I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Bloodleaf (Bloodleaf, #1) by Crystal Smith
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers on March 12, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 384 •Format: ARC •Source: Publisher
Princess Aurelia is a prisoner to her crown and the heir that nobody wants. Surrounded by spirits and banned from using her blood-magic, Aurelia flees her country after a devastating assassination attempt. To escape her fate, Aurelia disguises herself as a commoner in a new land and discovers a happiness her crown has never allowed. As she forges new bonds and perfects her magic, she begins to fall for a man who is forbidden to rule beside her. But the ghosts that haunt Aurelia refuse to abandon her, and she finds herself succumbing to their call as they expose a nefarious plot that only she can defeat. Will she be forced to choose between the weight of the crown and the freedom of her new life?
Thank you so much to HMH Teen for providing a free copy in exchange for an honest review!
Bloodleaf arrived at my doorstep on one of the last days of 2018, completely unexpectedly and I was thrilled! Though I hadn’t heard much about the title before, it came in absolutely beautiful packaging with a stunning cover that had me eager to dive into the book, despite sometimes having an on and off relationship with YA fantasy. Upon doing a little research, I also found out that the story was not only fantasy but a retelling of the Goose Girl fairy tale. I promptly brushed up on my fairy tale reading so I could go into Bloodleaf with a decent framework for the plot and was pleasantly surprised that I not only enjoyed the novel but that it did reignite a desire within me to read more YA fantasy!
Bloodleaf centers around Princess Aurelia, a despised member of the royal family and feared and scorned by most of her own country’s subjects as they suspect her of witchcraft in a society where magic is feared and reviled in equal measure. In reality they are not that far off, as Aurelia is a practitioner of blood magic, although rather untrained from having to practice in secret her entire life. After an attempted assassination that forces her to show her hand in practicing magic, the plot begins to loosely follow that of the fairy tale Goose Girl, as Aurelia escapes to another kingdom disguised as a commoner while another girl has stolen her identity. Unsurprisingly, without the weight and scrutiny that comes along with her royal title, Aurelia is able to practice both her magic and her independence while trying to position her country as favorably as possible while in hiding.
While Bloodleaf has a lot of elements that are consistent with YA fantasy novels (a special snowflake heroine, an inevitable romance with the exasperating-yet-handsome-and-enigmatic-male-character, overlooking some key consequences for the sake of plot, etc…) it was the first YA fantasy book I can remember reading recently that centered blood magic as the forefront of its fantasy system. While it may seen morbid or disdainful, it actually makes sense that one’s blood would be the cause and catalyst for magic, as the magic wielder must draw their power from their own essence. I liked how blood magic (which usually has a negative context in media) was shown as something the “heroes” of the series used, and the rituals were detailed and the impacts of the cost of the magic were important to the plot. The basis of a fantasy system in blood magic made the fantasy elements more tangible and the consequences carry more weight.
While Aurelia was a so-so character for me (I think she made a LOT of poor decisions but also trying to remember she’s supposed to be a teenager…) there were quite a few secondary characters who I enjoyed and who’s stories I became invested in. I found myself completely caught up in Kate and Nathaniel’s story, and felt my heart warm at Aurelia’s tense yet loving relationship with her little brother and the games they played by leaving colored ribbons to communicate with each other, and how it turned from a game to a method of wartime communication and survival later on in the book. Smith did a great job of adding in little details that fleshed out Aurelia’s relationship with the secondary characters in this novel which strengthened my investment in the story as a reader.
One of my biggest worries about reading fantasy novels is that they will put me in a reading slump due to their slow pacing, but I found Bloodleaf to be paced quite well and there was even a twist at the end that I was surprised I didn’t catch! However, I did find myself getting a little mixed up with some of the world building regarding the historical figures in the past who set the stage for the events playing out in the book’s present timeline, and would have found some sort of index or family tree or something helpful, especially as I think these figures will continue to play an important role in future books in the series.
Overall: Bloodleaf is a retelling of a less prominently used fairy tale and is based in a unique magic system that I found to be compelling and original. While Aurelia was just an OK protagonist for me, I overall enjoyed this story that merges fantasy retelling with witchcraft elements and sets up for some intriguing potentialities in future installments!