Fantasy, New Adult Romance

My Review: A Shadow in the Ember (Flesh & Fire #1): by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Publish Date: October 19th, 2021
Number of Pages: 647 Pages

Publisher: Blue Box Press
Genre(s): Fantasy, Romance, New Adult Romance, Paranormal

***Warning!! This review contains spoilers as this book is a spin-off out of the “From Blood and Ash” series, so continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!***

Total Star Rating: 3 Stars

It is far easier to be lied to than it is to acknowledge that you have been lied to.

– Jennifer L. Armentrout, “A Shadow in the Ember”

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

Born shrouded in the veil of the Primals, a Maiden as the Fates promised, Seraphena Mierel’s future has never been hers. Chosen before birth to uphold the desperate deal her ancestor struck to save his people, Sera must leave behind her life and offer herself to the Primal of Death as his Consort.

However, Sera’s real destiny is the most closely guarded secret in all of Lasania—she’s not the well protected Maiden but an assassin with one mission—one target. Make the Primal of Death fall in love, become his weakness, and then… end him. If she fails, she dooms her kingdom to a slow demise at the hands of the Rot.

Sera has always known what she is. Chosen. Consort. Assassin. Weapon. A specter never fully formed yet drenched in blood. A monster. Until him. Until the Primal of Death’s unexpected words and deeds chase away the darkness gathering inside her. And his seductive touch ignites a passion she’s never allowed herself to feel and cannot feel for him. But Sera has never had a choice. Either way, her life is forfeit—it always has been, as she has been forever touched by Life and Death.

~~~

Instead of moving forward with the story of the “Blood and Ash” series by Jennifer L. Armentrout, we kind of go backwards in time to go and meet an incredibly important character that we met in “The Crown of Gilded Bone:” The Primal of Death, Nyktos. We go back approximately 200 years before FBAA starts and meet Nyktos and his Consort, Sera, who we know are actually Poppy’s grandparents.

It’s the beginning of a spin-off series set in the same world, you definitely get to see some Easter eggs of what is to eventually come with the Ascended and everything Poppy, Cas, and Kieran are dealing with in more current times.

I was a little bummed going in because personally, I am not the biggest fan of prequels. You already know to some degree what’s going to happen, so the fact that the story is somewhat predictable to that degree makes me not as interested. In a way, you’re already spoiled how it ends. I told myself to keep my criticism and weariness to a minimum because if I learned anything from TCOGB, I can trust the author to satisfy me with her storytelling skills. For the most part, this book didn’t disappoint, but I can also say that it didn’t feel as good as it could’ve been.

For most of the beginning towards the middle of the book, it felt like I was just reading a version of “From Blood and Ash” all over again with similar character archetypes and relationships, and maybe that was something the author wanted to do with showing so many parallels between Sera’s story and Poppy’s, but personally I got incredibly bored with the book for this reason. It didn’t feel like it’s own story, just a remixed version of a story the author already gave me.

I’m definitely not saying this isn’t worth the read though! The last chunk of the book is where this book truly starts to feel like it’s own entity and starts to veer away from the many comparisons of FBAA with epic battles of gods vs. gods and many twists revealed to thicken the already intricately drawn out plot.

Also, there was some incredible sexual tension between Sera and the Primal himself as they can’t deny the mutual attraction they feel towards each other. There wasn’t as many sex scenes as I was hoping, but we got some incredible spice from what we were given!

Of course, JLA leaves us bewildered with a crazy reveal at the very end of the book that even I can admit, it’s making me really excited for the next book to see how exactly all this information comes into play! It seemed to definitely get a great reaction out of the fandom, at least those who’ve posted about it on the FBAA World Spoiler Group on Facebook!

What I Liked:

  1. I Love A Good “They’re Sent To Kill Them, But End Up Falling For Them Instead” Trope! I really discovered I loved this when I read “The Bridge Kingdom” by Danielle Jensen, but it was also just so spectacular in this book too! Sera has been trained pretty much since she was a child on how to seduce the Primal of Death and then kill him when he’s at his most vulnerable, but of course those dang feelings get in the way and complicate everything! I’m personally here for it, and the angst and drama when the other finds out about it…
  2. Sera Is Even MORE Badass Than Poppy! I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I liked Sera even more than I did Poppy at the beginning of FBAA! She’s more badass with a weapon in hand, she doesn’t ask as many questions, and she and Nyktos have some hot AF chemistry too!
