Review: Song of Blood & Stone – L. Penelope
by L. Penelope
Series: Earthsinger Chronicles #1
Also in this series: Breath of Dust & Dawn, Whispers of Shadow & Flame, Hush of Storm & Sorrow
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: May 1, 2018
Genres: Romance, Fantasy
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Romeo and Juliet meets Return of the King in a fantasy about an outcast drawn into a war between two powerful rulers.
Orphaned and alone, Jasminda lives in a land where cold whispers of invasion and war linger on the wind. She is an outcast in her homeland of Elsira, where her gift of Earthsong is feared. When ruthless soldiers seek refuge in her isolated cabin, they bring with them a captive—an injured spy who threatens to steal her heart.
Jack's mission behind enemy lines to prove that the Mantle between Elsira and Lagrimar is about to fall nearly cost him his life, but he is saved by the healing Song of a mysterious young woman. Now he must do whatever it takes to save Elsira and its people from the True Father, and he needs Jasminda's Earthsong to do it. They embark on a perilous journey to save their land and to uncover the secrets of The Queen Who Sleeps.
Thrust into a hostile society, Jasminda and Jack must rely on one another even as secrets jeopardize their bond. But Jack has secrets of his own, and as an ancient evil gains power, Jasminda races to unlock a mystery that promises salvation.
Trigger warnings: View Spoiler »attempted rape, suicidal ideation (brief throwaway), human sacrifice (from POV of victim), gun violence (people being shot), racism, homophobia, incredibly nasty treatment of refugees « Hide Spoiler
OK, first, can we just take a moment and squee over that gorgeous cover? I first read this book back when it came out with a traditional big publisher in 2018 and liked it, and I’m rereading the series in preparation for the third book. It’s interesting to revisit this book, especially knowing more than I did then. Besides the plot twists, the way the Elsirans treat the Lagrimari refugees especially hit a lot harder in 2020 than it did back in 2018. There’s apparently a new version out with expanded scenes, but I don’t have that one so can’t comment on the content.
“Most folks hate easy and love hard. Should be the other way around, I reckon.”
Jasminda is the daughter of a Lagrimari refugee and an Elsiran woman, she’s had a rough time, especially since her mother died and her father and twin brothers disappeared during a snowstorm. She runs the family goat farm in a remote valley by herself and tries to avoid the nearby village of prejudiced Elsirans. Though she lives near the border, speaks the language, and has inherited a little of her father’s magic, called Earthsong, she knows very little about the reclusive country ruled by a cruel dictator, the True Father. All this changes when she encounters a wounded Elsiran soldier on her mountain shortly before a storm, and her peaceful farm is invaded by the Lagrimari soldiers who’ve captured him. Jasminda must make the choice between keeping her family’s legacy safe or – just possibly – saving the country from another invasion…
“I am sorry I didn’t tell you,” he said, voice pitched low. “I wanted to. I should have. It’s inexcusable, I just . . .”
She longed to hear an excuse that would satisfy her and return things to the way they were. No words came.”
I liked Jasminda from the start. I especially liked how she wanted to solve her problems herself rather than rely on anyone else to help her. Jack, I think, was a little more one-dimensional, and I spent a good chunk of the book being annoyed at him for keeping his “secret” – look, anyone who’s read a freaking YA fantasy knows exactly what that secret is from the first time he appears on page – from Jasminda for so long. He honestly had no good reason for it, and the way it came out was extremely public and hurtful for her. While it’s solidly new adult (Jasminda is 19), there is a young adult feel to the book. There’s a lot of all-or-nothing characterization. Almost everyone in Elsira despises the Lagrimari. Almost everyone on Jack’s council is anti-Lagrimari and pretty much anti-Jack. The plot’s predictable, the romance is insta-love with a fairy tale quality, but there’s still something about it that drew me in.
“Hidden corridors, cloaks, and face paint. Late-night rendezvous and secret trysts. Was there no one who would bring their acquaintance with her out into the light of day?”
What intrigued me the most about the book was its focus on secrets. Jasminda’s relationship with Jack has to be kept secret for various political reasons. Even her relationship with her aunt, a Sister who works with the refugees, has to be hidden from her grandmother. She’s judged constantly based on the color of her skin and nothing else. And while on the surface it seems like Jack gets the better half of the deal, he feels smothered by the weight of the crown and the decisions that he has to make in order to keep Elsira safe, decisions that go against his own moral code. Everything that makes him Jack – the things he was sent away as a child to the army barracks to learn – need to be shut away so that he can now be the Prince Regent. There’s also secrets in relation to the Queen Who Sleeps, the somewhat mythical queen who’s worshipped by Elsirans as practically a goddess who will return when the True Father is defeated. There’s scant details about, well, anything about her, something that Jasminda discovers when the Lagrimari Keepers – rebels who use their Earthsong to fight against the True Father – give her the caldera, a stone that holds some of the Queen Who Sleeps’ memories that are apparently only accessible to Jasminda. Everything Jasminda knows about Queen Oola comes from those particular memories, though the Queen Who Sleeps also occasionally appears in dreams to her believers. The epilogue does cast these events in a new (and sinister) light.
Overall, while I wouldn’t call this groundbreaking, the world building and characters were perfectly satisfying for the start of a new series.