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

Fantasy, New Adult Romance, Paranormal, Romance

My Review: A Kingdom of Shadow and Light (Fever #11): by Karen Marie Moning

Publish Date: February 23rd, 2021
Number of Pages: 496 Pages
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Genre(s): Fantasy, Paranormal Romance

***WARNING: This review contains spoilers of previous books in the series, so continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!***

To see my review of book #1 – Darkfever – Click HERE

To see my review of book #2 – Bloodfever – Click HERE

To see my review of book #3 – Faefever – Click HERE

To see my review of book #4 – Dreamfever – Click HERE

To see my review of book #5 – Shadowfever – Click HERE

To see my review of book #6 – Iced – Click HERE

To see my review of book #7 – Burned – Click HERE

To see my review of book #8 – Feverborn – Click HERE

To see my review of book #9 – Feversong – Click HERE

To see my review of book #10 – High Voltage – Click HERE

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

Total Star Rating: 3.5 Stars

It’s always such a bittersweet moment when you get to the end of a book series that means a whole lot to you and one that you’ve been a big fan of ever since you started it. I haven’t been a fan of the Fever series for as long as some members of the fandom, but I can say that I know that pain that it’s all over; that feeling off being lost and like there’s no longer a presence in your life that you’ve grown used to. What do you do next? What do you read next? Is it better to reread the whole series again or to just begin a new one? This is what some may call a book hangover, and they’re just about as bad as an alcohol-infused one too.

A Kingdom of Shadow and Light was one of my most anticipated books of 2021 (the only others belong to Jennifer L. Armentrout and Sarah J. Maas), and I couldn’t wait to see how Karen Marie Moning was going to end her amazing series! As I kept with the books until the very end, all that’s happened in the story has come back into my mind of when I started book #1, Darkfever: Mac moving to Dublin, meeting Barrons, Darroc, The O’Bannion brothers, Fiona, The Shades, Dreamy Eyed Guy, The Gray Man and Woman, Rowena, the Sinsar-Dubh, the walls coming down, Mallucé, Dancer, the Nine, to Alina coming back to life, to Mac being possessed by the Sinsar-Dubh and eating Jo, and meeting the endgame characters like Dani, Christian, V’lane/Cruce, Ryodan, The Unseelie King, and of course Jericho Barrons. SO MUCH HAS HAPPENED. And now we’re here, it’s the final book….ugh, so many feels!

Upon reading it, either my excitement was getting the best of me or maybe it just wasn’t up to my expectations, but I found myself kind of bored with this book. All the chapters were delving into the minds of whoever’s chapter it was, but by the time I’d reached past page 100, and it felt like hardly anything actually happened… like their chapters were only their inner thoughts filled with recaps and all the questions they had of what was going on, or about sex. They all think about sex a lot, but I’m not really complaining about that since that’s kind of been the tone of the series for quite some time.

Honestly, there’s not a whole lot of things that happened within this book that I was looking forward to, but I go more into all that later on in my review, so I won’t bore you into reading it all twice. What I will show you is my final thoughts on some of the major characters throughout the whole series below:

Mackayla Lane:

What a character… I find it so funny when people gave up on the series too early because they read the first few chapters and decide they can’t stand her and don’t wish to keep reading on. I mean, how do you explain that the Mac at the very beginning and all that she goes through, how much she changes and how much she grows? You can’t, that person just really needs to keep reading and see all that happens for yourself. I see it though, Mackayla Lane wasn’t a great character in the beginning: imagine that stereotypical blonde, bubbly, Elle Woods-esque party girl and that’s all who she was. She’d never really faced any hardships and everything was mindless and easy for her, then the news of her sister’s death rocks her and her family’s whole world apart, but the thing that immediately makes her interesting is the dark vengeance she seeks while her parents stay broken and deep in grief. She’s been through the wringer, I loved how outspoken and strong she became when she (and us readers) got frustrated with V’Lane and Barrons both tugging her along and not sharing any information with her, her relationship with Dani, to her becoming the new Seelie Queen…She’s definitely up there with a lot of the great female heroines of these kinds of stories!

Jericho Barrons:

Karen Moning’s post on the “Moning’s Maniac’s” Facebook page really goes in depth with him as a character, probably more so than anyone else would possibly be able to, but it definitely sheds a whole lot of light of who he is as a character and where he comes from in his personality and overall demeanor when you first meet him. Like Mac, he felt like an incredibly cliché character: the tall, dark, handsome, and brooding masculine figure who’s a potential love interest for the main protagonist. He’s cynical and moody, a textbook example of an Alphahole, and others would say he was even somewhat abusive towards Mac with the mind games he played and the jealousy he showed with Mac and the potential with V’Lane, and he’s most likely someone who has a tragic backstory that left him believing he was too dark to ever find love again…While after reading this series and knowing that it’s kind of true, that doesn’t mean there’s not more to him. As you slowly learn more about him and his past, he becomes so much more fleshed out and three-dimensional. One good thing about him is that he never lost his edge, even as his relationship with Mac changes over the course of the story. He never becomes the dotting, weeping, soft and confessing his love kind of guy to Mac—not that there’s anything wrong with those guys—that’s not who Barrons is. He shows his true feelings through actions and gestures and letting Mac go off and make her own choices while still protecting her when absolutely necessary. He allows her to become a better version of herself, and (eventually) doesn’t alter situations to his liking. They aren’t the perfect couple, but they bring out the best in each other, they know how they both operate, and while it’s not the most romantic love story out in the world, there’s no denying that they’re kind of perfect for each other. I suspected he was the Unseelie King so many times throughout this series too, KMM does totally play with the idea several times, but part of me was still a little put down about the eventual reveal of what kind of creature he is exactly… I was just hoping for something more? Love the character Barrons: he’s a much more complex character than some give him credit for!

