Series: Blood and Ash, #1
Published by Blue Box Press on 30th March 2020
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Chosen from birth to usher in a new era, Poppy’s life has never been her own. The life of the Maiden is solitary. Never to be touched. Never to be looked upon. Never to be spoken to. Never to experience pleasure. Waiting for the day of her Ascension, she would rather be with the guards, fighting back the evil that took her family, than preparing to be found worthy by the gods. But the choice has never been hers.
The entire kingdom’s future rests on Poppy’s shoulders, something she’s not even quite sure she wants for herself. Because a Maiden has a heart. And a soul. And longing. And when Hawke, a golden-eyed guard honor bound to ensure her Ascension, enters her life, destiny and duty become tangled with desire and need. He incites her anger, makes her question everything she believes in, and tempts her with the forbidden.
Forsaken by the gods and feared by mortals, a fallen kingdom is rising once more, determined to take back what they believe is theirs through violence and vengeance. And as the shadow of those cursed draws closer, the line between what is forbidden and what is right becomes blurred. Poppy is not only on the verge of losing her heart and being found unworthy by the gods, but also her life when every blood-soaked thread that holds her world together begins to unravel.
It isn’t often that I get into the high fantasy genre but ‘From Blood and Ash’ has been on my to-read list for a while, and I’m honestly kicking myself for not getting into it sooner.
Whatever I was expecting however, it wasn’t vampires and the mysterious, mythic creatures of the night that populate Armentrout’s entire universe here, since nothing of the sort in the blurb alerted me to it. But this was what the book turned out to be (I had to get past my distaste of paranormal, vampire-centric first) and I grudgingly pushed on, eventually coming to love every bit of the fractious but hilarious relationship between a very plucky, sassy and brave chosen Maiden of a secretive kingdom and an enigmatic royal guard turning up out of nowhere, and whose ties to his home are shady at best.
The Bodyguard this isn’t clearly, because there’s just so much more than threats and underlying attraction between this pairing. There was so much I adored about the pitched-perfect Poppy Balfour who was composed of the brilliant mix of brave, capable and compassionate despite her circumstances, though to a lesser extent, her new guard Hawke Flynn who seemed to know much, much more than he let on.
But this book is really, just the starting of an epic adventure that has at its heart, the thorny issue of revisionist history, deep betrayal and the lies that come with it, and what it means to deal with a situation that completely upends your world.
Armentrout’s characters exist in a parallel, alternate universe where names are phonetically similar but altered in spelling, where labels and categories are the same, but deliberately re-coded so that our ‘traditional’ understanding of transgressive elements (vampiric lore, shapeshifters, zombies) shifts ever so slightly to suit her purposes.
Meticulously crafted and detailed, grisly and gripping, ‘From Blood and Ash’ is nonetheless, slow-going with a build-up that takes a while to get into. Still, it shoves you straight into the thick of history and into the meat of the story – with many details that come in quick and fast that it can be hard to catch up or fully understand it all – and yet the full picture as always, remains incomplete, with the expectation that you’d be coming back for more by the time the last page is turned.