  3. The Twist With The History Of The Primals! I feel like I should have seen of this coming with how “Crown of Gilded Bone” turned out. But seriously, WHO could possibly guess the twists with the crazy family trees that the author reveals to us as the plot thickens, and even what happens at the very end of this book too….bravo Jennifer 👏🏼👏🏼

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. There’s Not As Much Spice As I Was Hoping…so I’m not saying there isn’t some very well written smut in this book, because there is, but I was hoping for more than what we actually got. I figured if Sera was sent to seduce the Primal of death, she’d really put that training into…ummm…action if you know what I mean.
  2. Maybe A Few Too Many Parallels To Blood And Ash?…I was very bored with this book for a large part of the beginning because it felt like I was reading “From Blood and Ash” all over again. There were so many similarities…the maiden and her elder knight mentor and guardian, douchey royals, and mysterious, snarky, dark, and sexy brooding man for the love interest…it just felt like the same book rewritten with minor changes to keep it somewhat new

Conclusion:

Overall, “A Shadow in the Ember” was a good book that I’d hoped would be great, but unfortunately some of my weariness with prequels came to be as this book just felt like recycled material with the same archetypes and type-cast of characters all like characters from FBAA that we’re familiar with.

HOWEVER, like I said, as you get to the last chunk of this book it really begins to feel like it’s own original story with a lot more excitement and plethora of twists and reveals that even though it’s a prequel, I’m very curious to see what happens further with Sera and Nyktos and everyone else!

NOW. as I’m typing this review, it’s around three months until the next installment of the FBAA series, “The War of Two Queens.” Now THAT is what I’m very excited to read! I need to know what happens to Cas, all the Draken who’ve woken up to join the battle, and possibly find yet another book boyfriend in Reaver! I can’t wait, and I can already tell it’s going to be a top book of 2022 for me!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Erotica, Fantasy, LGBT

My Review: Iron and Fire (Silk and Steel #2): by Ariana Nash

*Kindle Edition*
Publish Date: April 19th, 2019
Number of Pages: 411 Pages
Publisher: Crazy Ace Publishing
Genre(s): Fantasy, LGBT, Erotica

***Warning! This review contains spoilers from the previous book in the series, so continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!***

To see my review of book #1 – Silk & Steel – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4.5 Stars

Because…’ he said, ‘in the one place I expected to die, you gave me a reason to live.

– Ariana Nash, “Iron & Fire”

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

Alliances are forged and broken, friendships shattered, and despite the odds stacked against them, two hearts collide in this explosive sequel to Silk & Steel.

From his mother’s cage to a human one, but Lysander’s captors are the least of his concerns. Rumors of a monstrous bronze dragon ripple through human camps, a dragon tearing great holes in the world as though searching for something… or someone.

It’s just a matter of time before the bronze chief, Dokul, finds Lysander and makes good on his promises. And should he find him, Lysander knows Dokul will not be merciful.

Amidst the greatest of elven victories, Eroan failed. Failed his people, failed himself, and failed the dragon who saved him. But he will not falter. The dragonkin are in disarray, there will never be a greater opportunity to strike. Eroan Ilanea will not fail his people again.

But when rumors of the dragon prince’s survival reach him, he must choose: Fight for his people or fight for the prince who nobody thought to save?

***

***Contains adult themes, triggering content, a bisexual elf, and a gay dragon shifter.***

~~~

Oh boy!

This book got even better than the first book; no second book syndrome in sight!

The story continues right after how the previous book ended, and what heartache we must face as Lysander and Eroan were tragically separated and Eroan later believes he sent the dragon shifter to his death with the humans. But really, the Dragon lord, Dokul, knows he’s still alive and is after him still.

Again, I’m shocked how much I enjoy this story because it’s a gay romance Game of Thrones—Gay of Thrones?—and the sexual tension and overall development between them and their relationship is done so spectacularly well, It was by far the biggest driving force that kept my eyes glued to the page and seeing what possibly happened next. I loved it whenever they reunited and was sad whenever they got separated again and again.

The worldbuilding more or less stayed the same, not much really changed in that regard, but the world still remained so brutalistic and violent and harsh as everyone is doing whatever is necessary to come out on top of this game of thrones. We have Lysander’s brother Akiem popping up and causing destruction whenever he appears, Dokul and Mirann are also still like a dragon-shifter version of Cersei and Tywin Lannister, and Seraph is still Eroan’s best friend and kind of being like an elven Arya in her way too.