Ryodan:

I liked the mystery around Ryodan as we first met him in these books. He was one of the numbers Mac was to call if she was ever alone and in extreme danger, and just like Barrons, he was a total Alphahole. It’s weird, but I hate those kinds of characters and kind of love them at the same time? It’s complicated… but part of me really liked how much of an asshole this guy was at the beginning. I think it’s the antihero character trope that I like surrounding his arc, but he’s incredibly far from our typical Superman-like heroes. Despite their animosity towards each other for most of the books if not all, I really enjoyed the banter between him and Mac. Of course, she gets another alpha male who keeps her out of the loop, reminds her of the danger she’s in, while he’s secretly wondering what Barrons sees in her—c’mon, you know it’s true, especially when they first meet!) His relationship with Dani over the course of the series is… interesting to say the least. It’s certainly not the most orthodox love story in the world of literature, and it was funny/strange/curious to see how torn the fandom was about it ever since the potential for them to end up together started in book #6, Iced. Some would call it disturbing because an ancient being is lusting after and grooming a 14-year-old girl, but their story goes through so many twists and turns that you eventually get used to it? There’s a lot of factors that come into play with it, but what I can say is that once they ended up together I exhaled a deep sigh of relief and uttered “Finally…” I will say, it felt like he was a much different character in book #10, High Voltage, and it wasn’t necessarily a good thing. He felt so much more angsty and pining and moody than he usually is, and even listens to “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus with Dani in the car…there’s more than just that, but it just didn’t feel like a believable shift for him as a character, but that book is so random in general. No worries though, still like him as a character, and his conclusion in this final book is incredibly fitting ac

Dani O’Malley:

I did not really care for her for a good chunk of the series, specifically the first few books. A lot of other fans seemed to be so “TeamDani” or “TeamMega” and I was just not seeing it. To me she was just a bratty teenager who was the Robin to Mac’s Batman, but I will say when we make the startling discovery of her involvement of the murder of Mac’s sister in Shadowfever, I’ll admit that was when my interest began to pique. I was still not sold on her in Iced—the first book that focuses on her as the main protagonist—but she was still continuing to grow on me, but I began to like her once the whole storyline with her and her Jada alter ego came into play. I liked her a whole lot more towards the end of the Fever series, but based on my observation of her two books being my least favorite, I can also say that in my opinion, Dani was not meant to lead these books, that’s Mac. I say it would’ve been better off possibly to make a whole new series revolving around her, but the books work as a unit either way! I can say I didn’t see how Dani’s arc was going to end, I think the whole thing with the hunters is so random, but I like that she eventually ended up with Ryodan, even if the whole journey there was all over the place…

V’Lane/Cruce:

I knew there was something off about V’Lane from the very beginning… I didn’t know what exactly it was, but I knew his loyalty and what side he was on was definitely called into question ever since we met him in the very beginning. He was definitely a more well developed villain than most in a fantasy series, and KMM managed to add some real depth to him as the books still were being published by making him a character with deep daddy issues with the Unseelie King, yet ultimately turning him into a mirror copy of him too. The road to vengeance usually never ends well for the one to travel down its dark path, but Cruce kind of lost himself along the way and became the very thing he hates most in his existence, and that of course is his father. I’ll admit it was the most fun with him when he was still under the disguise of V’lane and there was some mind games/potential love interest with Mac in the first five books with Barrons as his competition. He was fun even past that phase of the whole series, and his mind games became even more sinister and insidious as he visited his enemies/victims in their dreams and delighted in their torment. Overall, he was a fun villain for the series, and it was great to see how he outsmarted Mac and the others over the course of the eleven books!

Christian Mackeltar:

I felt so bad for Christian throughout the whole series, he always seemed to get the short end of the stick with a lot of situations… not having a chance with Mac, getting sucked into another dimension, getting turned into an Unseelie Prince by Mac (on accident), plus probably more but those were the big ones. I understood his anger towards Mac and Barrons and his need to exact his form of justice, but I’m also relieved he didn’t go fully dark on us too and remained a good guy despite being turned into a bad guy’s body…I’m not sure if that makes sense, but I’m rolling with it! I liked him a lot, and I’m glad he gets his own HEA moment in this final book, LORD knows he deserves it!

Lor:

Once he became a more prominent character in book #7, Burned, I quickly grew to like him! Sure, he was a total manwhore, but at least he was upfront about it. Him and Jo had a rather nice dynamic when they were hooking up and I thought they’d make it until the very end, but then Mac freakin’ ate her! I hate when that happens… I wish Lor stayed more prominent in the series, but once his relationship with Jo met a brutal end, he kind of went back into the background, which is disappointing. I really hope KMM considers making a spinoff series with the Nine and he’s right at the forefront where he belongs!

Dancer:

He’s a really conflicting character because I really do like him, but if I can be an asshole for a second, this boy was kind of plot convenience for Dani and her eventual storyline with Ryodan. He was the younger love interest for Dani when she was 14 and Ryodan was wayyyyyyyyyyyy too old for her, and we met him in book #6, Iced, when Dani has distanced herself from Mac but still hunts unseelie fae to protect Dublin. He was adorable and kind of dorky, but him and Dani had a really cute dynamic. Part of me felt bad for him because lets be honest, Dani and Ryodan were obvious endgame since the idea was introduced to us, but so then the question was raised about what would happen to Dancer? Truth hit hard, because once his heart condition was revealed later, I knew he was a goner. I didn’t know when exactly, but no writer reveals a character has a serious medical condition like that and NOT kill them off at some point, but of course it’s after him and Dani make love for the first time…heartbreaking, absolutely heartbreaking. I liked him as a character, but I can’t ignore how his death was a catalyst to help push Dani and Ryodan to be together.

Kat McLaughlin:

I hate to say it, but I just don’t really have an opinion on her. She’s tough, she’s brave, but so are so many other characters… I just didn’t really see much from her that really set her apart other than how she was a great choice to become the new leader of the Sidhe-Seers once Rowena was gone. I found myself really bored with her chapters…

Rowena:

That bitch can choke.

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

MacKayla Lane faces the ultimate threat when war breaks out between the kingdoms of shadow and light, as the #1 New York Times bestselling Fever series races to an explosive revelation.

From the moment MacKayla Lane arrived in Dublin to hunt her sister’s murderer, she’s had to fight one dangerous battle after the next: to survive, to secure power, to keep her city safe, to protect the people she loves.

The matter of who’s good and who’s evil can be decided by the answer to a single question: Whose side are you on?

Now, as High Queen of the Fae, Mac faces her greatest challenge yet: ruling the very race she was born to hunt and kill – a race that wants her dead yesterday, so they can put a pure-blooded Fae queen on the throne.

But challenges with her subjects are the least of her concerns when an ancient, deadly foe resurfaces, changing not only the rules of the game but the very game itself, initiating a catastrophic sequence of events that have devastating consequences and leave Mac questioning everything she’s ever learned and everyone she’s ever loved. Now begins an epic battle between Mortal and Fae, Seelie and Unseelie, would-be kings and would-be queens, with possession of the Unseelie King’s virtually unlimited power and the fate of humanity at stake.

