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We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing book club running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Romance”, in which we each picked a book that is a romance, or has elements that fit romance tropes to a T. For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!
Book: “From Blood and Ash” by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Publishing Info: Blue Box Press, March 2020
Where Did We Get This Book: The library!
Romance Trope: Secret Identities
Book Description: A Maiden…
Chosen from birth to usher in a new era, Poppy’s life has never been her own. The life of the Maiden is solitary. Never to be touched. Never to be looked upon. Never to be spoken to. Never to experience pleasure. Waiting for the day of her Ascension, she would rather be with the guards, fighting back the evil that took her family, than preparing to be found worthy by the gods. But the choice has never been hers.
The entire kingdom’s future rests on Poppy’s shoulders, something she’s not even quite sure she wants for herself. Because a Maiden has a heart. And a soul. And longing. And when Hawke, a golden-eyed guard honor bound to ensure her Ascension, enters her life, destiny and duty become tangled with desire and need. He incites her anger, makes her question everything she believes in, and tempts her with the forbidden.
Forsaken by the gods and feared by mortals, a fallen kingdom is rising once more, determined to take back what they believe is theirs through violence and vengeance. And as the shadow of those cursed draws closer, the line between what is forbidden and what is right becomes blurred. Poppy is not only on the verge of losing her heart and being found unworthy by the gods, but also her life when every blood-soaked thread that holds her world together begins to unravel.
Okay guys, I’m about to blow your mind. I actually enjoyed this fantasy novel. WHAT? I know! I always go on about how fantasy is a really hard genre for me, and admittedly when Serena picked this for book club I groaned. It was long. It was fantasy. It sounded silly. But shut me up, I ended up enjoying “From Blood and Ash”, so thank you, Serena! I will happily eat crow!
I mean, yes, it has kind of a slow start, and yes, it has a lot going on. Probably too much. But I found myself enjoying this book, for a couple of reasons. One, I enjoyed Poppy, our main character. I liked the backstory that was given to her, I thought that her personality was well formed and pushed back against what we can sometimes see with the kind of role she is playing, and I liked that she actually had agency as well as reasons for her various abilities. I also liked a number of the side characters, like Poppy’s friend Tawny, her lady in wait, or her guard Vikter. I felt that Armentrout did her due diligence to give them some personality as opposed to just be players to prop Poppy up. And in terms of the vampire mythology that Armentrout wove in, it wasn’t anything super new, but it was fun enough, and creatively placed into a fantasy dystopia setting.
I am at the very least going to try the next book in the series. I can’t guarantee that I will commit to the entire series, as it’s long and fantasy and I are tenuous. But “From Blood and Ash” was fun.
I didn’t realize just how long this book was when I selected it for bookclub! Sorry Kate! I picked it because it was the top rated fantasy romance on Goodreads at one point, and while yes, the premise sounded kind of silly, I thought that all of those high ratings had to be based on something.
Like Kate said, this book definitely has a slow start. There’s a ton of world-building that gets laid out in this story, and as it’s told in first person, much of that world-building is simply given to us by Poppy herself. Usually this would be a pretty negative thing for me, but I think it speaks to the strengths of Poppy’s character that she was so solid and entertaining that I didn’t even mind the way much of this information was delivered. Given how long this book is, Poppy’s compelling inner thoughts and character work are integral in keeping the pace of the story going. The dialogue was also excellent and had me laughing out loud at times.
I completely agree with Kate about the side characters, so I won’t repeat what she said about them. I’ll also definitely second what she said about Poppy defying typical romance heroine conventions at times. She was given enough back story to explain her motivations for learning and doing what she does. And the author gave us early opportunities to put these aspects of Poppy’s character to the test and let us see her in action. There were also a few decisions she made towards the end of the book that were incredibly satisfying and definitely not the sort you typically see from romance heroines in this type of situation.
I’ll also say that I really enjoyed the romance. Hawke was a very swoony hero and, again, defied many of my expectations at different times. There were some fairly predictable twists that came along with him, but I was happy enough with the way the story played out to not be overly concerned that I could guess where it was headed before it got there. I also really liked the twists the author brought to the fantasy aspects of the story. Again, unlike Poppy, the reader will be able to pick up on a few of them right off the bat. But there were additional levels, so to speak, to these traditional fantasy beings that were revealed as the story continued. I will say that with all of this world-building and mythology, the book could definitely have used a map to at least relieve some of the mental burden on the reader trying to keep track of this all!
Kate’s Rating 7 : It had a bit of a slow start and had a LOT going on, but I ended up enjoying this romantic fantasy!
Serena’s Rating 8: Maybe a bit generous as a rating for half one, but we’ll round up with the more satisfying aspects of half two.
Book Club Questions
- This book’s romantic trope was “secret identities.” Did you like the way this was incorporated into the book? How did you feel about the reactions of both parties when the secret identities were revealed?
- How did you feel about Poppy and Hawke as the romantic heroine/hero? In what ways did they conform to stereotypes? In what ways did they break them?
- There was a lot of world-building and fantasy building in this book. Were you able to fully picture this world and society? Did you have any questions about place or people?
- The author plays with some staple fantasy characters such as vampires, zombies, and werewolves. Did you like her interpretations of these mythical beings?
- Would you read the other books in the series?
Next Book Club Book: “Project Duchess” by Sabrina Jeffries