30 Books in 30 Days, Vol. 3
Hahahah, what am I going to say about this book? I have no idea! We’ll see what comes out once I start typing the rest of this review.
Okay, for those of you who don’t know, this is a fantasy romance about Poppy, who is the “Maiden” (don’t worry, the precise definition of what this really means will never become clear) and she lives in a world where people can Ascend to a type of limited immortality. Her parents were killed by monsters when she was a child and she was raised by the Queen, who soon discovered that Poppy was blessed by the gods and then cloistered her away behind a veil and a wall of silence (metaphorically) to “prepare her” for being given to the gods at a set point in the future. This means Poppy is sheltered and has no life. The book kicks off with her sneaking out to a brothel, and we soon learn a guard has taught her how to fight, so at least she’s not a waste of space even if she’s not my favorite person ever. The death of one of her guards leaves an opening, and soon the mysterious Hawke (who she met and kissed at the brothel/night club/whatever) is assigned to be her guard in his stead. Things develop from there (or do they???)
First of all, we can blame Read Harder for my actually having finished this. I had picked it up last year due to extreme curiosity (this always happens when books are really buzzy; I’m currently trying to resist reading Fourth Wing because chances are good I won’t like it very much either, but I feel like there’s a worm in my brain eating important things up in there the longer I try to resist). I had actually put From Blood and Ash down because it wasn’t holding my attention after about eighty pages. It felt like there was a lot of info-dumping but not in a fun way, the worldbuilding was sketchy, the characters were not doing a lot for me (almost nothing), and the pacing was glacial. A fun fact is that all of these things remained true throughout the book! So if you put it down, it should maybe stay down.
Anyway, I’m blaming Read Harder because one of the challenges this year was to finish a book you’ve DNFed, and because I wasn’t really doing that a lot before this year* my choices were either this, or Angelika Frankenstein Makes Her Match, and just the idea of picking that book back up was giving me existential dread (Sally Thorne, are you okay?), so Maidens and very obvious “vampires” in disguise it was!
*Ask me how many books I’ve DNFed in 2023; go ahead, ask me; you’ll be so proud!
In addition to the complaints listed above, I cannot figure out if JLA genuinely thought she had crafted a book that would surprise people with its “plot twists.” Was it not incredibly obvious to every single person reading this after about fifty pages exactly what was going on? I think it was. And I think the book would have been much better served if it had openly acknowledged that and instead of spending thousands of words on who even knows what, we could have not wasted time pretending that SPOILERS Hawke wasn’t really Casteel, “The Dark One” (gag me), and that the Ascended were really the evil ones, not the Atlantians, who are the “good guys” END SPOILERS. Yes, I spoiler tagged this anyway because I am not a monster.
This first book is designed to show us Poppy’s world before her eyes are “opened”, but this entire book could have been easily EASILY two hundred pages shorter for the amount of plot and substance inside of it, and a further two hundred pages after that might have taken some thinking to trim, but it could have been done. As a reader, I was where the book wanted me to be at the end by page 100. Waiting for the book to catch up to me was excruciating, and not even much fun could be had in the relationship between Hawke and Poppy while I waited, because 95% of their dialogue was absolutely substance free banter. I am here to tell you, friends, that banter can 100% have substance and not be repetitive, inane, and empty!
I have been informed in the last few days that the next book in this series, due to publish in July, will be Hawke’s POV from the events of this book, but guess what? That should have been in this book! After JLA cut out the useless 400 pages, it would have been helpful and interesting to have that information in a way that didn’t make me want to fall asleep and then skip twenty pages. The emotional conflict between what Poppy thought about Hawke and what was actually going on with him could have been a really good source of narrative tension! Alas.
So, with all of that I had initially hemmed and hawed about whether or not to round up to three stars, but considering most of what I’m saying is pretty negative, and thinking about books I’ve given two and three stars to in the past, I’m thinking two is the way to go. There’s room for improvement, and room to go down if things get dire.
Amazingly, I will probably continue in the series, A) because I already own books two and three, whoops, and B) because the initial reason I picked up the series in the first place still stands. I was drawn in by the controversy and drama of the fan reaction to book four, where people got really mad about SPOILERS polyamory END SPOILERS, and I immediately wanted in on the drama (thinking I would be pro- the thing people were mad at, and sure enough there was already evidence of it in this book!).
Read Harder Challenge 2023: Finish a book you’ve DNFed.