From the exquisite, deadly gardens of the High Queen’s court, to long-forgotten truths found in the Sacred Grove of Creation, from the erotic bed of her enigmatic, powerful lover to the darkest, seductive reaches of the Unseelie kingdom, Mac’s final journey takes her places no human has been before, and only one human could possibly survive…One who’s willing to sacrifice everything.

What I Liked:

  1. Christian Gets A Love Interest! First thing I can say about this is FINALLY! After getting the short end of the stick for basically the entire series, KMM finally threw him a freakin’ bone and allowed him a little bit of happiness to put an end to his whole overall story arc.
  2. Someone Becomes The New Unseelie King! Yes, the floating Shades-like power of the Unseelie King finally makes a decision on who is the best choice to take over, and when you find out it’s such a Duh! moment, like once it happens it’s like such an obvious choice; how did I never even think of that?! As long as you’ve known them in the series, they showed they are more than up to the task!
  3. More Mac & Barrons Romance! So RyodanxDani fans will be disappointed, but once again MacxBarrons are put in the center of this book’s plot even though KMM said their storyline is basically done—yeah, and this series was supposed to end on two separate occasions too—but honestly I’m not complaining because I really enjoy them and their dynamic. It’s changed dramatically since the earliest books and now Barrons even sits back and allows Mac to make her own major decisions and offers his reassurance whenever she needs it, plus reminds her that no matter what choices she makes, he’ll be by her side no matter what. It’s weird because I don’t think he actually ever says the words “I love you” out loud and in that order, but his own words and actions prove it and makes their relationship more deep and meaningful than most of the other relationships I’ve ever read!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Attention on the Seelie Ice Princess… At this point in the series with it being book #11 and the final final book, why would there be so much emphasis on a character like this? I wasn’t sold on it unless KMM plans to maybe have it be a potential new spinoff series she’d work on in the future. She wasn’t a bad character by any means, but why should I care about her and the other Seelie Court royalty and not address other things that have been around in the books for much longer?
  2. Lacking Action… The first chunk of this book was boring. Just being blunt, but too much of it was just all about the introspective mindsets of most of the main characters, and by page 100 I’m like: “…Nothing has actually happened. All they’re doing is recapping everything that’s happened already…” I don’t like it when authors excessively do this… some people like in case it’s been awhile since they’ve read the books, but I know that most readers also usually do rereads before the new book releases, so a little recap is fine, but trust your readers have a better memory than what you’re giving them credit for.
  3. Where were the Old Earth Gods?… Literally nonexistent in this book…So what was the point of bringing them into the series in the previous book? Sure, the big baddie Balor was defeated and killed by Dani, but what about AOZ or the others? They were technically still alive to my knowledge, but just never showed up again? Really disappointed they didn’t make an appearance and have a badass battle amongst the Fae, who are their sworn enemies.
  4. Dani Captured… to add further disappointment to those who are really big fans of this relationship, Dani is captured and is basically separated from the whole group for the whole book! It becomes more significant when you realize why later on in the book, but this also made it so KMM didn’t give us some much needed interactions between her and Lor, her and Ryodan and Shazam, or even her and Kat, and I just find it disappointing we didn’t get these interactions in the book at all.

Conclusion:

Overall, It was a nice way to wrap up the whole dang series, but I feel like the author didn’t put attention in some the right storylines in order to make this book “great” instead of just “good.” I enjoyed the book, especially towards the end, but there was quite a few things left out that I can’t help but be disappointed that it didn’t happen. I kind of want to compare this book to Holly Black’s The Queen of Nothing from her The Folk of the Air trilogy because it has some similar issues: the romance between the two main characters is great and goes incredibly far, the heroine’s relationship with the villain is addressed and shows complexity from it’s timeline through the whole series, but a lot of the interesting side storylines just get pushed to the background or ignored entirely. Not enough factors made it into the final draft in order to make this book as satisfying as we wanted it to be.

I’m someone who only just recently got into this series, at least I got into it a lot later back in December 2019 when this series has been around since, like, 2006? I hope the readers that have been with these books since the very beginning fully enjoyed this final installment.

I can still say this is has been one of my favorite book series in recent memory; the first five books were the major highlight for me for their twisted ways of revealing backstory and lore, and how they’re more cohesive and jump off each other as a stronger unit than the books afterwards. They were more tightly packed and exciting, where the later books up until book #9, Feversong, felt like the author played around with her worldbuilding but couldn’t gain as good of a footing with the plot/major conflict of them as a whole. They’re still worth checking out, but I can’t deny it that there was something magical about the first five books.

Yet another series draws to a close, I’m a mix of emotions as these books have been a large part of my thoughts and interest ever since I started them. They’re for sure going to be taking up room on my personal shelf for quite some time, and I plan to do a huge reread sometime in the future, and I hope you readers have enjoyed the journey along with me and got plenty of entertainment with reading along with me & reading my emotionally driven reviews of each book along the way too.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fantasy, New Adult Romance

My Review: A Court of Silver Flames (A Court of Thorns and Roses #4): by Sarah J. Maas

Publish Date: February 16th, 2021
Number of Pages: 757 Pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Genre(s): Fantasy, New Adult Romance

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

To see my review of book #1 – A Court of Thorns and Roses – Click HERE

To see my review of book #2 – A Court of Mist and Fury – Click HERE

To see my review of book #3 – A Court of Wings and Ruin – Click HERE

To see my review of book #3.5 – A Court of Frost and Starlight – Click HERE

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

Total Star Rating: 4.5 Stars

It was one hell of a reunion for this book!

After a two year wait, I was extremely excited to get back into this world that SJM created here—there really was no way it was only ever going to be a trilogy with all the potential side-plots popping up left and right—and this latest installment into the Court of Thorns and Roses is the catalyst of this series finally getting the final push into the adult fantasy section that has been such a controversial topic in YA Fantasy.

There is a definite shift in this series as it’s now considered adult, be that in both the newly designed covers that re-released over the summer of 2020, but also just the overall tone of the story. SJM has obviously matured as an author and while her books are still considered some of the best YA Fantasy series in recent memory, it’s obvious that she’s been fighting along the edge of the line of YA meets NA/A with her more mature themes and sexual content later on in her books. I’m personally all for it and think I’ve grown as a reader alongside her books, plus I think the more mature content in her romance storylines only enhances the story and makes it even better. That’s definitely the case her with A Court of Silver Flame.

Upon reading this book literally the day it came out onto shelves, I did notice that the storyline was at a slower pace than what people might expect, but it made sense in multiple ways: it’s the first book of the second phase of this series, a new big boss villain needs time to become established, and this story in particular is much more character driven than plot due to one of the biggest conflicts is Nesta and her inner turmoil.

