Published: May 2018 - St. Martin's Press
Genres: New adult / fantasy / romance
Triggers/Content Advisory: One graphic attempted rape / a few explicit sex scenes
The cover is beautiful, the story sounded beautiful, and I was so excited to start this book.
The writing is superb. Penelope writes like an absolute pro, and there's no way you'd think this was a debut. The writing is simply excellent; lyrical and gorgeously poetic.
The dialogue is also beautiful. It flows seamlessly, and the characters' voices come through clearly. It's realistic and it's entertaining.
The world building is fascinating. It's actually kinda reminiscent, at least in my mind, of the US Civil War as it was in the South. That's the vibe you get: soldiers prowling around farms, dusky, rural lifestyles, and the archiac upheavel that invaders bring. It's uniquely atmospheric.
The story starts so well. For about the first 20% of the book I was absolutely in love and my rating was heading towards 5 stars. Every aspect was on top form. I was utterly gripped, chilled, entertained, and in love with the characters.
But then something happened. I can't even pin-poiint what it was. But something changed, Jack and Jasminda have to flee the farmhouse after a horrifying attack, and the story plummets downhill. The magic system, which I still don't fully understand, overtakes the plot and suddenly I was completely lost and bewildered. I could barely follow the plot; everything becomes so confusing and the magical elements so utterly over-the-top. Scenes blur into each other, random stuff happens, and the setting from the first 20% is forgotten as the characters enter a whole new territory and kingdom. Like, what happened to my Civil War?! To my Southern farmhouse?! I don't want the characters to be in a new land and things to get royal; it loses the story's essence - what I think made the story so compelling and original. It gets too predictable and uninspired. BRING BACK MY FARMHOUSE.
But it's not just the new setting that ruins things. Jack's new role (which I can't specify cos spoilers) is way too tropey and lazily written. Jasminda also loses some of her fascinating story purpose, and becomes more of a prop for Jack's story instead of going in her own direction. UGH! Why??!!! Everything was so good and then all this had to happen. It makes me sad.
Then there's the ending, and I think it's so disappointing and anticlimactic. The book lost me for good, then.
The characters are sweet. Again, I loved them most in the first 20%, but they are vivid, human, and layered for the rest of the book. They just don't have much to work with in terms of plot and setting, then.
Jasminda is my favourite character. She's hurt, struggling, and fiercely independent. I love how capable and mature she is. And admittedly, I think I would've liked her more if she and Jack weren't a couple. Which brings me to...
Jack and Jasminda's relationship starts off strong (first 20%, you guessed it). Their feelings for each other are extremely tender and genuine, and I love how external forces lead them to ally against the soldiers. But then the book's downfall happens, and their relationship becomes passionately romantic and explicit. I don't like that - I think they're better as friends, not lovers, and I miss the natural chemistry they had at the start of the book. I think the romance spoils them.
Song of Blood & Stone starts off strong with the perfect setting and conflict. But it soon loses itself to a bewildering magic system, tropey conflict, and a disappointing arc for Jasminda.
It's beautifully written with well-drawn characters, but it doesn't hold together.
FYI: There is an explicit attempted rape scene at 17%. It's horrific, frightening, and it's never referred to again throughout the rest of the book. I have an issue with that. Yes, Jack and Jasminda are in a hurry to escape after it happens, but I strongly think it should've come up again and Jasminda get some sort of 'closure' with regard to the trauma she experienced.