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. (Goodreads)
Okay. I don’t even know where to start with this one. While this wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read, I unfortunately did not match well with it. If you haven’t read this book and you don’t want to be spoiled (I will be talking about major plot points), stop reading this review and just know I didn’t like it for bad writing, poor worldbuilding, and toxic behaviour I couldn’t get behind.
I picked this book up because literally everyone was recommending it, and while I respect that some people absolutely loved this book and I can step back from my disappointment of it to understand why, it just did not hit the mark for me. Maybe I’m too critical, I don’t know. Or the hype was so big that my expectations set a high bar. Nonetheless, I had many problems with From Blood and Ash.
Let’s start with the worldbuilding, shall we? I annotated this book, which is something I don’t usually do. I used blue to signify what I called ‘what on earth is going on here?’ and there are more blue sticky notes on the pages than anything else. Maybe it’s because I first fell in love with fantasy reading Lord of the Rings, but I just sort of have high expectations for world building in my high fantasy novels. It just felt lazy, as if she cherry picked items from the fantasy genre she liked and just threw them together and made a world. Nothing felt particularly original. I’m going to break this down into bullet points of my incoherent thoughts that I wrote down while reading this:
- Masadonia. That sounds familiar.
- Atlantia. Oh ,that sounds familiar too.
- The Dark One. Oh, I’ve heard of that before too. (Although this is such a common trope in fantasy I can’t really fault her on this one)
- A mysterious mist that comes in and people die. Mistborn anyone?
- What is a maiden? Why is Poppy so important? And what is her power? She can feel pain? How? Why does no one else have powers? This is explained eventually, but I wanted more in the beginning.
- And what is up with first, second, third, and fourth sons and daughters? Just tell me what happens to them. And what happens if someone has a fifth? (This gets somewhat explained, but it still didn’t feel well fleshed out).
- The Rise. A wall to protect against the dangerous creatures outside. Might as well just call it the Wall and throw in the Night’s Watch. Is Hawke supposed to be Jon?
Only in the end of this book did we get some solid worldbuilding. With 50 pages left to go, we get an explanation of how this whole world works. While I did enjoy this part for taking everything we thought we knew about the world and turning it upside down, it ended up being super info-dumpy and confusing and I struggled through it. I think this is because the world didn’t feel fleshed out in the first place, so I had a hard time following what Hawke is telling Poppy about the truth of this world and its people. Great plot tactic, but I didn’t like the execution.
Let’s move on to the writing. Overall, it was an okay written book, but there were a couple little things that stood out to me and bugged me. Poppy thinks and talks in a lot of ellipses. It really took me out of the writing every time her thoughts paused and repeated. Also, every character talked like they were living in the 21st century. I can’t find the line now, but at one point one of the characters uses ‘totally’ in a sentence and not in the way a medieval character would. I also found the writing to be very bogged down by Poppy’s thoughts. This girl thinks a lot. There were full pages dedicated to what was going on in her head, ellipses included. One thing I really enjoyed about the writing was the way she wrote action. When this book finally picked up, it picked up. And that first action scene is full of drama and suspense and it had me on the tips of my toes. Armentrout came out swinging in that scene. Or should I say Poppy came out swinging? When Poppy kills Lord Mazeen it was the most satisfying thing in this book. I basically cheered.
Now, let’s touch on the biggest thing I did not like about this book. Hawke. Or as I like to refer to him as, Edward Cullen on steroids. Just no. Every time he called Poppy ‘Princess’ I cringed. I don’t feel like Hawke is a good person for Poppy, no matter what his motives may have been. I love me a morally grey character and you could argue that he is, but he still hurt Poppy and he’s extremely possessive. Major spoilers ahead. He killed her guards and infiltrated her life with every intention of kidnapping her to use her for ransom. He seduced her, made her fall for him, took her virginity, then revealed who he really was (which came as no surprise to anyone but Poppy) and locked her in a cage. THEN. Then this man has the audacity to tell her he still wants to ransom her off even though he cares for her. I literally cringed so hard when Poppy is furious with him and attacks him and he makes sexual comments and advances at her. Excuse me, sir, now is not the time.
And then Poppy – oh, Poppy. She stabs this bastard (his words, not mine) in the heart in the best moment of this entire book. I was like, YES POPPY YES. You go girl. Did I want Hawke dead? Honestly, at that point I was Team Poppy and I wanted that dagger to find his heart. But no, he doesn’t die and then Poppy loses any character development she may have had by sleeping with him in the woods ten pages later. Um, what? Weren’t we mad at him? Don’t tell me drinking his blood seriously affected your brain that much? I don’t get it. This relationship doesn’t feel healthy and then Hawke goes on to tell Poppy they’re going to Atlantia to get married. He didn’t even ask her. Hawke is very controlling and I could not get behind it. This was called a romance book, but I struggled to see romance and just saw a lot of lust, infatuation, and a young innocent girl falling for the first golden-eyed man that she met.
This wasn’t a romance for me. Hawke had two desires when it came to Poppy. To kidnap and ransom her and to get her naked. I never once felt love from Hawke. I have a hard time believing this will develop into a love relationship and instead will just be full of lust and infatuation.
Also, this book was so slooooooow. I marked when this book got interesting for me – page 381. 381 pages of reading Poppy’s repetitive thoughts and need to just escape her veil and cage by doing slightly rebellious things.
I did give From Blood and Ash two stars, so while there were many reasons I didn’t like it, let’s get into the two things I did like and the reason it got two stars. It wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read and had solid action scenes. And Tawny.
Tawny wins. As the maid and friend to Poppy she is the comic relief and the only relatable and enjoyable character in this book. I marked every single one of her amazing one liners and every scene she was in was made bearable by her presence. I will leave you with this gem:
I will be so very disappointed if I’m assigned to serve the Duchess. Or, worse yet, given to the Temple in service to the gods. Not that it wouldn’t be an honour to serve them…but the whole celibacy thing…”Tawny, From Blood and Ash, page 229
Have you read From Blood and Ash? I would love to discuss this book more.