I admit to having a little bit of YA fantasy fatigue lately … or fantasy fatigue in general. I’m a long-time lover of contemporary fiction, and I’ve been in a major contemporary rom-com fix lately. But I loved the synopsis for Bloodleaf by Crystal Smith, and was excited to receive an ARC from the publisher – so I wanted to at least give it a shot, despite my mood.
Bloodleaf broke me out of my reading funk and made me fall in love again with YA fantasy. The characters, the dark twisty plot, the romance, the danger, the magic, the intrigue! There’s so much to love about this book.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Described as a loose retelling of “The Goose Girl” story from Grimm’s Fairy Tales, here is the official synopsis:
Aurelia is the first princess born to the Renalten crown in two hundred years, destined to fulfill a treaty by journeying to marry Valentin, the prince of Achleva – Renalt’s greatest enemy. Rumors of an unwell, cruel prince abound, and the only thing that eclipses Aurelia’s apprehension of her impending marriage is her fear of those who’d kill her to prevent it.
When an assassination attempt forces Aurelia to use forbidden magic to save a stranger, she is driven from Renalt by the witch-hunting Tribunal and a mob out for blood. But before she can claim asylum in the court of her betrothed, her travel party turns on her, forcing her to trade places with her treacherous lady-in-waiting, Lisette.
Now penniless in Achleva and bereft of her identity, Aurelia must decide if she wants to surrender to her new life or fight for her old one, all while navigating the complicated ties binding her to the enigmatic prince, the unquiet ghost of an ancient queen, and a poisonous plant called bloodleaf.
Aurelia is a pawn in a centuries-long game of love, power, and war— and if she can’t extricate herself from it before Lisette marries Valentin in her stead, she may face losses far more devastating than her crown.
Bloodleaf is the first in a series, but OH! Dear reader, if I hadn’t known, I might have thought this was a standalone — as the ending is so deliciously satisfying. And yet at the same time, I can see so many possibilities where the next book can go. That is to say, this feels like the best of both worlds: a satisfying single book with more still to come. (And no brutal cliffhanger ending. Thank GOD. I was really nervous towards the end there, you guys.)
One of the less significant plot twists was fairly predictable to me (and I don’t know that it was meant to be a huge surprise to anyone except Aurelia), but I still loved the reveal and what it meant to the two main characters. Plus, there was so much else that DID surprise me, that I didn’t care. Plenty of twists kept me on my toes and eagerly turning the pages.
I admit, I wasn’t sure about Aurelia when the first book began — she had some qualities I loved, but her fear of her own magical power, understandable though it may be, made her a little frustrating. But as soon as she begins to embrace her power and choose a path forward, she won me over completely. (And this didn’t take long. The plot of this book moves swiftly.)
Throughout her story, Aurelia encounters a number of other characters, and each one brings so much color and personality to the story. I don’t want to say too much because spoilers, but I really loved the people who came into Aurelia’s life and how they added to the book. I can see some of these characters really growing in significance as the series progresses, and I can’t wait to see where things go next.
Bloodleaf is a lush, romantic fairy tale re-imagined — filled with dark magic and captivating characters. Look for it in stores March 12th.