Serena’s Review: “Belladonna”

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Book: “Belladonna” by Adalyn Grace

Publishing Info: Little Brown for Young Readers, August 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from ALA convention!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: Orphaned as a baby, nineteen-year-old Signa has been raised by a string of guardians, each more interested in her wealth than her well-being—and each has met an untimely end. Her remaining relatives are the elusive Hawthornes, an eccentric family living at Thorn Grove, an estate both glittering and gloomy. Its patriarch mourns his late wife through wild parties, while his son grapples for control of the family’s waning reputation and his daughter suffers from a mysterious illness. But when their mother’s restless spirit appears claiming she was poisoned, Signa realizes that the family she depends on could be in grave danger and enlists the help of a surly stable boy to hunt down the killer.
However, Signa’s best chance of uncovering the murderer is an alliance with Death himself, a fascinating, dangerous shadow who has never been far from her side. Though he’s made her life a living hell, Death shows Signa that their growing connection may be more powerful—and more irresistible—than she ever dared imagine.

Review: Here’s another case of me almost missing out on another great title because I didn’t like the cover. In this instance, there’s something striking of the worst 90s romance novels and the worst YA knock-offs in this cover. On top of being put off by the cover art, I also haven’t gotten around to the author’s first duology; sadly the first book has been languishing on my TBR list for a few years now. But, I will say, after reading this book, that book has made a rapid climb to near the top! Let’s dive in.

Death has followed Signa for most of her life, with one guardian after another keeling over from various causes. But while near, Death cannot touch her. Instead, deadly poisons are swiftly recovered from, wounds heal quickly, and Signa moves on with her somewhat miserable life. But when her most recent guardian dies, some new, wealthy relatives come out of the woodwork. Now living a life she could only have dreamed of before, Signa lives in constant fear that Death will come for this family as well. And when one of the daughters falls ill, Signa is determined to do everything in her power to save her. Even if that means teaming up with Death himself.

This was another one of those books where I knew within the first few pages that I was really going to enjoy it. The writing immediately clicked with me, combining a fairytale-like fantasy story with a humorous and relatable leading lady. As the story continued, I was having such a blast reading it that I began to almost want to slow down my reading experience just to draw it out. That’s how you really know it’s good! In a lot of way, the general style of storytelling very much reminded me of Margaret Rogerson’s work. They both writes stories that have a fairytale feel but that aren’t derived directly from a fairytale itself. Both authors also have excellent leading ladies who are as funny as they are adventurous. And, of course, there are lovely romances at the heart of these stories that check all of my personal preference boxes.

Speaking of the romance, here is another example of a love triangle that really worked for me. I can’t go into any of the details of said love triangle, as that would spoil parts of the book. But I can say that both relationships felt believable and relatable. Signa’s feelings developed in a way that was natural and, as things came to a head, there was no prolonged drama on the “who will she choose” front, one of my biggest annoyances with this type of romance plotline. I also liked all three characters involved in the romance, too. As I’ve mentioned above, Signa is an all around great leading lady. But I really enjoyed Death and Sylas as well. Death, in particular, was an interesting character as he was speaking to a new experience in a millennia of sameness. Through his eyes, we also delved into the different ways that people think of and experience death and the afterlife.

I also really liked the mystery and fantasy elements in the story. What could have started out as a very simple “power,” the ability to live through deadly events, instead branched out into new and interesting avenues. These plot lines not only opened up new doors into what Signa’s abilities signify about herself, but also forcer her to grapple with truly understanding herself and adjusting the life she has imagined of herself. For its part, the mystery also took up a significant portion of the story. While I found a few of these elements to be a bit predictable, there were others that legitimately took me by surprise. For one thing, the story definitely didn’t shy away from some of the creepy imagery that would come with an ability like Signa’s to see and interact with ghosts. There are some very “Sixth Sense” vibes, but in all of the best ways.

This book was such a great surprise! Even more than picking up books by tried and true favorite authors, it’s simply the best to open a book with zero expectations and find yourself on an amazing ride. This book is definitely of the kind of “beach read” fantasy that is light-hearted, fun, and sure to appeal to fantasy readers who are simply looking to kick back their heels and be swept along.

Rating 9: Sweetly romantic, adventurous, and even creepy at times, this book has it all!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Belladonna” isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but it should be on Fairytale Fantasy Books.

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