Oh man is Nesta an interesting character in these books…She is such a controversial character and it’s something else to see how truly torn the fandom feels about her. There’s the side that writes her off as just a cold, nasty bitch who doesn’t deserve anything, that she ruins all the relationships of those who are closest to her, she’s toxic, and that someone like the Illyrian War General, Cassian, deserves someone WAY better than her! I will admit, I’ve had moments reading this series where I’ve had similar thoughts, but as someone who has been through the mental wringer and has dealt with issues with anxiety and depression over the years, it’s safe to say I take the topic of mental health incredibly seriously. I’m on the side of the fandom that totally understands where she comes from as a character, and remembers that there is no right way to grieve, and that her behaviors are actually quite valid. Not everyone deals with grief and pain the same way, and while her behavior like getting blackout drunk, sleeping with strangers, and lashing out at her loved ones is seen as less than stellar in some people’s eyes, it’s still a rather realistic take on how some people try to deal with low points in their life. I think a lot of people forget all that when they simply write Nesta off as a bitch, and it really shows a lack in maturity to those who said they’re skipping this book simply because they don’t like her.

Plain and simple: Nesta has been through a lot. I don’t need to go into really specific detail, but her anger and self loathing is such an incredible realistic take on someone who suffers from mental health issues. Her relationship with her mentally absent father growing up was incredibly strained, her and Feyre didn’t get along, she was kidnapped and forced into the cauldron to transform into god knows what, and she blames herself for her father’s death after he finally stands up and expresses his love only to witness the King of Hybern snap his neck right in front of her. Plus, obviously with this book and the blurb already hinting at this, she has conflicting feelings for Cassian that she doesn’t exactly know how to deal with it, plus there’s probably more than what I’ve mentioned. I guess I should say that those other readers that write her off and express their strong dislike for her is valid in their own right, but I really do shake my head at when they say they refuse to read this book and not see the complexity of her character finally written on page. I probably have more to say on the matter, but for now I’m good with all that has already been said (feel free to message me and I’ll gladly talk to anyone interested in discussing further!) I sincerely hope this book changes the minds of a lot of those specific readers.

It was also great to see all the other characters make a return after the time spent away from this story: Rhys and Feyre are still in love as ever as what some would call one of the greatest loves in modern day literature; if you’ve read Kingdom of Ash and caught the easter egg SJM threw in with Aelin jumping between worlds, you’ll already know a big reveal they have in store for the inner circle and soon everyone else! Azriel and Mor are more or less the same as the last time we saw them: Az is moody and broody while Mor is still figuring out how to come out to her found family.

Cassian I guess is similar too, he’s still in a mood with everything going on with Nesta and her downward spiral, which is totally fair. He’s also dealing with his own issues of self worth and that gets explored much more heavily in this book.

Amren continues to be underutilized and lovey dovey with her loverboy, Varian from the Summer Court. I wish there was more to report on her, but sadly this is mostly the extent of her existence in this book besides a small handful of scenes as she explains history/lore when needed (like usual).

Elain seems to be getting more back to normal, but I’m so over how much of a bitch she is to Lucien, who is one of the least deserving characters in this whole series. I really think Lucien is someone who deserves better; at least he tries to be cordial and polite and patient with her and even gets her a gift every year for their version of Christmas, all while she wants nothing to do with him, hardly looks his way, and never gets him anything in return. I feel like I’m missing something here with it, because at least in my memory, Lucien has done nothing to deserve to be treated this way, and I really want him to be happy after everything he’s endured with his family, Tamlin, Ianthe, and even the inner circle to a degree.

I was somewhat disappointed we didn’t really get much of a journey with Tamlin in this book. It’s obvious he’s getting some sort of redemption arc based off what happens with him in Wings and Ruin and Frost and Starlight, but that was not apparent in this book at all. We’ll probably get it in later books, but that’s still a big maybe, and while I’m not high on him as a character at all, I’m still curious to see whether SJM would be successful in giving him a redemption arc of some sort.

Eris has become a much more interesting character in this book with the unknown behind where his loyalties truly lie. He gives me some heavy Littlefinger vibes from Game of Thrones; he’s loving all the courtly intrigue he’s a part of, he obviously views it as one big game of chess, and you as the reader are constantly questioning what side he’s on. Plus, there’s hints that there’s more than what we know with the history between him and Mor, and I can’t wait to see what gets revealed later on!

What It’s About:

A Court of Silver Flames is about Nesta Archeron, and that alone has caused quite a stir within the SJM fandom since its initial announcement. It seems it’s the hottest debate amongst all her fans; whether one likes Nesta and if they deem it worth their time to even give a whole book about her a chance, BUT I’ve already done enough on that topic! This book is more about her inner journey past all her past traumas, like with witnessing her father killed by the King of Hybern right before her eyes among other things.

There’s also Cassian, the Illyrian war general who invokes so many emotions within her that she doesn’t know how to handle, so maybe it’s easier to just keep him at arms length or even further than that, save him the misery of her and her life. Too bad he’s not on the same page; it’s obvious he hasn’t given up on her, and when Nesta goes too far in her downward spiral, both Feyre and Rhysand agree to have him put her back on the straight and narrow. Soon, neither can deny the passion that still burns between them as they’re forced into close quarters with each other while they both work through both their inner turmoil.

Besides the sexual tension that’s about the same size as a forest fire, it seems like there’s more evil at work past the King of Hybern’s death: the human queens have risen again and have found a new alliance with an ancient evil force, once again putting the peace and safety of the realm at high risk. A dark shadow of myth that even Amren can’t fully remember, this danger is more prominent, much more diabolical, and the fragile world that they all care about is at much bigger risk.

