Series: Earthsinger Chronicles
Published by St. Martin's Press on May 1, 2018
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Today is my stop on the St Martin’s Press Blog Tour for L. Penelope’s new novel, Song of Blood & Stone., so in this post, I’ll be sharing my honest thoughts on this first installment in Penelope’s exciting new historical fantasy series, Earthsinger Chronicles.
Song of Blood & Stone is the captivating and thrilling first installment in L. Penelope’s new Earthsinger Chronicles fantasy series. It follows Jasminda, a young woman who is orphaned and living alone. She lives caught between two warring lands, Elsira and Lagrimar. The people of Lagrimar are dark-skinned and many of them possess an unusual magic called Earthsong, while the people of Elsira are fair-skinned, non-magical, and possess a strong fear of this strange magic. The Elsirans and Lagrimars have disliked and distrusted each other for generations and live in relative peace only because the two lands are separated by a magical wall called the Mantle. The mantle has occasionally been breached over the years and each time there has been a breach, war has followed.
Even though she considers Elsira to be her homeland, because she is half-Elsiran and half-Lagrimar, Jasminda is treated as an outcast by everyone around her. She therefore lives alone on the outskirts of Elsira and has little human contact on any given day, that is, until a group of menacing Elsiran soldiers show up on her doorstep seeking refuge. With them is a prisoner they have clearly mistreated and beaten within an inch of his life. Jasminda is drawn to this prisoner, whose name is Jack, right away and communicates with him whenever she can steal a moment to visit him. She learns that Jack is actually a spy who had disguised himself to go behind enemy lines and prove that the rumors are true: the Mantle is about to be destroyed and then nothing will stop the tyrant True Father and the people of Lagrimar from bring war and their magic to Elsira.
Jasminda helps Jack heal from his wounds and, working together, they manage to slip away from the Elsiran soldiers. Realizing that their homeland truly is in danger, Jack and Jasminda vow to do whatever they can to stop this war and so they set off on a dangerous journey together to save Elsira by unlocking the mystery of what caused these two lands to become enemies in the first place…
Jasminda was such an easy character to fall in love with. Being half Elsiran and half Lagrimar, Jasminda is dark-skinned and possesses a weak version of the Earthsong like the Lagrimars, so while the Elsirans tolerate her on their land, they do not trust her and shun her at every opportunity. She endeared herself to me from the opening scenes of the book when some Elsiran ladies sneer at her while she is retrieving her mail, and she responds by using her Earthsong to change her skin color to match theirs, taunting the women and asking them if that made her appearance more acceptable to them. I laughed aloud as the ladies, with horrified looks on their faces, scurried away from Jasminda as fast as they possibly could.
I’m always drawn to a character who is portrayed as an underdog anyway, but Jasminda also appealed to me because she’s smart, independent, and resourceful. She knows how to take care of herself and she’s also a proud woman who refuses to hang her head no matter how poorly those around her treat her, not even when her grandfather tries to pay her to say that she is not related to him. Apparently he fears that this mixed race child, visible proof of his own daughter’s transgression, might put a crimp in his political ambitions, so he wants Jasminda out of his life permanently.
Jack was also a likeable character. He’s a proud Elsiran who serves in their military. When Jasminda first encounters him, he is working as a spy, trying to gather evidence to prove there is a breach imminent so that his people can prepare for the war that will also be imminent. Even though he’s fiercely devoted to his own people, what I immediately liked about Jack was that he didn’t turn his nose up at Jasminda because of her skin color like the rest of his people do. Instead, because she lives on Elsiran land, he sees it as his duty to protect her just as he would protect any other Elsiran citizen. I admired his sense of duty and how passionate he was about doing what was right and honorable.
Even though I liked Jack, I have to admit there were a few moments when I wanted to throttle him. As he became more and more attracted to Jasminda, he became very intense in his need to protect her. I found myself yelling at him: “Dude, she wears a knife strapped to her with a garter belt and she has saved your ass more than once already! She does NOT need you to save her!” LOL!
That said, I did very much enjoy their relationship. Even though there was a bit of instant attraction, there was clearly chemistry between them and it felt like their relationship naturally progressed throughout the novel. Even more than the romantic aspect of their relationship, what I really liked was how well they worked together as a team to try to find a way to stop the breach and the war.
Aside from these two great characters, what appealed to me the most about Song of Blood & Stone is that even though it was a fantasy, the author has packed it full of social issues that parallel important issues we are dealing with today in our own society. This fantasy world very much mirrors our reality so it just made the story feel all the more relevant. The two warring lands have created a refugee crisis similar to what we have witnessed in Syria. Elsira has hundreds of Lagrimar refugees, and as we’ve witnessed with the Syrian refugees, reactions to them are very mixed. While some are accepting of them, by and large, people are prejudiced against them and afraid of the magic and just want them to go back where they came from. We also clearly see the racism and prejudice everywhere Jasminda goes. She even experiences it as a guest in the royal palace.
The author also creates a magnificent backstory that explains how the war between the Elsirans and the Lagrimars got started in the first place. The story is locked inside of a magical stone, and for reasons no one understands, only Jasminda is able to connect with the stone and reveal the story. She does so a little at a time so that the backstory unfolds parallel to the story we’re following. I don’t want to give away any spoilers so I’ll just say that it illustrates the roles that both the noble Sleeping Queen and the tyrannical True Father play in the conflict’s origins, as well as how the magical Earthsong factors in, and it ultimately reveals why Jasminda is able to connect with the stone when no one else can. It’s all quite fascinating and I loved watching the two stories unfold alongside each other.
I don’t want to call any of these issues dislikes, but there were a few areas where I just felt like I wanted more from the story.
The first of which is the worldbuilding. While I loved what the author created with the two warring lands and the mantle dividing them, I still felt like I only had a vague notion of what this fantasy world actually looked like. I just couldn’t easily picture it, which was a little disappointing. I like to be able to vividly picture the fantasy land I’m reading about, so I’m really hoping for more detail in the next book.
I had the same experience with the magical system. The idea of the Earthsong completely fascinated me, especially with its intense healing powers and the way Earthsingers can “link” and share their songs. That said, however, I felt like I never quite fully understand how exactly the Earthsong worked or what exactly one could do with it. It seemed like everyone who could use it did something different with it and I didn’t really see a common thread. So yeah, I’d definitely love to learn more about this Earthsong and what it entails, especially after seeing how differently True Father used it from so many others.
Finally, even though I enjoyed the romance between Jasminda and Jack, I still felt like it started to become a distraction the further along in the book I got. I’m frantically flipping through pages trying to figure out how they’re going to stop the war, and Jack and Jasminda seem more and more preoccupied with how they’re going to be together since their relationship will be deemed unacceptable because of Jasminda’s mixed heritage. War is coming, people. Focus! Fight first, love later! Needless to say, it was a little frustrating at times, haha!
Even with those few issues, I still thought this was a very strong start to what promises to be an outstanding fantasy series. I thought the ending was absolutely brilliant and look forward to seeing where the story goes next. I would recommend this to any reader who enjoys fantasy, romance, or even books that focus on social issues. I would also say that this is probably best geared toward mature readers as the sexual encounters between Jasminda and Jack are quite detailed and intense.
That said, if you like fantasy and a badass heroine, definitely consider reading Song of Blood & Stone!
A treacherous, thrilling, epic fantasy about an outcast drawn into a war between two powerful rulers.
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.