Lysander continues to be the MVP of these books, but also the one who unfortunately gets the most abuse out of the characters…like, holy moly does he really get put through the wringer, and my heart aches for him because deep down he really just wants to find a place to belong and not feel like a waste of space. He feels that with Eroan and has such a deep connection with him, but of course the forbidden aspect of their romance makes that plenty complicated too. BUT they really fight for their relationship and did what they can, plus there was a ton more steam and spice between them this time too!

~~~

What is this thing between us?

Eroan’s chin rubbed his head and when he spoke, his voice rumbled through Lysander. ‘It is everything.

– Ariana Nash, “Iron & Fire”

What I Liked:

  1. The Sexual Tension Between Lysander & Eroan! There was way more romance with these two in this second book, which made the overall storyline sooooooooooo much more interesting to me too! The tables have turned and this time it’s Eroan who’s rescuing Lysander and they’re hiding out together, keeping each other warm by staying super close…I’m just so glad this was a bigger focus now that the world has fully been introduced and there’s no need to further explain a bunch of other things, I’m ready for the smut! I’m ready for the romance! I’m ready for the fluff too, because both these tortured beings deserve some freakin’ happiness.
  2. Dragons! I said this in the last review too I’m pretty sure—I don’t feel like looking back to confirm—but I love that this is so dragon-centric! It’s dragon-shifters to be exact, but either way, they’re big scaly flying lizards of death that can breathe fire! Honestly that’s enough for certain readers to want to read this
  3. How Dark and Brutal This Story Gets! The author isn’t afraid to get to the dark and dirty content with how descriptive the more violent scenes can get. There’s also a lot of rape, which is pretty triggering content, there’s also a sex scene that’s actually kind of manipulative and was meant as a tactic to get one character to hate the other, so I know the previous review said this, but this book continues with the similar trigger warnings so there’s my PSA on the subject! It was also pretty unpredictable in a few parts that did somewhat surprise me! It was mainly battles and the big climax, but either way, I always appreciate when something raises my eyebrows and gets me to say “huh, I didn’t see that coming!”

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Too Many Side Characters That I Can’t Remember… I don’t know if it was just me, because I’ve been weird with books lately and my attention span has been suffering as of late, but there were quite a few side characters in this book, and half of the time I was struggling to remember who was who. It was either I wasn’t paying attention as much as I should’ve been or I simply didn’t care because I was more wrapped up in the sexual tension between Eroan and Lysander, but I struggled with this aspect of this book.

Conclusion:

Overall, I enjoyed this book even more than the first one, but mainly because there was a ton more romance this time around. The worldbuilding and history of the world is nothing too special, but if you’re looking for some dark fantasy/smutty M/M romance that’s pretty well written, this is a great option for you! (obviously, just start with the first book obviously)

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fantasy, New Adult, New Adult Romance, Paranormal

My Review: Zodiac Academy: Ruthless Fae (Supernatural Beasts and Bullies #2): by Caroline Packham and Susanne Valenti

*Kindle Edition*
Publish Date: August 30th, 2019
Number of Pages: 517 Pages
Publisher: N/A
Genre(s): Fantasy, Paranormal, New Adult Romance

***Warning! This review contains spoilers from this book and the previous in the series, so continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!***

To see my review of book #1 – Zodiac Academy: The Awakening – Click HERE

To see my Fancast/Dreamcast of the series so far – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4.25 Stars

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

They tried to break us.
They almost did.
But we’re not going anywhere.

The Celestial Heirs think the stars are on their side. But they don’t know what’s coming. Fighting them one on one isn’t an option so we have to be stealthy. Remaining under the radar won’t be easy, but if we pull it off, they’ll never suspect our involvement when their lives start falling apart.

Besides, they’ve already taken us to the brink of hell, what more can they really do?

**THIS IS NOT REVERSE HAREM**

This is a paranormal academy bully romance and forbidden teacher romance. Suitable for Upper YA/NA readers who are fans of Shunned, Cruel Magic and Supernatural Academy.

~~~

Here I am again to gush about how addicted to this series I am! I have seriously been losing sleep over how much I’ve been reading this last week and a half because if I’m not working or sleeping or bathing, my eyes are glued to my kindle devouring this story. It’s really been a great way to get out of a self-diagnosed reading slump I’ve been in for a few months.

I’ve even been slacking on drawing for my new artist Instagram account (@njg.artistry if anyone’s interested, go give it a follow! There’s my shameless self promotion to slip into my review), but seriously, that’s how addicted I am to these books! the bookworm inside my soul has been given life once again after what has been a dry and hot as hell summer as I type this.

This is the second book in the series, and it starts up immediately after what happened at the end of the previous book, and Darcy and Tori have a tough choice to make: do they stay down and return to the mortal realm with their tails between their legs, or do they let what the Heirs did to each of them and let it light a fire under their butts? Darcy remembers her unplanned meeting with Professor Orion and questions if she wants to be defeated and maybe it’s more worth it to stay and fight.

The worldbuilding was more or less the same with the mentioning of the Nymphs, those monsters from the shadow realm and enemy to the Fae; they’re still lingering in the dark corners and getting stronger so we know they’ll come into play later on in the story, they’re not going anywhere! One new thing we did learn is about the different star bonds that can happen between two fae who are destined to be together in different ways: Nebula Allies, Elysian Mates, or Astral Adversaries. They’re pretty self explanatory by the names alone, but read the book for yourself, they’ll go into it more of course.

Of course the major highlight again for me was all the different relationships and dynamics between all the characters. Tory and Darcy of course showing the importance of sisterhood and friendship, and the twins vs. the Heirs and the rivalry there that is FAR from over! They don’t take what the four guys did to them lying down and get some major revenge on them which was actually so satisfying to see happen. I would’ve rolled my eyes if they didn’t go through with all they did because they take the high road and “don’t stoop to their level”….nah fuck that, some people like bullies deserve to have what they’ve done happen to them too, an eye for an eye and all that. I also loved how strategic they get with all of it too since they know that for now they can’t match them with brute strength, but they really quickly learn to hit the guys where it hurts, so way to go ladies!

Darcy and Professor Orion have a VERY interesting relationship after he saved her from Seth and his pack. He’s still a total asshole to just about everyone who talks to him, but it’s so cute to see him secretly have a soft spot for Darcy. He sneakily does little things with his magic to help her, It gets even juicier when it seems like there might be some unrequited and forbidden feelings flowing between them too, but he’s her professor and she’s the student and there are strict rules and repercussions against it, but that only makes it that much hotter! But besides Tory, he may be the funniest character in the whole book because he too has a sharp tongue and can quickly verbally lay out anyone who dares speak up against him. I had my doubts about him in the first book, but the things he does and says in this book really made him grow on me and he seems legit to me now.

‘Stop looking at me like that,’ he snarled.

‘Like what?

‘You know what,’ he snapped. ‘I’m your teacher.

‘I know,’ I balked, horrified at what he was suggesting.

‘Do you?’ he steed forward. I nodded firmly, though I wasn’t sure my body was getting the message because I had the urge to wrap myself around him and kiss him goodbye. ‘Then stop looking at me like that.

‘Then stop looking back, Lance.

– Caroline Peckham & Susanne Valenti, “Zodiac Academy: Ruthless Fae”

Tory has her own romantic situation that’s quickly getting pretty steamy too! She’s kind of possibly got two Heirs interested in her with a possible little love triangle forming with vampire Caleb and dragon-shifter Darius. Things are still pretty tense between her and Darius, like really tense with a few sexually-heated moments, but Caleb is being much more friendly and open to seeing what might happen. There’s definitely a mutual attraction there with Tory and Caleb, and if a hot as hell vampire with blond, wild curls and abs starts hitting on you, what would you do? Her relationship with both males definitely heats up, and there’s also definitely going to be a lot of dramatic moments and angst that goes along with it that is actually so much fun to read!

Speaking of the Heirs, this book you actually get into their heads and they actually have chapters from their perspectives which is a big change from just the twins in the first book. It certainly helps you see into their minds and (maybe) feel a little more for them as characters. Caleb at least seems to be the easiest to like amongst them as he actually is revealed to have remorse over their pranks that went too far, but you see what a shitshow of a family and house that Darius comes from too…It’s not surprising he turned out the way he did if THAT’s how his father is like!

Lots of things are moving forward, tensions and sexual appetites are rising like flames, danger is lurking behind the curtain waiting to strike at the opportune moment, and the books are getting longer! It’s all very exciting and bingeable and more is yet to come!

