Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 12 Mar 2019

Member Reviews

Interesting characters wrapped up in intrigue! 
Thanks to NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for the opportunity to read and review Bloodleaf by Crystal Smith!
Witchcraft is forbidden in Aurelia’s kingdom and the story opens as she’s sadly watching two women hang for performing witchcraft. Aurelia has performed her share of magic, even though she’s the princess. She’s being sent away to Achleva to marry the prince. In his kingdom, magic is allowed. Along the way, a plot is revealed and she escapes on her own. She disguises herself as a maid and meets other commoners, befriends them and helps them. Someone is trying to break seals and release dark magic and they finally discover who has been breaking them, only after they’ve lost a wonderful friend. I love the part when the prince stands up to the king, speaking the truth about the seal breaker. The king’s reaction raises suspicion. Some of the transitions could be more clear between reality and Aurelia’s visions but for the most part, the visions add a depth to the plot. Aurelia loses people she loves and she discovers her true origins. Unpredictable and entertaining, Bloodleaf kept me riveted to the end, 4 stars!
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Lila at Hardcover Haven posted these trigger warnings on Goodreads, which made me decide I did not want to read the book for myself. I thought it would be useful to paste her warnings here for those interested: 

Trigger Warning: Blood magic/self harm, loss of a loved one, violence and gore, brief instances of ableism
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This is the first book I've read by Crystal Smith. It is the first in a new YA fantasy trilogy. A princess trying to hide her ghostly magic! A very interesting premise and takes time during witch trials as well. Do you accept a new life or fight for the one you've always known?
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It took me forever to write a review for this book even though I read it a while ago. I must admit that this is one of the very few books that I did not finish. I stopped halfway and could not get myself to pick it up again. The whole premise seemed so promising: blood magic and kingdoms. I think that’s why I wanted to read it and so wanted the book to be entertaining. Instead, the beginning was slow (although that’s necessarily a bad thing – it did introduce the world), the characters seemed dull and as the story progress, I felt like the author picked up on all the YA clichés and just threw them anywhere and everywhere. However, despite my personal dislike for this book, I will still suggest it to students because I know they would appreciate a story with magic.
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This was such an amazing story.  It was dark, full of romance, and hand had plenty of twists and turns I loved how it started and how it ended and I can not wait until book two that comes out next year.  Everything worked in this books favor, the setting and world, the characters, and the magic.  The world building was so beautiful and the character development was spot on.  

This one works great as a stand alone but I am so happy to know that it is a series.  I am excited to know where this one goes.  

Go Into This One Knowing: Darker Story, Romance, No Cliffhanger, Magic
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It's been a long time since I truly DNFed a book and I don't do it lightly, but wow did I struggle to get into Bloodleaf. I wanted to give it as much time as I could so I ended up listening to the audiobook and I think that's the only reason I made it as far as the 40% mark.

I had a feeling the book wouldn't work for me after the first few chapters. Aurelia, the heroine, annoyed me from the very beginning with her naivety. And it wasn't the kind where the person grows and changes over the course of the book, she's just like that in general. She never grew as a character, never really learned from her mistakes, and it felt like those mistakes are what the entire plot was based on. Add to that the fact that there's far more telling than showing in the book and I just didn't care one bit about Aurelia.

Which made liking the book overall pretty difficult too.

The writing was just the "icing" on the cake. Nothing about it hooked me. The dialogue felt stilted (and I was listening to the narrator SAY the lines, not even reading them!) and all the info-dumping at random was too much. The magic system isn't terribly unique (blood magic is a fairly common thing in fantasy) and the idea that one faction hates magic and another doesn't is boring for me. I want to see something new!

I'd say starting around the 25% mark I was ready to scrap the book entirely and move on. The only reason I kept reading was because I listened to the audiobook while I was cleaning for a bit but I couldn't stick with it for long before I called it quits for good. There are so many other fantasy books to read and not enough time to waste on ones that just aren't working. 

As a side note, I heard somewhere that this is a re-telling of The Goose Girl and, if so, it's not a great one. If you're looking for a better re-telling, I HIGHLY recommend Thorn by Intisar Khanani. I read it when it was self-published and now it's being re-published by HarperTeen!
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What a wild ride! I feel exhausted after finishing Bloodleaf. It was invigorating and thought-provoking with interesting characters that kept me engrossed from the start.
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I really wanted to love this book. I thought the magic system and the premise were great. But the characters were flat. The writing was all action with no space for emotional growth, or even the paving to allow us to care about character deaths or appreciate the stakes. It reminded me a lot of SJM, which is to say, it wasn’t for me.
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Good . . . in theory       

I should start by saying that this is not going to be a gushy happy review. So if you loved this book, you will probably disagree with me on every point. It just really, really didn’t work for me. A lot of other people thought it was absolutely wonderful and perfect, so it’s another case where I feel like I’ve read a different book than everyone else did. [[There will be some spoilers. I tried to confine them to the first third of the book, and to be much more vague about the rest, but you’ve been warned.]]