What I Liked:

  1. The Handling of Mental Health/Recovery! There are many opinions of SJM and her writing, but one thing she absolutely excels at everytime is her handling of such heavy topics. She’s done with all her main female characters, and everytime it’s such a joy to see all the inner workings of her character’s minds and how they’ve faced the traumas they’ve experienced. It makes them so personable and so relatable, I hope it’s helped other readers feel like they’re understood and not so alone, because those are some of the biggest things with people with mental health issues. Nesta is an extremely controversial character in this series, and not everyone has been able to pick up on her particular way of handling all that she’s endured, so now that this book revolves around her will help those relate more to her.
  2. Romance Between Cassian and Nesta! Scorching, absolutely scorching!! I was always a fan of Cassian and his swagger leading up to this book, but now with SJM’s more mature handling with sexual content only makes Cassian a better character! The tension that rose between him and Nesta continues to be so much fun to read, and finally we get more than just a kiss on the battlefield, a WHOLE lot more. The descriptive sex scenes is another controversial topic amongst readers, but even though I’m asexual (aegosexual to be exact), I say bring on the smut! If it enhances the story, I’m all for it and almost always get more excited if a story has it even if I hardly have those feelings in my actual life.
  3. New Friendships! Before this book, Amren was Nesta’s only friend in the books. Sure, she had Feyre and Elain, but Amren was the only one whom Nesta ever felt the need to open up to. With her downward spiral in the beginning, Nesta definitely took advantage of her friendship, and it caused some major backlash for it. In her journey towards self-acceptance, she meets two new characters: An Illyrian female shopkeeper named Emerie and Gwyn, a Priestess who works at the Ancient Library. As the three of them grow closer, they all help each other overcome their inner traumas and help each other learn that our past mistakes don’t define us as people.
  4. Shifting Alliances and Unknown Enemies! This is more apparent with Eric, Lucien’s older brother and heir to the Autumn Court’s throne. While I still don’t like him as a person, there’s no doubt I like characters like him who keep you guessing until the very end. Who’s side is he on? How true is the information he shares? Is he going to betray them all? He’s a very morally grey character, but those make for very interesting stories.
  5. What Is Nesta’s Power? What exactly did she take from the Cauldron when she was dumped into it? I loved the exploration of her abilities and what they truly were through a slow-burn of a reveal. I mean, if even people like Amren and Rhys are somewhat nervous around her and her abilities, that certainly makes her a game changer and absolute enigma.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Amren and Rhys are Antagonists…While it makes sense that they’d be against her with everything that’s happened, I wasn’t liking seeing Rhys and Amren cast into the roles of the antagonists for a large chunk of the book. Now remember that antagonist doesn’t mean they’re the villains, it simply refers to them as characters who oppose the protagonist of the story, who is obviously Nesta. Sure, Nesta brought it on herself with her past behavior and actions, but these are immortal fae who are 500+ years old! I almost expect them to be better than they are.
  2. The Inner Circle’s Lack of Understanding…This kind of tags off my #1, but for a group of fae who have all had their own tragedies and traumatic pasts, it irks me to see how they so easily shun Nesta, who’s not nearly as old as any of them and how she handles everything that’s put her in a low point in her life. I just found it really hypocritical of them, and thought they’d be much more understanding about her. Like, I’d even go as far as to say some of them (Rhys and Mor mostly) maybe even should’ve apologized to her at some point. Rhys was definitely the worst with it, but I get where he was coming from too, especially with the situation him and Feyre are in with this story. There’s many layers to it all, and no one is entirely innocent, but that also adds into how it’s a much more complex story when it’s not all black and white like some of us want to believe.
  3. Where’s Mor?…I was disappointed in how little we see of Mor. For so much of the book, she’s off to Vallahan in order to negotiate peace treaties with other clans, but that also means she doesn’t appear as much as I’d have liked. I’m still waiting for her to come out to everyone, because only Feyre still knows she’s gay. I feel like SJM is waiting for this because she wants to do it the right way, and it’s a tricky subject that she needs to handle with much care in a very fragile way so that it doesn’t backfire on her unintentionally. I don’t want that for her, but with the argument of her writing and diversity already on rocky grounds, she’s got a big mountain to climb with this storyline. Also side note, I caught a one-line possible potential female love interest for her in her future book that I’d be happy to see!

Conclusion:

A Court of Silver Flames was an incredibly ambitious and deeply moving character driven storyline about self-acceptance and self-love starring two characters like Nesta and Cassian who absolutely shined in having the spotlight on them! Their eventual confrontations and confessions of their true feelings was something many have been aching for for such a long time now, and the added sexiness of this book makes it all the more fun to read! The higher than average amount of smut was a major plus, but SJM’s handling of mental health and self recovery is what truly shined in this book as two characters who’ve both dealt with so much inner trauma are finally able to face it all with the help of each other.

Christina Lauren says it best on their Goodreads review of this book: Sarah J. Maas transcends her particular genre of fiction, much like other authors like Nora Roberts, Rick Riordan, and Stephen King; making her an absolute fan favorite and a foundation for many reader’s bookshelves.

Despite the slower paced plot that might bore some readers by the midpoint, this book has just about every factor that makes readers love her stories, and once again I hope that some of the more cynical readers who don’t believe that Nesta is worth giving a chance to know on a much deeper and meaningful level to PLEASE reconsider and give this book a chance. She may not still be your favorite character, but with how deep into her psych that SJM gets, you certainly understand her more and realize that the road to self-acceptance and self-love is so different for each and every one of us.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fantasy, New Adult, New Adult Romance

My Review: The Bridge Kingdom (The Bridge Kingdom #1): by Danielle L. Jensen

Publish Date: August 13th, 2019
Number of Pages: 354 Pages
Publisher: Context Literary Agency LLC
Genre(s): Fantasy, New Adult Romance

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

A princess who’s secretly a trained assassin…

An ACTUAL enemies-to-lovers where one of them tries to kill the other at one point…

A marriage of Convenience…

Twisty political intrigue and espionage…

Lots of exciting action scenes…

Slow burning sexual tension mixed with distrust up the WAZOOOO…

Tropical and lush scenery…

Snarky grandmas…

Um…Yes, LOVE that journey for me!

The Bridge Kingdom was a book that’s been thrown around multiple Facebook groups I follow for Sarah J. Maas and Jennifer Armentrout, and I’ll admit that upon looking into this book that I was definitely curious! I hadn’t heard much about the author nor have I read anything by her—Although I do have a hardcover copy of Dark Shores on my shelf at home to be read soon!—but with how often I saw this title brought up, I knew it’d eventually end up in my hands.

I must say this book surprised me because I was instantly hooked! We have a Game of Thrones Red Wedding-esque scene almost right away in the beginning of the story, and within the first three chapters I’m slightly terrified of our heroine, and emotionally invested in her when a big secret is revealed right away afterwards in explanation of her shocking scene beforehand, and can’t wait to see what else she can do!

The story itself is nothing too groundbreaking or unique or innovative, but my higher rating simply is because of how this story is told. I feel like I’ve read plenty of ‘deadly girl infiltrates enemy kingdom and plans to kill the king after marriage-by-convenience, but falls in love instead,’ but the author just tells it so well; it really draws you in. She also has vivid descriptions of the world as you explore it with one of the main characters, and the pacing keeps you riveted and turning the pages when you convince yourself “Just 1 more chapter…” like 5 chapters ago. The action, plus the agonizingly slow romance building between the two main characters kept my attention, then thankfully making me satisfied when it finally happens (Although, it would’ve been fine to have happened, like, fifty pages ago too, but whatever…) The growth that the main character goes through was also fun to read, both her and her love interest discover the important lesson of how maybe we shouldn’t give in to certain prejudices about people from another culture, but then again, if there’s tension and the threat of war between the two kingdoms, it’s kind of inevitable…but there’s also the idea to consider that you also shouldn’t believe everything someone tells you about a certain group of people either.

Despite how short the book appears, it felt like a really long story; It was like there was a lot more words crammed in on every page than most other published books, so after reading fifty pages it actually felt like I’d read an additional hundred with all the material that fits just in that small chunk of pages.

A fair heads up, not really a warning, but despite this being within the Fantasy genre, there’s not a whole lot of typical Fantasy elements: namely, a magic system and mythological creatures. It’s a tropical climate setting with islands that makes me think of exotic destinations like Hawaii, Thailand, or the Caribbean with a lot of snakes that inhabit the land while the sharks make several appearances when the characters travel by boat through the water. Not that I’m trying to knock the worldbuilding because it’s still a fictional land and is still wonderfully done, but let me just say that you shouldn’t go into this book expecting wizards casting spells or any dragons flying around. While these aspects of Fantasy may be lacking, the world is still rife with lots of political intrigue and militaristic strategies being made around a particular landscape phenomenon referred to as “The Bridge” (hence the title of the book/series), and for any of you visual learners, the bridge is like the Chinese Wall that travels for miles and miles, except this time it’s not man-made.

Like I said, this book surprised me by how much I found myself enjoying it, and I even already ordered the sequel because that ending……oofda! I need to read on and get some more answers and just see what will possibly happen next! I loved how the author tied in the very beginning of the book to let you see how much the character has changed throughout the story and how the stakes have changed so drastically. If this is the first book I finish reading in 2021, I can happily say that the new year for books is already looking pretty bright!

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

What if you fell in love with the one person you’d sworn to destroy?

Lara has only one thought for her husband on their wedding day: I will bring your kingdom to its knees. A princess trained from childhood to be a lethal spy, Lara knows that the Bridge Kingdom represents both legendary evil – and legendary promise. The only route through a storm-ravaged world, the Bridge Kingdom controls all trade and travel between lands, allowing its ruler to enrich himself and deprive his enemies, including Lara’s homeland. So when she is sent as a bride under the guise of fulfilling a treaty of peace, Lara is prepared to do whatever it takes to fracture the defenses of the impenetrable Bridge Kingdom.

But as she infiltrates her new home – a lush paradise surrounded by tempest seas – and comes to know her new husband, Aren, Lara begins to question where the true evil resides. Around her, she sees a kingdom fighting for survival, and in Aren, a man fiercely protective of his people. As her mission drives her to deeper understanding of the fight to possess the bridge, Lara finds the simmering attraction between her and Aren impossible to ignore. Her goal nearly within reach, Lara will have to decide her own fate: Will she be the destroyer of a king or the savior of her people?

What I Liked:

  1. The Characters, Especially Lara Veliant! I personally liked them and thought lara especially went through a lot of growth as the story developed. I liked that she was already an established assassin by the time the story takes place, and you aren’t treated to her training and coming into her deadly skills. She gives me some major Aelin Galathynius-Whitethorn vibes with her looks, her attitude, and her physical prowess. I liked Aren too, but not quite as much and didn’t feel like he changed except for his feelings towards Lara. I also feel like he didn’t stand out as much from other male hero/love interests in these types of stories. Sure, he’s brave and noble and caring and charming, but so is every other male character in his position! Hopefully he gets more characterization in the second book.
  2. Good Pacing! There was a lot of action to keep you excited that mixed perfectly with the slower moments where dialogue and character is revealed. I found this surprising since they’re wasn’t an actual villain present for a large chunk of the story; it was more about Lara’s change in attitude and swerving of which side she truly belonged to by the end of the story. I think this also added to why I found this book so easy to want to keep reading, even if I was so familiar with basically all the story’s elements.
  3. They’re Actually Enemies-to-Lovers! A lot of the time people say a romance storyline is this trope when in actuality it really isn’t…I don’t feel like going into examples, but what I liked about this story with the trope is that the two characters actually almost kill each other on several occasions. When they say “enemies,” I want instances where they’re nearly coming to blows, they plot to assassinate the other, and actually have an animosity towards the other…sure, it eventually burns into a passionate love, but they always love and hate have a varied line between them!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Not As Much Romance As I’d Liked… What I mean is that it’s a really really slow slow-burn of a romance, which if I think about it, makes total sense. Lara and Aren are from two different kingdoms and have been raised to believe certain prejudices about each other, so I can say the romance grew rather realistically, but I don’t know…I kind of just wanted some more romance scenes. Maybe there will be a lot more in the next book!
  2. Not Many Fantasy Elements… I mentioned this earlier, but for a book that falls under the Fantasy genre, there’s not a whole lot of elements that show up in this story. There’s no magic, there’s no mythological creatures, no charmed/cursed item or relic, and so on…The world is entirely fictional, but that’s about it. The animals are snakes and sharks; I feel like the author could’ve reimagined them as some sort of creature that’s similar, but more on the mythological side.

Conclusion:

The Bridge Kingdom is an adventurous and exciting enemies-to-lovers tale with plenty of distinctive characters, slow burning romance thick with tension and distrust, bloody action and military strategization, and of course beautiful and exotic locations that are used incredibly well into the story: you could say I definitely recommend this title, just maybe…

…no but actually, READ this book!

Specifically, if you loved books like The Falling Kingdoms series by Morgan Rhodes, Serpent and Dove by Shelby Mahurin, The Folk of the Air series by Holly Black, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, and of course, just about ANYTHING by Sarah J. Maas or Jennifer Armentrout, I know you’ll most likely also enjoy this book as well. It’s got all the same elements that these other authors offer to the genre, and is yet another beautifully told story that will wrap you up and drag you in without a second thought.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fantasy, New Adult, New Adult Romance, Paranormal, Romance

My Review: A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire (Blood and Ash #2): by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Publish Date: September 1st, 2020

Number of Pages: 697 Pages

Publisher: Blue Box Press

Genre(s): Fantasy, New Adult Romance

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

To see my review for book #1 – From Blood and Ash – Click HERE

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

Total Star Rating: 4.5 Stars

I seriously love those moments when the sequel surpasses the first book!

From Blood and Ash, the first book of this series that only released earlier this year, was an amazing gem that I had no idea I was going to love so much when I’d ordered my copy on my Kindle, but here I am now in love with just about everything about it: Poppy, Hawke/Casteel, the entire kingdom, the romance, the smut, and I only have one other person to talk to it about in real life! This book somehow got even bigger and better with of all those aspects, and I had to make sure I went through at a slower pace than before to savor it all instead of blasting through it as quickly as possible.

But oh……My………Goodness! You guys, I seriously can’t recommend this book, no this series, enough!

I’m quickly becoming a huge fan of books that aren’t traditionally published because they are turning out to just be more impressive stories that really grab my attention nowadays. That, plus they don’t have to worry as much with the guidelines and restrictions that I’m sure those big publishers limit their works with. I could totally just be speculating on that, but that’s how it feels like!

I’m still just blown away by how the author was able to pound out these first two books all within the same year, because these books are thicccc! Like, both are over 600 pages but released only a few months away from each other! Either the author had this all written way before hand, or she’s one of those authors that really benefited from quarantine, and just locked herself away to write, write, write! I wish I was like that, but all the anxiety and depression that’s come from the disaster that is the year 2020 has made it seemingly impossible to be able to concentrate on my own WIP’s.

Okay, enough tangents, back to the story!

Like I was saying before, this sequel is even bigger and badder than the previous book, and overall it includes everything you loved about the previous book, but at an even more elevated level. More information gets revealed, more secrets get out, and the romance still develops at an oh-so-achingly delicious slow burn that readers love and hate at the same time. The story still has its slower moments, but this time there are a lot more bloody battles to make it have a much more exciting, roller-coaster type of pacing. Sure, it felt like the battles were over way too quickly and could’ve been more descriptive, but they were still quite exciting!

The story continues off immediately from the final line of the previous book, where Hawke/Casteel threw us all a wicked curveball of a marriage proposal. Poppy is still fresh off the epic betrayal she feels with him and his whole shocking reveal of being the Dark One/The Atlantian Prince.

Things are incredibly tense—understandably—but both have something to gain from this more…unorthodox of partnerships: both want their brothers back from the clutches of the Ascended Vamprys in their capital city. With the growing threat of those she used to live under the same roof with in danger, she also has to deal with being hated and unaccepted for being an outsider from the Atlantian people along with her incredibly conflicted feelings for Casteel. She doesn’t want to want him, but oh boy she is hooked whether she likes it or not!

The romance, of course, was a big highlight of the whole book! The banter, the admissions of feelings (eventually), the love scenes; pretty much almost everything about it was what had me glued to the pages whenever I picked it up. I dare anyone to not absolutely fall for Hawke/Casteel after reading these books and put him on all of your Book Boyfriends lists, I know he’s on mine! He just becomes so much more complex here, and is now such a much stronger character than just simply being the personal bodyguard who’s sworn to protect the Maiden. Know that he’s this dark prince with paranormal abilities, he’s just so much more interesting this time around. I never thought I’d fall for a vampire prince in 2020, and I usually avoid vampire/werewolf books like the plague, so that says a lot about how good these books are if I can so easily look past those paranormal clichés occurring here.

The beginning felt like it was getting close to info-dump territory, at least within the first 200 pages or so, but it wasn’t too bad as I’ve definitely dealt with worse in other books. After that, it’s not even noticeable and it’s all more about the worldbuilding that the author does to enrich us with the lay of the land and learn more about the history, which has a lot more depth than I gave it credit for in the previous book! This time around, the threat of ancient gods about to enter the battle certainly raises the stakes.

I don’t want to give too much else away because anyone who’s interested in this series absolutely NEEDS to go get a copy of this book and read it immediately, plus there’s still plenty of the rest of my review to read!

What It’s About:

The Official Blurb:

A Betrayal…

Everything Poppy has ever believed in is a lie, including the man she was falling in love with. Thrust among those who see her as a symbol of a monstrous kingdom, she barely knows who she is without the veil of the Maiden. But what she does know is that nothing is as dangerous to her as him. The Dark One. The Prince of Atlantia. He wants her to fight him, and that’s one order she’s more than happy to obey. He may have taken her, but he will never have her.

A Choice…

Casteel Da’Neer is known by many names and many faces. His lies are as seductive as his touch. His truths as sensual as his bite. Poppy knows better than to trust him. He needs her alive, healthy, and whole to achieve his goals. But he’s the only way for her to get what she wants—to find her brother Ian and see for herself if he has become a soulless Ascended. Working with Casteel instead of against him presents its own risks. He still tempts her with every breath, offering up all she’s ever wanted. Casteel has plans for her. Ones that could expose her to unimaginable pleasure and unfathomable pain. Plans that will force her to look beyond everything she thought she knew about herself—about him. Plans that could bind their lives together in unexpected ways that neither kingdom is prepared for. And she’s far too reckless, too hungry, to resist the temptation.

A Secret…

But unrest has grown in Atlantia as they await the return of their Prince. Whispers of war have become stronger, and Poppy is at the very heart of it all. The King wants to use her to send a message. The Descenters want her dead. The wolven are growing more unpredictable. And as her abilities to feel pain and emotion begin to grow and strengthen, the Atlantians start to fear her. Dark secrets are at play, ones steeped in the blood-drenched sins of two kingdoms that would do anything to keep the truth hidden. But when the earth begins to shake, and the skies start to bleed, it may already be too late. 

What I Liked:

  1. Kieran Must Be Protected At All Costs! I’m not gonna lie, but I thought Kieran was a total creep in the first book, and felt like something was way off about him the entire time. Turns out I wasn’t completely wrong, but luckily he really grew on me in this book, and I believe the whole fandom can agree with me on that! I still believe there’s some social awkwardness there, but it’s also so hilarious how DONE he is with the angst between our two main characters that can’t admit their real feelings to each other. He’s incredibly sarcastic, bacon is his favorite food, and he loves to give Poppy a hard time about all the questions she likes to ask, but now he’s just one more thing to absolutely adore about this series! Plus, there’s the spirited debate amongst the fandom whether he should get involved with Cas and Poppy in some NSFW activities due to his Wolven bond with Casteel, plus the author totally played with the idea of it maybe happening…I for one am totally for polyamorous relationships. It’s 2020, so why not?
  2. Cas & Poppy’s Chemistry! This author knows how to write such good romance! Wowza! Literally everything pertaining to the romantic dynamic between Cas and Poppy was done to near perfection: from the beginning of the story with the betrayal and reveal of his true identity still cutting fresh wounds in Poppy’s heart, to their slow and steady reconciliation, then their absolutely scorching love scenes, to the heartfelt admissions…ugh….it was all just so good, for sure a gigantic highlight of the book! Casteel is definitely up there on the growing list of Book Boyfriends, and like my friend Erika—who’s also read these books—said, he may even be better than the famous Rhysand from Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses series! That’s right, you just read that. With his demeanor, to how everyone acts towards him, to his obvious affection towards Poppy, plus his backstory that slowly gets revealed, I totally agree, and wonder how anyone could not absolutely fall for this lonely, dark prince! It’s just a shame that not as many readers will really read this series and get to know about him because it isn’t really published in the most mainstream way, and won’t have as much exposure because of it. The thing I will definitely give to the author that she does better than SJMaas is how the love scenes don’t fall short. Both authors are amazing at the sensuous buildup and tension between the two characters, but one thing I do sometimes notice with Maas is the eventual scene where the characters finally hookup just doesn’t live up to the hype. Whether it’s the word choice because she had to be careful not to get too graphic since her books are YA , or she’s just not good at that particular aspect of romance writing quite yet, but some fans just aren’t 100% about “velvet wrapped steel” or the claiming, marking, owning of SJMaas writing style with sex. Armentrout did an amazing job of both the buildup and the climax (side note: I can’t help but giggle at the usage of the word climax here). I mean, cue the gif of Santana Lopez from Glee fanning herself, Blanche from The Golden Girls spraying herself down; Poppy and Cas have some HAWT moments in this book for anyone who likes things more on the smutty side! ~ Have No Shame!
  3. More Worldbuilding! Instead of the whole story taking place in one town/kingdom/etc. like the previous book, this sequel has a much wider journey for our characters, and with the reveal in the last book of the kingdom of Atlantia not being just a total myth, the author really stepped up her wordbuilding craft here! I will still say that SJMaas still holds the title of best worldbuilder, but Armentrout really impressed me with all that she included in this book.
  4. There’s A Map Now! This kind of continues off my last point in terms of worldbuilding, but one thing I didn’t like in the previous book was how the author was constantly referencing other towns/cities/kingdoms/etc. and we didn’t have a map to go back and use as reference! One thing I feel like any Fantasy genre title is required to include is a map to show readers where exactly everything is! It’s very minor, I know, and I could just make it all up in my head, but doesn’t mean I have to, so I’m going to continue to pout about it when it doesn’t happen. Stay Mad, bro!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. “Heartmates”…I’m sorry, but when I first saw this specific term show up in the book, I was rolling my eyes with a massive scoff. It’s not that I’m against the whole “mate” concept—I mean c’mon, Sarah J. Maas is one of my favorite authors—but what kind of middle-grade, Sailor Moon cheesy name is that?!?! Poppy and Cass are endgame, that’s no question, and I’m even cool with them being mate’s if that dynamic even applies to this story, but just the term “heartmates” gets a big, fat NOPE from me.
  2. Alastir Is A Total Drama Starter…I really liked Alastir at first; he’s the fatherly figure for Cas who reminded Poppy of Viktor. He looks out for the wellbeing of Cas and the whole Kingdom of Atlantia, but as I read on and saw how he interacted with Poppy and pulled her aside…Oh. My. Goodness…This man is such a little instigator!! Like, he always hints at something big to Poppy, she of course asks for him to elaborate, then he’s all “Oh, Casteel didn’t tell you? Oh well, I really shouldn’t….” but then TELLS HER WHAT IT WAS LITERALLY EVERY TIME ANYWAYS! It usually was some sort of information or leading to something really important, but it always lead to another rift between Cas and Poppy, to which I wanted to yell to Alastir: “Stop blowing holes in my ship!” very much like Captain Jack Sparrow. Towards the end, I wasn’t exactly sure how I felt about him; he reminds me of Varys from Game of Thrones a little bit. He means well, but I have a feeling he’s going to double-cross Cas in some major way later because it’s “for the good of Atlantia” or some BS like that. We’ll see, but I’ve got my eyes on him. (side note: not really a spoiler but more a theory: he was totally behind the final moments of the book with Poppy being drawn away, and with that group of people!)
  3. Poppy and Cas Both Seem Convinced That The Other Doesn’t Have Any Feelings…I mean, that pretty much sums it up to be honest. I guess it could sort of fall under the “fake dating” trope except that we know it’s actually a fake marriage based off how the previous book ended. Poppy doesn’t know what’s real or just pretend when it comes to Cas, especially with his feelings regarding her. He kisses her, is always touching her in some way and calls her beautiful, but part of her is always questioning if he’s sincere or totally faking it all for the sake of putting on a charade. I know I said the romance was absolutely amazing, but I admit I did get slightly annoyed by this after a while. I swear, Kieran was quoting me directly from my thoughts at how DONE he was with the two of them and probably heard their mutual love towards each other at separate times, but both were convinced the other felt absolutely nothing in return…the whole thing was one big angsty mess for a bit there! Add in the fact that he probably sits there as they both separately grovel to him with their woes about it all, and I pretty much picture Kieran looking like the disappointed man with hands on his hips meme…

Conclusion:

Overall, this series is quickly turning into a massive highlight of 2020, which has to be the worst year for literally everyone. These books are like a North Star shining through the smog and destruction, and gives me hope to get through all this crap that is pretty much this year in general, so I guess I owe Jennifer L. Armentrout a huge thanks for these absolute gems of books! I’m officially obsessed!

I still recommend these books to anyone who’s looking for a steamy Fantasy genre romance: much like authors like Sarah J. Maas, Stephanie Garber, Leigh Bardugo, Susan Dennard, Karen Marie Moning, and Laura Thalassa just to name a few! They’re all just great at writing romance stories with the brave, young woman with the morally grey, dark and brooding prince type of male with cheeky one-liners thrown in at almost every chance!

My mind wasn’t completely blown like most of the fandom when I finished this book, but I will say the ending definitely raises a few brows in an incredibly good way! I for one wasn’t fully expecting it to get to the level that it did, even if the author hasn’t been hinting at it throughout the entirety of this book. It also certainly raises even more questions, and I for one am already looking forward to when the next book gets released in early/mid 2021.

P.S: We’ve been told that there will two more books for the series, PLUS a bonus book told from Casteel’s perspective! I was hoping that’d be the case because spoiler: the end of this book includes a bonus chapter of his perspective of the night with Poppy at the Red Pearl!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell