Top critical review
Manipulative romance but addicting plot. Conflicted..
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on April 30, 2021
I stayed up LATE to read this book multiple nights in a row because it was addicting and I didn’t want to put it down, even though I had some major problems with it, namely with the romance.
Poppy is the Maiden, but she is also very much a maiden in her innocence and naivety. She is not allowed to be looked at and must wear a veil at all times. She is not allowed to speak or be spoken to by certain people. Her life is not her own. But she’s human too, and she’s unhappy with all the rules and restrictions placed on her.
One day when she’s trying to live a normal life, she sneaks out to a club called the Red Pearl, where she ends up meeting Hawke, a handsome guard. And that is the start of the adventure and romance of this story.
I don’t want to say too much more about the plot because I went in with almost no idea what this book was about other than that it’s a fantasy romance, and I enjoyed it that way. I will say it’s more of a paranormal high fantasy than it is a romance though, at least in the beginning. I expected this book to be on the level of Sarah J. Maas as far as having X-rated romance scenes, but the first 60% was pretty tame with actually almost no romance scenes at all. Of course, those scenes did come, and while the scenes were explicit, the whole book was a lot more mellow than I was expecting.
I surprisingly really enjoyed From Blood and Ash. Even though I felt like not much was happening for the vast majority of the book, I still was quite invested in it. Most of the story is about court politics and Poppy’s day-to-day life as the Maiden. I love reading about fantasy politics and worldbuilding so I actually really enjoyed that, and I’m becoming more of a character-driven reader the more I realize I don’t care about action/fight scenes (and this book had very little of those but the ones it did have were GOOD).
I did have some questions about the plot that never got answered, and I’m hoping they will be discussed in further installments. My main question is why is Poppy the Maiden? Like how did she get chosen at birth and why her versus someone else? I’m also still not really sure what the Maiden even does, like the synopsis says she’s supposed to Ascend and then “usher in a new era,” but what does that mean? I’m not sure why her position requires her to be isolated so much either.
I had some problems with the writing as well, such as the fact that this book clearly was self-published because it desperately needs an editor. And a proofreader. And a layout designer. I’m surprised that for how popular of an author Jennifer L. Armentrout is that she didn’t put more work into having this story properly edited because it’s egregiously bad. SO bad, throughout the entire book no less. As an editor myself I was especially bothered by this because there were lots of minor issues—such as misused punctuation, unnecessary repetition, or incorrect word usage—that could easily have been fixed with even one pass by a proficient editor. I’m trying to not let that affect my rating or enjoyment of the story because the story itself was still really fun for me; there were just so many moments where blatant errors pulled me out of the story to the point that I was constantly turning to my husband on the couch and showing him the book and being all affronted like, “Can you believe no one caught this???”
Now I want to talk about Hawke and the romance in this book, which was my biggest issue (although the lack of editing comes in a close second) and my least favorite part of the novel. There will be some spoilers below about the intimate scenes between Hawke and Poppy and about some scenes at the end.
I do appreciate that they had a slow-burn romance and they didn’t have sex in the first chapter when they met. I mean it was close, but I’m really glad they didn’t go all the way that early on.
I was wary of Hawke from the beginning. That first scene at the start of the book when he put his hands on her without her permission completely rubbed me the wrong way. I was hoping that was a one-off, and for a large portion of the book I thought I was right and I hesitantly started to like Hawke, but I should have known to trust my gut. The readers are led to believe that Hawke thinks Poppy is someone else when they first meet and that is why he touched her, but we learn later on that he knew who she was the whole time, which makes him touching her like that all the worse. We see from the beginning that Hawke only cares about what he wants and not about what Poppy wants or what’s best for her.
