BLOODLEAF by Crystal Smith
(I received this book for free, courtesy of Crystal, in exchange for an honest review).
[little to no spoilers]
I haven’t been this excited for a debut book in a long time! Crystal Smith weaves a haunting, sinister tale of freedom in a land where witches are persecuted, magic is deadly, and the lines between good and evil are blurred.
Short summary from Amazon.com:
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?
Aurelia is a unique main character, and accompanied by the hint of a love triangle, she is a girl that readers will fall in love with from the start. She is a witch that uses blood magic – meaning that she performs magic using her own blood. I must admit that at first, this concept disturbed me. Who wants to cut themselves every time they have to perform a spell? But, as I read on in the story, I realized that it is because Aurelia has to use her own blood that she is not as willing to use her magic as often as other MCs in the fantasy genre. Each time she performs a spell, it hurts her, so she must decide how best to use her magic. The quote on the front of the book sums it up nicely: “The strongest magic requires the greatest sacrifice.” Because of this extra challenge placed in front of Aurelia, in addition to everything going on in her life, I think this makes her an especially unique and intriguing MC.
Most everything about BLOODLEAF is unique, which is one of the reasons why I enjoyed it so much. I can never enjoy a book if I don’t believe the world-building; I’m happy to say that Crystal Smith does a brilliant job on perfecting her world. While the persecution of witches reminded me of the Salem Witch Trials, the setting takes the reader back to the Middle Ages or Renaissance time periods. Anyone who knows me knows I am obsessed with the history of medieval times, and BLOODLEAF was a great combination of real-world medieval ideas and motifs with fantastical elements tied in. Plus, anyone looking for a not-so-average court drama book will enjoy this. Even though Aurelia is royalty, most of the book takes place out of the castle. So, Aurelia understands what life is like outside of a castle’s sanctuary and in her disguise, she can interact with “commoners” and people she wouldn’t usually talk to. She makes some new friends, including a kind woman and her husband, and a mysterious (and very handsome) stranger called Zan.
(Mild spoiler section about relationships. Feel free to skip it):
At the beginning of the book, we see Aurelia’s interactions with Kellan, a knight/guard in her court. It’s clear from the beginning that Aurelia loves Kellan, but she makes a sacrifice in order to protect him. (I won’t spoil anything!). The one aspect of the book I wasn’t a big fan of was that Kellan “leaves” for over half the book, and Aurelia starts a sort of hate/love relationship with Zan. Then, when Kellan returns, Aurelia doesn’t have any conflicting feelings about her relationships with Kellan and Zan. I expected Aurelia to be happy that Kellan, her lifelong friend, was back, but she seems to want to remain with Zan. I was left with a feeling of confusion at Aurelia’s relationship status, but this could be part of the author’s plan so she can expand on it in the next book.
(End spoiler section)
As a horse rider and lover myself, I absolutely love it when horsemanship is included in a fantasy book. There’s no doubt that Aurelia loves her horse, and it was great to see their relationship and interactions throughout most of the book. This book impacted me in many ways because of the powerful language and descriptions, but something happened to Aurelia’s horse that made me so sad and angry at the people who did it. It’s at this point when Aurelia decides that she has to do what she knows is right, and the part when I felt the most moved in the story. The imagery that Crystal uses is so vivid and in-your-face, that it makes the read that much better. You can almost experience what Aurelia is going through along with her.
BLOODLEAF features almost non-stop action and adventure, and Aurelia certainly contributes to a lot of that. She is a good female MC because, while she is feisty and strong, she is still relatable and has her moments. I was happy to see that she's not the typical warrior woman fantasy trope. Warning: prepare for much sadness throughout the book, and don't go getting attached to anyone. That's all I'll say. Even though parts of the book were so gut-wrenching, that didn't stop me from devouring the book in almost one day. I hate to admit it, but whoever said kill your darlings was right...it certainly made BLOODLEAF into a fast-paced and entertaining read.
All in all, I predict that BLOODLEAF will be the next big fantasy book series. In the future, I think because of Crystal’s masterful storytelling and the ability to evoke strong emotions from her readers, she will be on many readers’ “auto-buy” list. I am so excited to see what happens next in this medieval fantasy, and can’t wait to see BLOODLEAF become as popular as some of our favorite YA fantasy novels!
BLOODLEAF receives 4.5 stars out of 5.
Find Crystal Smith on Twitter and Instagram at @crysrensmith.
You can pre-order BLOODLEAF using my Amazon affiliate link below (disclaimer: I do get a very small commission from any purchase):