ARC Review: Bloodleaf {Crystal Smith} - what is the plot even...oh I guess we're done now





title: Bloodleaf
author: Crystal Smith
pages: 373
format: Paperback ARC
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 1/5
Genre: Fantasy
Topics: Political intrigue, Magic, Fairy tale
CW: Ableism, Death, Violence, Attempted sexual assault, NOT self harm but the MC does have to cut herself to get blood for magic 



1 lemons - I really didn't like it

Good . . . in theory       


I should start by saying that this is not going to be a gushy happy review. So if you loved this book, you will probably disagree with me on every point. It just really, really didn’t work for me. A lot of other people thought it was absolutely wonderful and perfect, so it’s another case where I feel like I’ve read a different book than everyone else did. [[There will be some spoilers. I tried to confine them to the first third of the book, and to be much more vague about the rest, but you’ve been warned.]]


BLOODLEAF is one of those books that sounded brilliant in theory. Blood magic! Runaway princesses! And it’s based on one of my favorite fairy tales? Even better! Instead, I wanted to DNF it after a few chapters—and probably should have, because I just found myself reading resentfully onward with no change in sentiment. Part of the problem is the marketing (editing?) department, because the cover copy has no relationship to the book’s plot. We are told that: Aurelia wants to escape her fate as a hated witch, so she goes to a new land and disguises herself as a commoner; then she discovers happiness and freedom, perfects her magic, falls for a man who can’t rule beside her. But she finds a nefarious plot only she can defeat, and must choose between the crown and her new life.” Um, yes. So, this isn’t really what happens at all, and the stakes outlined in the second sentence are totally not the stakes.


Let's just throw in some Latin 


The writing feels unpolished. This could be a case of personal preference, of course. But it read to me like some of the less polished fanfiction you’d read back in the day. Clunky phrasing, wooden/heavy-handed dialogue, and excessive explanations. The worldbuilding is fairly hand-wavey. We have two kingdoms founded long ago by rival siblings. Aurelia’s kingdom is full of boring puritanical magic-haters, and is largely influenced by the Tribunal, who prosecutes witches. Achleva is magical and fun, but a magical wall keeps them totally separate from the outside world. There’s Bloodleaf, a magical plant that only occurs when someone has died on a flower. Which is kind of cool.


And then magic, which generally requires blood to function, which is a solid premise. Unfortunately there’s a lot of really poorly-rendered Latin, which is a personal thing because I’m sure most people didn’t take Latin and won’t be bothered. But what bothered me even more is that we’re introduced to the magic system with the caveat “incantations are actually totally unnecessary” and then Aurelia continues to use these incantations for the rest of the book. Aurelia can also see spirits, which becomes important later.


What is this even about? 


The biggest issue was the plot. The pacing was off throughout, which made it difficult to connect with the story. It was really choppy at the beginning. You just aren’t really sure where it’s going. Aurelia is at a witch execution. Then she is exposed as a witch! Cool. She’s sent away for her safety, with a spell: three drops of blood from her mother, friend, and the new random guy, so that if she is mortally injured, they’ll die instead. In the process of escaping she’s intercepted by her former friend Lisette and L’s dad, who kidnaps her brother and tries to kill her so that Lisette can go to Achleva, pretend to be Aurelia, and marry the prince, which Aurelia was supposed to do. Still okay.


Then that sort of becomes unimportant for a while. Aurelia gets to this place and is taken in by these people (Zan, Nathaniel, his wife Kate). There’s very little mystery because Zan immediately tells her that someone unknown is planning to use blood sacrifices to destroy the gates of Achleva’s wall, which is bad because (1) it will let anyone come into the city and (2) it will cause magical chaos.


I’m honestly not sure how he knows about this. But he needs Aurelia’s help, because she is a blood mage. Conveniently, she masters her magic very quickly with very little help. Lisette and her dad are still off doing things, I guess. They basically vanish, except that Aurelia leaves some little signals for her brother so he knows that she’s watching over him. So much was revealed, discarded, revealed, it just felt very uneven and there was little suspense.


Attack of the instalove 


Tell instead of Show is a rather common theme in this book. We’re told what to think, who loves who, what we should care about. But often briefly, superficially, and with very little buildup. The romance was a great example. I saw someone (I apologize, I forget who) mention that we don’t hate Instalove for itself, we hate it when it’s not justified by the text. This was one of those times. Aurelia has known Zan for about two days by the time she’s in love with him, and then shortly after is ready to die for him.


I actually scrolled back through all their scenes together trying to figure out when they shifted from “I have seen your face” to “Please marry me,” and came up empty. He’s stolen her horse, she’s run away from him, then she needs his help and suddenly she’s afraid of how much she’s attracted to him. I didn’t buy it. I just felt like I was being told they were in love and expected to believe it. It was extra confusing because at the beginning she’d had a clear attraction for her friend Kellan, except when he professes his love for her she rejects him. And then he dies.


You just did what now? 


There are also some elements I’m surprised I haven’t heard more about, because they struck me as rather problematic. First of all, she kills off the only POC character (a black guy) within the first few chapters. I later realized upon seeing the character art (which is honestly beautiful) that Nathaniel is also black [WAS THIS EVER EXPLAINED]. But he plays such an incidental role that it hardly makes up for losing the only POC of importance.


Also, Aurelia expends a lot of breath on complaining about the Prince of Achleva because he’s “weak and sickly.” She’s betrothed to him to unite their kingdoms (hers, the witch-hating one, and Achleva, the one that’s run by magic) and she’s annoyed because he’s sickly. This is basically all she knows about him and she bases her entire judgment of him on it. No one corrects her, and by the time it’s corrected in text, she hasn’t actually learned that her comments were wrong in principle; she just met the guy and decided that he’s not actually weak, even though he has a heart condition.


This is the central issue with Aurelia’s character. She never seems to learn. She’s constantly making the same mistakes and misjudging the same people in the same ways. I had a hard time scrounging up any sympathy for her. The other characters also seem to exist basically to be props in her life. Some of them are introduced and then vanish within the first couple chapters. Others are there to die, and we’re supposed to care because we’re told that it’s sad.


And here I bow out


I didn’t mean for this to become so ranty, but this book just frustrated me on so many levels. It’s meant to have a sequel, but I have no idea what that will be about. It just read more like a first draft, with flimsy plot points and throwaway characters. The last third was actually pretty interesting and the villain reveal was clever (if not expected), but by then I’d stopped caring.



My thoughts overall


An uneven, overly convenient fairy tale that leaves the promises of its plot unfulfilled.

Will I read this author again? Probably not
Will I continue this series? Only if I'm bored. I'm honestly curious to know what the second book could possibly be about  






Note: I received this copy from the publisher for an honest review. The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions. 

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