I really cannot justify or stand behind how Hawke treats Poppy. He’s honestly horrible to her. He puts up the pretense that he cares about her and protects her, but later on we see who the true Hawke is and he’s not sexy, not at all. Twice in the book he sexually touches her without her permission, both times while knowing she’s the Maiden, and it just made me really uncomfortable. Because if you have no sexual experience or even romantic experience, you’re not going to be so open and willing the first time someone touches you like that. She’s supposed to be sheltered, so I just couldn’t believe she would allow that. Wanting to escape her rooms and live a little and kiss him, I understand. That’s fun but innocent. But the sexual stuff, even if just touching, is not innocent, and I personally don’t feel like she should have or would have been that open and willing to do it after eighteen years of being told she’s not supposed to. Lifelong conditioning doesn’t just go away at the snap of a finger.
Then there’s the scene at the end when Poppy finds out that he betrayed her and she tries to kill him and then they end up having sex?? Excuse me? The whole time Hawke was with her, he knew he was going to betray her, he knew he had a hand in killing her family members, yet he still screws her (and screws her over). That is not the action of someone who’s caring and protective—that’s manipulative and vile. She was emotionally unstable because he was the first guy she even remotely had feelings for, and he completely took advantage of her. The only reason he protects her is to serve his own agenda. I honestly don’t know if he actually likes her or if he’s only turned on by the fact that she’s the “enemy.”
Once again we have a story where a centuries-old man is seducing a young girl. Hawke is not sexy! Not whatsoever. He’s controlling of her and too forceful during intimate moments. His scenes with Poppy made me cringe because of how much he took advantage of her. He lied to Poppy, deceived her, betrayed her, physically and emotionally and mentally hurt her, controlled her, gaslit her, sexually touched her without her permission, used her in so many wrong ways—so tell me why anyone thinks he’s sexy? Absolutely not. If a guy pulled any of that on me we’d be done immediately and he’d be suffering permanent brain damage after I finished with him; I don’t care how many abs he has.
I just like good guys, okay? But the general populace likes the bad boys, the players, the sex gods, so that’s always who ends up in the books. . . . I also don’t like how in romance books the girl is always the virgin and the guy is always the most experienced sexual partner ever. Someone please tell me about an adult romance where the guy is also a virgin, because that’s much more preferable to me.
And then there’s the whole part at the ending where Hawke tells Poppy he understands her desire to be free, that she’s been caged her whole life under the restraints of being the Maiden, that he also wants her to be free, but then he takes her prisoner and tells her she’s going to marry him, which she had no say in, and he tells her multiple times he’s only using her to get his brother back. So she’s no freer now than she has been her whole life! But it’s okay because he’s hot, right?? I just couldn’t believe that whole scene. I can’t believe Hawke. He became a completely different person at the end, really asserting his maniacal overlordliness. (But I’m still going to read book two because it’s addicting. . . .)
I didn’t realize I had so much pent-up anger about Hawke but apparently I really had a problem with him. Let’s end on a happy note. I loooved the scene toward the end when Poppy fistfights Hawke! That was so good, one of the few fight scenes I’ve actually enjoyed reading. I love seeing a strong female protagonist actually be badass and actually stab people and punch people, especially the hot guy because he was being a jerk. I feel like in books we are always told she’s strong but she never does anything to show that. But in this book she actually shows us she can fight and she doesn’t hold back! I loved it. Poppy is great.
Overall, even though From Blood and Ash has a highly problematic love interest and an obvious lack of editing, it was still so compelling and addictive. I flew through this book and couldn’t wait to get off of work every day so I could go home and read it. I really enjoyed Poppy as a character and I’m glad she actually showed us she’s a strong female protagonist rather than just saying she’s one without any evidence. I liked the fantasy politics and storyline as well. I’m pretty conflicted in my rating because some aspects I loved and some aspects I hated. But overall I’m still looking forward to continuing on with the series. This isn’t quality literature but it sure is fun.
This book needs a map. It’s a high fantasy—every high fantasy book needs a map. I believe the second and third books have a map, but I wish it were included in the first book as well. It also desperately needs a glossary to define all the new terminology the author used.