What I Liked:

  1. The Vega Twins Enact Their Revenge! I LOVE that the twins don’t take the high road and do all that they can to get even with the four Heirs and what they did to them! Tory was a freakin’ badass at the beginning with what she did to Darius to get back at him, and I love that even the goody-two shoes twin Darcy is showing some fire in her spirit as well!
  2. There’s Way More Romance! Oh man does the romance heat up in this second book! There might still not be as much smut as some of you readers are looking for, but rest assured, all in due time! Let the story progress and trust me, it’ll get plenty spicier. Part of the thrill is the slowburn too! I like both circumstances with each twin starting to form, but I’m not gonna lie, I was totally going in thinking this was going to be a reverse harem situation. Then I was like thinking the twins are just gonna share them all? It’d be hot, but I was curious as to how we’d get to that part and have it actually make sense. Part of me was disappointed that’s not the case in these books, but it’s not like there isn’t other hot RH material out there to read instead if that’s just what I’m after!
  3. We See From The Heir’s POV! I liked getting into the heads of the Heirs and even Professor Orion. It adds so much more depth to the story and the complex web of relationships that for advancing in different degrees in this story. Plus, it also makes it easier to distinguish between them more and makes them just feel like more fleshed out characters. I like Caleb and Orion because of this, I’m torn on Darius but literally nothing about that boy is easy, and I’m definitely not that fond of Seth and Max. Max still is the character we’ve gotten the least amount of time with, But Seth can be a real prick sometimes! For someone who’s so extraverted and outgoing and like a human dog, he can be especially cruel out of the four guys…
  4. That Exciting Ending! We learn more about Pitball, which to be honest I still don’t have the biggest understanding of it, but pretty much treat it like this world’s version of Quidditch. BUT, the ending is actually pretty high octane and incredibly exciting and badass, so I was impressed with how much happened all at the stadium!
  5. Geraldine Grus! She was kind of the weird stage five clinger to the twins in the first book, but after she was attacked by a Nymph, the girls felt bad and decided to be friends with her, and she is a hoot! She has all these crazy and expressive sayings and quotes that don’t even make sense half the time, but are still funny nonetheless. They’re like an exaggerated version of Sandy Cheeks in Spongebob when she says something like “that’s crazier than a jackrabbit stuck in a corn barrell” or something weird like that!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. How The Heirs Switch Up Behaviors…I don’t like how they’re somewhat nice to the twins when it’s one-on-one, but once it’s all four of them and they’re in front of the student body is when they return to their douchebag ways, and it’s probably what I like least about them, even Caleb and Darius. Like how two faced and scummy to put on a show like that to show off to their classmates….seemed like way too many guys I actually went to high school with….
  2. Lionel Acrux…What a scumbag…if the authors’ goals was to make us instantly detest a guy, they definitely succeeded there! Poor Darius with having a maniacal father like that, but you also meet Xavier and learn that Darius isn’t all bad actually, which is a huge relief at least!

Conclusion:

Overall, I continue to obsess over this series! It’s not as heavy or grand as some of the other fantasy romance titles I’ve read, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it any less too. I just love the characters a whole lot; their dynamics amongst each other and all their morally grey personalities make it a fun and fast read with you aching to see what happens next and who might end up together.

The plot can feel a little slow, what with the slow burn romance and the twins still figuring out their abilities, but with the forbidden romance and the threat of danger about to pop up anywhere, there’s certainly a higher charge to get those faster paced scenes much more often as the story develops. Either way, I can say I’ve still devoured these books and am already halfway through book 5 as I type this review, so let that speak to how much I am enjoying these books!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Editorial Articles, Writing/Articles

Beautiful Book Covers Appreciation Post!

Hello fellow book lovers!

Now all of us here know how much we love to read—heck, that’s why you’re on this site to begin with!—and one thing that I love about them are all the gorgeous cover designs out there! I mean, it’s like owning your own little art gallery in your reading space, and there are so many different styles out there that are effective and just absolutely outstanding to look at. I mean, I’ve totally been guilty about just staring at book covers in bed just because I love the artwork or the calligraphy or the overall look of it. I’ve even caught myself buying books that I may or may not need but was solely based off the cover alone. We’ve all heard the phrase “don’t judge a book by it’s cover,” but let’s be real, we all do it…A cover is supposed to initially draw us in, but then the story is responsible for keeping us there.

