SONG OF BLOOD & STONE - by L. Penelope

Published: May 2018 - St. Martin's Press 
Genres: New adult / fantasy / romance
Pages: 384.
Triggers/Content Advisory: One graphic attempted rape / a few explicit sex scenes
Format: eBook.
Source: Netgalley.

Orphaned and alone, Jasminda lives in a land where cold whispers of invasion and war linger on the wind. Jasminda herself 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 Lagamiri 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 it's people from the True Father and he needs Jasminda's Earthsong to do it. They escape their ruthless captors and together they embark on a perilous journey to save Elsira 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. As an ancient evil gains power, Jasminda races to unlock a mystery that promises salvation. The fates of two nations hang in the balance as Jasminda and Jack must choose between love and duty to fulfill their destinies and end the war.

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.

In the beginning, there was silence.

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. 

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