BLOODLEAF is one of those books that sounded brilliant in theory. Blood magic! Runaway princesses! And it’s based on one of my favorite fairy tales? Even better! Instead, I wanted to DNF it after a few chapters—and probably should have, because I just found myself reading resentfully onward with no change in sentiment. Part of the problem is the marketing (editing?) department, because the cover copy has no relationship to the book’s plot. We are told that: Aurelia wants to escape her fate as a hated witch, so she goes to a new land and disguises herself as a commoner; then she discovers happiness and freedom, perfects her magic, falls for a man who can’t rule beside her. But she finds a nefarious plot only she can defeat, and must choose between the crown and her new life.” Um, yes. So, this isn’t really what happens at all, and the stakes outlined in the second sentence are totally not the stakes.

Let's just throw in some Latin 

The writing feels unpolished. This could be a case of personal preference, of course. But it read to me like some of the less polished fanfiction you’d read back in the day. Clunky phrasing, wooden/heavy-handed dialogue, and excessive explanations. The worldbuilding is fairly hand-wavey. We have two kingdoms founded long ago by rival siblings. Aurelia’s kingdom is full of boring puritanical magic-haters, and is largely influenced by the Tribunal, who prosecutes witches. Achleva is magical and fun, but a magical wall keeps them totally separate from the outside world. There’s Bloodleaf, a magical plant that only occurs when someone has died on a flower. Which is kind of cool.

And then magic, which generally requires blood to function, which is a solid premise. Unfortunately there’s a lot of really poorly-rendered Latin, which is a personal thing because I’m sure most people didn’t take Latin and won’t be bothered. But what bothered me even more is that we’re introduced to the magic system with the caveat “incantations are actually totally unnecessary” and then Aurelia continues to use these incantations for the rest of the book. Aurelia can also see spirits, which becomes important later.

What is this even about? 

The biggest issue was the plot. The pacing was off throughout, which made it difficult to connect with the story. It was really choppy at the beginning. You just aren’t really sure where it’s going. Aurelia is at a witch execution. Then she is exposed as a witch! Cool. She’s sent away for her safety, with a spell: three drops of blood from her mother, friend, and the new random guy, so that if she is mortally injured, they’ll die instead. In the process of escaping she’s intercepted by her former friend Lisette and L’s dad, who kidnaps her brother and tries to kill her so that Lisette can go to Achleva, pretend to be Aurelia, and marry the prince, which Aurelia was supposed to do. Still okay.

Then that sort of becomes unimportant for a while. Aurelia gets to this place and is taken in by these people (Zan, Nathaniel, his wife Kate). There’s very little mystery because Zan immediately tells her that someone unknown is planning to use blood sacrifices to destroy the gates of Achleva’s wall, which is bad because (1) it will let anyone come into the city and (2) it will cause magical chaos.

I’m honestly not sure how he knows about this. But he needs Aurelia’s help, because she is a blood mage. Conveniently, she masters her magic very quickly with very little help. Lisette and her dad are still off doing things, I guess. They basically vanish, except that Aurelia leaves some little signals for her brother so he knows that she’s watching over him. So much was revealed, discarded, revealed, it just felt very uneven and there was little suspense.

Attack of the instalove 

Tell instead of Show is a rather common theme in this book. We’re told what to think, who loves who, what we should care about. But often briefly, superficially, and with very little buildup. The romance was a great example. I saw someone (I apologize, I forget who) mention that we don’t hate Instalove for itself, we hate it when it’s not justified by the text. This was one of those times. Aurelia has known Zan for about two days by the time she’s in love with him, and then shortly after is ready to die for him.

I actually scrolled back through all their scenes together trying to figure out when they shifted from “I have seen your face” to “Please marry me,” and came up empty. He’s stolen her horse, she’s run away from him, then she needs his help and suddenly she’s afraid of how much she’s attracted to him. I didn’t buy it. I just felt like I was being told they were in love and expected to believe it. It was extra confusing because at the beginning she’d had a clear attraction for her friend Kellan, except when he professes his love for her she rejects him. And then he dies.

You just did what now? 

There are also some elements I’m surprised I haven’t heard more about, because they struck me as rather problematic. First of all, she kills off the only POC character (a black guy) within the first few chapters. I later realized upon seeing the character art (which is honestly beautiful) that Nathaniel is also black [WAS THIS EVER EXPLAINED]. But he plays such an incidental role that it hardly makes up for losing the only POC of importance.