Just because I love covers so much, I created this post as a way to just collect some of the most gorgeous covers/editions of certain books I’ve read over the years, and even quite a few I haven’t touched yet, but definitely plan to! Take in all the different styles and aesthetics and ask yourself how it makes it an appealing or effective cover!

Do you see your favorite titles on here? If not, what’s your favorite book/series cover or edition? Let me know in the comments!

Enjoy!

~~~

There are also plenty of gorgeous book covers of books I haven’t even touched yet!:

Thanks for Reading (and Viewing)!

— Nick Goodsell

Fantasy, New Adult, New Adult Romance

My Review: The Crown of Gilded Bones (Blood and Ash #3): by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Publish Date: April 20th, 2021
Number of Pages: 600 Pages
Publisher: Blue Box Press
Genre(s): Fantasy, New Adult Romance

***Warning!! This review contains spoilers for this book plus others in the series, so continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!***

To see my review of book #1 – From Blood And Ash – Click HERE

To see my review of book #2 – A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire – Click HERE

To see my Fancast/Dreamcast for the series so far – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4.75 Stars

‘You need to understand that I will do anything and everything for my wife.’ Casteel’s gaze latched on to his father‘s. ‘No risk is too great, nor is anything too sacred. Because she is my everything. There is nothing greater than her, and I do mean nothing.'”

– Jennifer L. Armentrout, “The Crown of Gilded Bones”

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Jennifer L. Armentrout comes book three in her Blood and Ash series…

She’s been the victim and the survivor…

Poppy never dreamed she would find the love she’s found with Prince Casteel. She wants to revel in her happiness but first they must free his brother and find hers. It’s a dangerous mission and one with far-reaching consequences neither dreamed of. Because Poppy is the Chosen, the Blessed. The true ruler of Atlantia. She carries the blood of the King of Gods within her. By right the crown and the kingdom are hers.

The enemy and the warrior…

Poppy has only ever wanted to control her own life, not the lives of others, but now she must choose to either forsake her birthright or seize the gilded crown and become the Queen of Flesh and Fire. But as the kingdoms’ dark sins and blood-drenched secrets finally unravel, a long-forgotten power rises to pose a genuine threat. And they will stop at nothing to ensure that the crown never sits upon Poppy’s head.

A lover and heartmate…

But the greatest threat to them and to Atlantia is what awaits in the far west, where the Queen of Blood and Ash has her own plans, ones she has waited hundreds of years to carry out. Poppy and Casteel must consider the impossible—travel to the Lands of the Gods and wake the King himself. And as shocking secrets and the harshest betrayals come to light, and enemies emerge to threaten everything Poppy and Casteel have fought for, they will discover just how far they are willing to go for their people—and each other.

~~~

Wow wow wow wow wow was what I kept repeating to myself as I finished this book a couple days ago as I’m typing this review up. The third book in Jennifer L. Armentrout’s Blood and Ash was an absolute tornado that hit me right in the chest more than any other book in quite some time, and it took me a couple days to allow myself to soak it all in and collect my thoughts as I make sense of the pure craziness that happens in the last chunk of this book. I mean, the Admin of the Facebook group for these books said this one was going to absolutely wreck us as a fandom, and while I wasn’t on the floor weeping my eyes out or throwing my book across the room in a fit of heartbroken rage, I can say that yeah…that sequence really left an impression on me as a reader. I am filled with wonder, with shock, and most of all I get chills running down my arms because I have to say to the author: BRAVO!

The world and the story that this author has created somehow just continues to get bigger and bigger with every book, and JLA reached heights that I honestly didn’t even know it’d get to with all the information I now know surrounding Poppy, The Ascended, Queen Ileana, Queen Eloana, and even the gods that are now starting to wake back up on the brink of war! I remember thinking back when the first book came out and how maybe it was going to be a really good knight/princess centric romance, but OHHHHHHHH am I wrong and so happy to be so! It’s reached Sarah J. Maas level of amazingness with all the worldbuilding, the shocking twists, the bitter betrayals, the many different kinds of magical beings, and of course the steamy and heartwarming romance.

