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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!