Also, Aurelia expends a lot of breath on complaining about the Prince of Achleva because he’s “weak and sickly.” She’s betrothed to him to unite their kingdoms (hers, the witch-hating one, and Achleva, the one that’s run by magic) and she’s annoyed because he’s sickly. This is basically all she knows about him and she bases her entire judgment of him on it. No one corrects her, and by the time it’s corrected in text, she hasn’t actually learned that her comments were wrong in principle; she just met the guy and decided that he’s not actually weak, even though he has a heart condition.

This is the central issue with Aurelia’s character. She never seems to learn. She’s constantly making the same mistakes and misjudging the same people in the same ways. I had a hard time scrounging up any sympathy for her. The other characters also seem to exist basically to be props in her life. Some of them are introduced and then vanish within the first couple chapters. Others are there to die, and we’re supposed to care because we’re told that it’s sad.

And here I bow out

I didn’t mean for this to become so ranty, but this book just frustrated me on so many levels. It’s meant to have a sequel, but I have no idea what that will be about. It just read more like a first draft, with flimsy plot points and throwaway characters. The last third was actually pretty interesting and the villain reveal was clever (if not expected), but by then I’d stopped caring.

My thoughts overall

An uneven, overly convenient fairy tale that leaves the promises of its plot unfulfilled.
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There were some really interesting aspects to this book, but ultimately I think that this book wasn't for me. It was definitly a product of "it's me, not you". I can see how people would love it and I would recommend that people who love retellings that aren't just retellings a go.
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I appreciate the effort that was put into this book, but it didn’t work for me. The pacing of this book was SO distracting and way off. It made for a hard reading experience and took away from character development.
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Loved this one. The Goose Girl is one of my favorite fairy tales, and this was a fresh take on it. The magic was unique and well-developed and it's impossible not to root for Aurelia.
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So, the beginning of the book was sooooo slooooow. But it picked up and got SO MUCH BETTER. I greatly enjoyed this book and cannot wait for the rest of the series. I feel like this will definitely be the next Throne of Glass.
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This was a hard book for me to rate and review and I had a different feeling moments after finishing the novel. However, after a few weeks have passed my feelings have changed. I would say this book ended up just being okay for. Nothing really bad about it, but nothing really memorable either. I will say that I have trouble recalling if the basic details about this book weeks after reading it. 

I will say that this was a quick read for a fantasy. I read this book in one day (which never happens for me) which can be nice, but I think that was the problem for me. Everything happened super quick in this book which made for little development of characters or relationships. Nothing was really allowed to breath and therefore I was not connected to these characters or stories. As a result, it made it very easy to forget this story weeks later and likely won't continue you with this series. 

*****Received an ARC from Netgalley****
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Long story short: a decently written YA fantasy with a main character who made a ton of mistakes, but is probably the most human protagonist I've read for a long while. THE WORLD BUILDING IS GORGEOUS!
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This book was a book that drew me in through the excerpt that was given in the Buzz Books for the Spring/Summer 2019 and it did not disappoint. I continued to enjoy the story and will look forward to seeing what else this author has in store in future books. Thas was an entertaining novel and an interesting premise.
Thank you for the early release copy.

#Bloodleaf #NetGalley
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I received a copy of this book from Netgalley for an honest review.

This started out ok but then it really seemed to stall.  Aurelia made some silly decisions and didn't seem to be able to piece together the obvious.  The world building was pretty meh and the plot was so painfully obvious I wouldn't have needed to finish the book to figure out what happened.
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What a new story! A completely original idea that left me on the edge of my seat. Aurelia was a wonderful MC with a complicated life and was now pushed into an arranged marriage. She was incredibly badass. A lot of exposition was introduced in the first section of the story and it left me a little bored. A lot of worldbuilding needed to be done and while I really enjoyed this world. I was a little exhausted in the beginning. Great characters, an original plot that left me wanting more. I can't wait for the sequel.
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This was a good YA fantasy. I didn't dislike anything about it, but there was also nothing super unique about it either. I know there's going to be at least a sequel, but if I do read that it will be far down on my TBR. There just wasn't anything to keep me that interested in the world. I think readers who are new to the fantasy genre would get more out of this than those of us who have read hundreds of fantasy novels.
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Bloodleaf is such an amazing read! The characters were likable and easily invested in. With every turn of the page I just wanted to know more and more. The plot was well executed and kept me entertained and on the edge of my seat the whole time. 

The one thing I was really, really impressed with is the world building. I fell in love with this world Smith created in Bloodleaf. The details were so vivid and I could literally see everything play out in my head. I loved it and can't wait to read more from Crystal Smith!
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