Whenever I get these books in my hands, and I do the more expensive hardcover versions from Barnes & Noble because I try to purchase anything off Amazon as a last resort after working there, I really take my time and slowly read so that I can savor all of it. Too many times in the past have I completely binge-read a book in two days and then I stare blankly at the wall as I realize I have to wait a whole other year until the next one releases. I guess it helps a little, but in reality I also already finished it and it still feels like it will be forever until I find out what happens next in this series. The next book will be a prequel, which is going to be released later in fall 2021.

There’s also so much growth that happens in this book in multiple ways: both Poppy and Cas as individuals and as husband and wife. Poppy continues to change even this far into the series, and she gains more and more confidence in her abilities, both normal and magical. As she discovers more and more about her past, she she also learns whose in her corner and who will betray her all the same. She becomes so much stronger and badass too; that ending gave me some series Daenerys Targaryen Khaleesi vibes that felt so powerful considering she started off as the pure and demure maiden at the very beginning. Casteel slowly learns to open up and let himself be vulnerable in front of her too, he admits/confesses things that he’s told no one else, and shows pure emotion when Poppy hears it all yet continues to stay by his side. His past is so dark and tragic, and you can tell it means more to him than he says when Poppy reassures him and reveals her true feelings to him as well. The softer moments when these two are alone and continue to just talk and get to know each other as a normal couple are some very low-key amazing moments that helps elevate their status as one of the best couples in Fantasy literature. While becoming more intimate in more ways than one (both smutty and intellectually), they also quickly learn to take on the hard task of learning to rule a kingdom while everything is going on with the Ascended and the possibility of war on the horizon. They have to become ruthless and make a lot of hard decisions in order to help keep their land and their people safe, and it was fun to see them as they held their own against players of the game of thrones who’ve been around for centuries when compared to themselves.

‘You will bow before your Queen.’ Casteel eyed the Atlantian coolly. ‘Or you will bleed before her. It is your choice.'”

– Jennifer L. Armentrout, “The Crown of Gilded Bones”

What I Liked:

  1. Poppy Continues to Grow/Develop As A Character! Like I said, her growth is seriously so amazing to read in this whole series. She becomes more confident in herself and her love for Casteel, and even grows quite a backbone when dealing with royals, nobility, and even celestial beings from another realm!
  2. SO MANY NEW CHARACTERS! But actually though…it’s crazy all the new faces we see in this third book, some are names we’ve been hearing about for quite some time now, while others are names you never thought you’d actually meet up with. First, there’s Casteel’s parents, King Valyn and Queen Eloana. Second, there’s Ian and Malec, both are brothers of our two main characters. There’s the infamous Miss Willa Colyns, who was such a total delight to finally meet! There’s a little reveal about her that I cheered with glee for that was absolutely hilarious! There’s Nyktos, the king of the Gods, who was also kind of an obvious addition considering the next book will be a prequel starring him. Then there’s Queen Ileana, the Blood Queen whose in charge of all the vamprys of the Ascended. She’s a real piece of work, that’s for sure!
  3. The Revenants! This was a very interesting concept that was introduced in this book, and while I guess it includes new characters, I wanted this to have its own part on the list. Let’s just say for now that the Blood Queen has a lot tricks and twists up her sleeves.
  4. Poppy’s Mysterious Backstory Finally Explained! This part was the big climax, and wow oh wow was it done in spectacular dramatics! There was so many twisting reveals, it’s no surprise that no one correctly guessed it on the FB group in the months leading up to this book’s arrival! I mean, with how complicated it all gets, who could’ve possibly gotten even close to how complex this whole family tree gets?!
  5. Casteel Continues To Be Book Husband GOALS! Rhysand who? But seriously, Casteel Da’Neer continues to raise the bar for ALL men who love that special someone in their lives. Like I mentioned before, he grows a lot too in this book and allows himself to show vulnerability and raw emotions when it comes to Poppy, and even better how he doesn’t get his masculinity called into question when Poppy becomes so much more powerful than him. He actually gets turned on by it, which for him is totally normal.
  6. Dragons! Yessssssssss Dragons…well Drakens to be more specific, but basically the same thing! Going to the lands of the gods, Poppy learns that Nyktos had his own group of warriors who could transform into Drakens at will and protect their land. You don’t see as much of them as you’d probably like if I’m being honest, but the set up with them for sure gets you excited for the later books down the road.
  7. There’s Set Up For The Prequel Coming Out Later! For those not in this FB group (The Blood and Ash Spoiler Group), it’s obvious that the next book out will not be the next book in this series, but actually will be a prequel that starts a new side series, and stars the King of the Gods, Nyktos. A Shadow In the Ember will come out October 19th, 2021 according to Goodreads, and there is a ton of set up for it for when it comes out. This just all adds to how much bigger and grander this whole story has become thanks to Jennifer L. Armentrout’s brilliant creative writing skills, like it makes me want to get back into my writing even more!
  8. The Smut! Oh yeah, those of us in the fandom are always looking for the steamy scenes that Poppy and Cas have in these books, and they didn’t disappoint in any way! Their passion continues to heat up the pages, and even get to try some new things out *wink*wink*

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. A Slower Midpoint In This Book…The beginning started off on such a strong note, but once it got itself all sorted out and things slowed down for a bit of the middle of the book, I found myself a little bored in all honesty. Sure, we got to see moments where Cas and Poppy get closer than ever, but my boredom was also beginning to make me worry; Was I losing interest in this book? Was I losing interest in this series? What’s going on with the Ascended? Are we just going to be forgetting about them for awhile? Luckily, my faith was restored later on in the book when the tornado hit when we finally meet the Queen. I’ll try to remember to keep my faith in JLA as an author after that!
  2. No Joining Scene…Yep, I’m on that side of the fandom. It’s been so funny to see how torn all of us fans are when it comes to all this, which is a threeway by the way. I’m all for supporting polyamorous relationships, and while maybe I can agree that maybe for this particular story it’s not as important of needing to happen, I wouldn’t mind if we got at least one scene where this goes down. So I was disappointed that it didn’t happen, BUT there was a scene with some interesting voyeurism going on that continues my hope that maybe it’ll happen! There are plenty of more books set to come out for this series, so that also means plenty of more opportunities to make it happen!
  3. The Repetitive Worldbuilding Formula…There were some major info-dumps in this book, and the way it’s all told to us as an audience has just gotten a little old for me. Basically with how Poppy has so many questions—much to Keiran’s dismay—and then either Kieran or Jasper are the human encyclopedias who have all the information she needs. It’s a formula that’s been used several times now, and maybe it didn’t matter as much to other readers, but I personally am getting a little bored with it by this point because it’s happened so many times already. I don’t know, maybe there just needs to be new ways JLA can give us this information if there still is by this point in the series.
  4. The Too Close To Matching Names of Big Characters…Malik and Malec, Eloana and Ileana…I know in a lot of Fantasy novels/series that sometimes people just have similar names, but it was getting a little annoying how close these names were, sometimes I got them mixed up. Is it Mal-Lick and Mal-leek? Il-ianna and El-oh-ana? that’s how I’ve been pronouncing them so far up to this point!

~~~

The dimple in his right cheek appeared, and he dipped his head, kissing just above my brow and then lower, over the scar. ‘Princess?

My lips curved up. What had started as a nickname had become a reality. ‘Yes?

His mouth moved over mine. ‘I love you.

The smile on my face grew as my heart did a little skip in my chest. ‘I love you.‘”

– Jennifer L. Armentrout, “The Crown of Gilded Bones”

Conclusion:

What a wild ride filled with just about everything you need to have an epic fantasy adventure: danger, drama, suspense, romance, humor, friendship, history, so many amazing characters, and shocking twists that take your breath away! This Blood and Ash series is literally EVERYTHING and was so enjoyable of a book for me. It would have been absolutely perfect if not for the slow midpoint for me, but with all that happens in the last chunk of it, it almost makes up for any boredom or concern I had at that point in my time reading this book.

I’ve never been a big fan of prequels, I always feel like they’re so limited in how far they can go as a story because they’re literally just set up for something you’ve already seen or read. In a way, you already know whats going to end up happening in the end, and the predictability factor of that isn’t all that interesting to me, so while I’m still looking forward to A Shadow in the Embers coming out this October that will shed some light on Nyktos and the Gods and all the rich history there, I’m not nearly as excited as I would be if book #4 of Blood and Ash was being released instead. Still, I trust JLA as an author by this point, so I’ll keep my inner reservation and reluctance and negativity to a minimum and I give this prequel a chance.

Blood and Ash book #4 is set to release March 2022 with the title and exact date to come at a later time than as I’m typing this review, but I’m sure those who’ve also finished this book can agree with me when I say that March feels like such a long ass time away!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell