope that it continues to feature strongly in the next book.

There’s a lot I’d like to say about Razel in terms of her portrayal as the villain and her treatment of her son, but I feel that I can’t do this just yet without giving away too many spoilers, so I’ll endeavour to edit after the book has been released and keep myself to mentioning the detail that stuck with me the most: her weapons. That she chooses to use the traditional weapons of a people she has conquered and subsequently subjugated as a message to all those she rules over was quite enough to make me despise her, and the facet of her portrayal that I believe is the most effective in presenting her as evil. There are other elements of her that the reader learns about that did occasionally make me doubt as to whether we have the full story, but it was the blades that my mind always came back to whenever considering whether she might be at all redeemable somewhere down the line.

All in all, The Storm Crow is a fun and enjoyable read with some pieces of the story that perhaps could have been expanded upon. I hear it is to be a duology, though I would have happily read a trilogy to see more of the cultures of different locations and hear more of Caliza’s efforts to lead Rhodaire. I read through it in a couple of sittings, quite happily engaged with the story and invested in the majority of its characters. The Storm Crow arrives in July 2019!

(I received an ARC of The Storm Crow in the December 2018 FairyLoot box.)