Fantasy, New Adult, New Adult Romance, Paranormal

My Review: Wicked (A Wicked Trilogy #1): by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Publish Date: December 8th, 2014
Number of Pages: 398 Pages
Publisher: Self Published
Genre(s): Fantasy, New Adult Romance

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

Grabbing a scarf off the chair, I threw it at him.

He caught it, clutching it to his chest as he flew into the air. ‘You gave Tink a scarf. Tink is free!’ He flew out into the hallway like a little cracked-out fairy, screeching, ‘Tink is freeeeee!

Ren looked at me. ‘What the actual f**k?’
I sighed. ‘He’s obsessed with Harry Potter. I’m sorry.

Tink darted back into the room, holding the scarf to his bare chest. ‘There is no reason to apologize when it comes to Harry Potter.’
‘You do remember what happened to Dobby, right?’ I said.

‘S**t.’ Tink’s eyes widened and he dropped the scarf.”

– Jennifer L. Armentrout, “Wicked”

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

Things are about to get Wicked in New Orleans.

Twenty-two year old Ivy Morgan isn’t your average college student. She, and others like her, know humans aren’t the only thing trolling the French Quarter for fun… and for food. Her duty to the Order is her life. After all, four years ago, she lost everything at the hands of the creatures she’d sworn to hunt, tearing her world and her heart apart.

Ren Owens is the last person Ivy expected to enter her rigidly controlled life. He’s six feet and three inches of temptation and swoon-inducing charm. With forest-green eyes and a smile that’s surely left a stream of broken hearts in its wake, he has an uncanny, almost unnatural ability to make her yearn for everything he has to offer. But letting him in is as dangerous as hunting the cold-blooded killers stalking the streets. Losing the boy she loved once before had nearly destroyed her, but the sparking tension that grows between them becomes impossible for Ivy to deny. Deep down, she wants… she needs more than what her duty demands of her, what her past has shaped for her.

But as Ivy grows closer to Ren, she realizes she’s not the only one carrying secrets that could shatter the frail bond between them. There’s something he’s not telling her, and one thing is for certain. She’s no longer sure what is more dangerous to her—the ancient beings threatening to take over the town or the man demanding to lay claim to her heart and her soul.

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If anyone knows one thing about me, especially in the last year or so, they’ll hopefully know that Jennifer Armentrout’s From Blood and Ash has very very very quickly become a literary obsession! It is to me is like how obsessed every teenage girl (and a few guys like me who couldn’t admit it in public) was with Twilight back in my teenage years. Of course if an author can make me that crazy over a book series like this one has, I’d want to venture off and explore her other works. As I’m typing this review, she just admitted on the Blood and Ash Facebook group that the latest installment, The Crown of Gilded Bone, is her 62nd book written; that’s a lot of books to read…I’ll admit I’ve been aware of her Lux series for quite some time, but it never fully pulled me in. Wicked, however, is a different story.

With authors like Sarah J. Maas, Karen Marie Moning, and Holly Black all releasing books that star the magical folk called the Fae (Fairytale-like creatures that secretly snuck over to our world from another and secretly live among us), when I saw that JLA also joined in this popular fantasy trend, I had to check them out! It was even better that this first book popped up into the bookstore I work at as I’m thinking this too, and I think you’ll all appreciate this small tidbit: I read this while actually visiting New Orleans myself! There’s something about reading a book and physically being in the exact same place it’s set in; the visual aid is literally right there in front of you and helps make the imagery in your head all the more vivid and realistic, and if you’re a bit of a romantic like I am, it makes you sort of feel like you’re also in the plot of it all with the characters. It was amazing to try beignets for the first time; it certainly made it much more understandable why the characters in the book constantly craved them!

I also hardly find success in going backwards with an author’s list of books; I just notice their writing isn’t as honed in and as great with their earlier work, so I usually try to read in publication order, and these books were released almost half a decade earlier than the first Blood and Ash book, give or take. While the story here wasn’t as binge-worthy and obsessive for me, I can happily say with a breath of relief that I still for the most part enjoyed this book and plan to read on in the trilogy. The worldbuilding was intriguing enough with a beautiful setting to help give it an extra push, the characters were easy to get behind and root for as the plot thickened, and just like her other books is the case of I could mostly see some of her plot twists coming from a mile away but also managed to sneak a few past me all the same and actually surprise me.

The romance was (of course) easy for me to get into, and Ren and Ivy were a good couple to see develop as they came to terms with their feelings for each other. In both appearances and personalities, I definitely saw an impression of Poppy and Hawke in them, or I guess technically they’d branch off from Ivy and Ren since they technically came first…but the dynamic they had reminded me so heavily of them and made my chest ache since I was so so so excited for that next book to come out already. Ivy had a backstory that I’d seen before where her ex passed away and she feels guilty about starting to have feelings for another guy all these years later and feels like she’s disrespecting his memory, but Ren didn’t really have a past trauma that made it harder to become vulnerable with someone, or at least made it something that mentally held him back from the relationship in this book. Maybe there’s more there, but nothing was quite revealed yet from what I remember. The romance developed nicely with Ren being the big flirt and admitting his attraction to her while Ivy played hard to get and teased him while silently coming to terms with her mutual attraction, and the ending of the book certainly will make things much more interesting in this regard too. I’m curious to see how that will play out!

‘You like me.’ Letting go, he smiled up at me, that angelic face a picture of innocence. ‘You just aren’t ready to admit it.

All I could think as I gawked at him was, what an observant son of a bitch.

– Jennifer L. Armentrout, “Wicked”

Speaking of the ending, while I knew some aspects of it were going to happen as it had to in order for the story to keep going, there was one thing that was a twist that I honestly didn’t see coming with a side character, and it also didn’t get an explanation amongst everything else that was going on, and it all came rushing at you all at once like dodgeballs and you’re the only one left on your side! I definitely need some answers for this.

I always enjoy a book with secret organizations with individuals who hunt and kill to keep the peace, and in this book, both Ren and Ivy are a part of one where they’re in an invisible war with the fae. It’s not as common of a thing to have the fae put into the spot of the villains of the story, and I wonder if JLA is going to make it not so black and white in the next books? We see a glimpse of it with a side character of hers whom I really enjoyed: a brownie named Tink! By brownie, I imagine a pixie, a spryte, or whatever you prefer to call them, but he’s a total delight! He wears ken doll clothing as his wardrobe, he’s got a gargantuan sweet tooth, loves to order things off Amazon Prime, and ********spoiler alert********* is secretly Ivy’s roommate! Even though it’s her task to kill the fae on sight, they formed an unlikely bond when she rescued him from one of the graveyards and brought him home with her to mend his wings and cure him back to his proper health. No one in The Order (the organization she’s a part of) knows about it, and Ivy wants to keep it that way.

So with all that in mind, you see some shades of grey that add some depth to the whole situation, and with some of the shady behavior of some members of the Order, or even The Elite (a secret org within the secret org), I wonder how far JLA will go with this aspect in her story? I have a lot of questions that need answering, but there’s only one obvious way to find them all out!

What I Liked:

  1. The Romance! Ren and Ivy’s relationship was the main draw to these books, and it was what was keeping me going in continuing reading on as the story progressed. Ren was pretty much all in from the start of when he first laid eyes on Ivy, and I have a feeling he’s as delectable as every other JLA male love interest. He definitely got some Hawke Flynn vibes from him with his confidence and flirty banter and looks; these two just really reminded me of a more contemporary version of Poppy and Hawke, but without her being the maiden and everything else, but I see a similarity for sure.
  2. Minor Character: Tink! He’s a sassy little pixie-like creature from the fae world whom Ivy forms an unlikely friendship with amongst the war their races are facing off against. I was reminded of the character Lehabah from House of Earth and Blood (The Crescent City series by Sarah J. Maas) and absolutely loved every single scene Tink was in! Show-stealer is a for sure nickname I’d give him, and I wonder what he’ll bring to the table moving forward?
  3. The Betrayal! While other events happen that obviously had to happen to further the plot, this small part of it all honestly did surprise me a little bit and threw me off guard! Even more interesting about it is JLA leaves it on a cliffhanger and doesn’t explain it as much; it’s more speculation from the other characters, so I’m curious to see what comes of this plot twist!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. It Was Fairly Predictable…I gotta agree with some of the naysayers, but there wasn’t a whole lot of shocking and crazy twists in this book that blow your mind. Sure, it’s also just the first book in the trilogy, and maybe more will go down in the next two books that will be more crazy and shocking, and the first book usually sets the scene and relies on the familiar in order to branch off to become more unique, which also feels like a good bridge into my next point…
  2. Nothing New Added to the Fae…There’s just nothing unique that sets them apart from any other books that showcase them. Sure, not every book has them simply set as the villains—except maybe the Fever series—but also the clumping them all together felt kind of lazy to me…I think it was told earlier on in the book that there used to be the different courts within their race, but then just got all jumbled together. Sure, the intricacies of the fae courts and the intrigue involved with all that are most likely not going to be a strong aspect of the story, once again it just felt kind of lazy how it was brushed aside.

Conclusion:

Overall, I’d say if you’ve enjoyed other books by this author, I feel like this will be another hit for you! It has the same elements that made me absolutely love From Blood and Ash: the worldbuilding, the entertaining plot, the mature and steamy romance, and a great cast of side characters to help drive the plot forward, and while there were maybe a few surprises that snuck past me, there was a cliffhanger that isn’t hard to see coming your way as you get closer to the reveal….It’s okay though, because the journey there is still fun along the way! I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m comparing the two series together too much, that’s not my intention, but I am seeing some similarities between them, or even some certain aspects that carried over into the next series…

I’d say those who also enjoyed books/series like the whole Shadowhunters universe by Cassandra Clare, The Folk of the Air series by Holly Black, and the Crescent City series so far by Sarah J. Maas will be the readers who’ll enjoy this book very much. Maybe even the Fever series by Karen Marie Moning, but I say this series by JLA is a much more toned down version of that by a landslide

Sorry for the horrible pun, but this book was a wicked little delight! Okay, glad we got over that hump together, and if you’re still here and haven’t cancelled me yet, I can say that YES: I enjoyed this book by Jennifer L. Armentrout! It definitely was wasn’t my favorite of hers, but I’m definitely interested enough to want to read on and see what possibly happens next. I have some questions that need answering, and I have faith that the author will reveal all those answers in her entertaining way like she has with her other series that is my literary obsession…

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fancasts/Dreamcasts

My Fancast/Dreamcast: From Blood and Ash series by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Credit to Owner

Hello Readers!

It’s been a joy to make yet another fancast for my blog for others to enjoy, and after I got caught up on this series in particular, it was a huge goal of mine to complete ASAP! The From and Ash series has very quickly become a huge favorite of mine this year, and has become almost like a beacon of light and hope over what has to be the crappiest year EVER with 2020!

Who knew I’d become absolutely obsessed with a book series about Vampires and Werewolves in 2020, but with how this year has been going, it feels like nothing can surprise me some days…

For those that aren’t aware, this is a book series that somehow got two books published this year from Jennifer L. Armentrout, who must be a writing machine because these books are thicccccccc! We’re talking 600+ pages for both of them, and it’s also 600+ pages of pure wicked entertainment!

If I had to describe this series in a couple words, they’d be the following: Enchanting, Dangerous, Ominous, Sultry, Seductive, Enthralling, hair-raising, spine-tingling, dangerous, and utterly romantic. Fans of authors like Sarah J. Maas, Holly Black, and Laura Thalassa just to name a few will absolutely devour these books and become as obsessed as pretty much every other reader who’s gotten their hands on them.

It’s a story of a young woman named Penellaphe Balfour, or “Poppy” as her friends call her, who’s raised as the maiden, who’s a holy figure amongst her people and is the chosen who will one day become Ascended. With that, she must live a life of solitude; no eye contact, no spoken words, and to keep her head down unless ordered otherwise. It’s a sad life, but others would kill for the position, so she should be thankful…

All that is called into question as Hawke Flynn comes into her life and becomes her new knight/bodyguard. Duty and passion become twisted together as he helps her question everything she’s ever known, but also finally gives her the push to hope for more…

There’s whispers of an ancient Kingdom back on the rise, plus creatures of the night growing more and more restless. Lines are blurred as to what is right and wrong, and Poppy will do whatever it takes in order to protect not only those she cares about but also herself and her heart…

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 review of book #3 – The Crown of Gilded Bones – Click HERE!

Quick Disclaimer!*** I do not own any of these images even as I try to credit all who are known, and I will promptly remove if asked to do so by any of the owners.

~~~

Here’s my official Fancast/Dreamcast:

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Kieran Contou: Isha Blaaker

Image courtesy of the actor’s IMDB profile

Kieran is a huge fan favorite for the series, so I had to come up with someone who’d look like he deserved to have a large following! I originally casted Kendrick Sampson as the role, but I honestly fancast him for a ton of parts where it’s a character who’s POC with lighter colored eyes. I wanted to switch it up, plus I’d say I do the same thing with Jesse Williams (who’s too old for the part anyways), so Isha definitely looks the part!

Vikter Wardwell: Graham McTavish

Image courtesy of the actor’s Twitter account

Love this Scottish actor in both Outlander and even his smaller role in the fourth season of Lucifer, but he has that older, more protective fatherly figure vibe which is right up Vikter’s alley, so I think Graham would nail this role if they were to actually make From Blood and Ash into a movie/TV series.

Rylan Keal: Garrett Hedlund

Photo courtesy of Nicolas Guerin/Contour @ Getty Images & GQ Italia

I’m not too familiar with this actor, but a few movies he’s pretty noteworthy of was the rebooted Disney’s TRON: Legacy film from about ten years ago, plus he was in Country Strong. I don’t know, he just has those unassuming blond looks that I really pictured for Poppy’s original bodyguard.

Tawny Lyon: Caris Shelton

Credit to owner

Tawny was actually a hard choice, and part of me feels like I still may switch out this choice at some point or another if another face comes along that I think would fill the role better. Until that happens, I think this gorgeous model I found on Instagram has the look I imagined for Tawny.

Lord Brandole Mazeen: Craig Parker

Credit to owner

Some of you may or may not recognize this actor, but he’s actually been in a couple widely popular films and TV shows! He was the Elven general in Lord of the Rings, he was also in TV shows like Reign and Spartacus, which if you’ve watched them, will totally make you agree with how I casted him for such a cruel character in these books!

Duke Dorian Teerman: Peter Facinelli

Image courtesy of DEFY Magazine

I mean, why not cast at least one character from the Twilight movies in this? Part of me still can’t believe I’m so obsessed with a Vampire-esque Paranormal Romance quite like From Blood and Ash, and it’s freakin’ 2020! The Duke is cold, menacing, and vicious behind closed doors, so I thought it’d be an interesting switch from Peter playing Dr. Carlisle.

Duchess Jacinda Teerman: Inbar Lavi

Credit to owner

She played the first ever woman in the world, Eve, in the Netflix hit, Lucifer, and for some reason I totally pictured her playing the role of the Duchess as well…it totally could just be because I was watching the show and reading the first book around the same time. Kind of like Peter Facinelli above, the roles are so opposite of each other, I’m curious to see if the actress could pull it off!

Jericho: Tom Felton

Credit to owner

Jericho was a smaller role for the first book, sure, but why not have a bigger name actor to play the role itself? For some reason, Jericho was giving me some major Draco Malfoy vibes, so I thought it’d be fun to have Tom Felton play the role, why not?

Elijah: Travis Van Winkle, or Nathan Parsons

Image courtesy of Twitter account @SpoilerTV
Image courtesy of the actor’s IMDB profile

Elijah was a toss-up since not much was actually told about his looks other than his beard and warm eyes. I mean, that could be taken in so many directions, right? Travis Van Winkl;e fulfills the more wholesome, all-american guy next door vibe I could see Elijah having, but Nathan Parsons, who’s been on The Originals (Spin-off of The Vampire Diaries), so it wouldn’t be unfamiliar territory for him either!

Delano: Drew Van Acker

Image courtesy of cbs.com

Drew Van Acker is a personal favorite of mine! He was the tortured and gorgeous Jason Dilaurentis in the tv adaptation of Pretty Little Liars, and his sad, soulful eyes along with the rest of his good looks have always stuck with me over the years, and I love to fancast him for other blond male roles if I see fit.

Naill: Rome Flynn

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The other half of the Wolven dynamic duo along with Delano, Rome Flynn is who I pictured for this particular character, who’s only been described thus far as having dark skin. I picture all the Wolven being stunningly gorgeous, I mean why not?…so I pictured this young actor from the Shonda Rhimes courtroom drama, How to Get Away with Murder, to add up some even more sex appeal onto this fancast of mine.

You’re welcome.

Alastir Davenwell: Brett Tucker

Image Courtesy of the actor’s IMDB Profile

Alastir was described as being rather good looking even with it being obvious he’s getting a little older in age, and this Australian has been on my radar ever since I first saw him in the TV Show, Spartacus. Alastir may be a total drama loving instigator, and I could go on about all that, but at least he’s pretty easy on the eyes, amiright ladies, gents, and non-binaries?

Emil Da’Lahr: Ken Bek

Image courtesy of the model’s Instagram profile

I feel like Ken Bek is just the basic-bitch go to casting for EVERYONE who needs an attractive male redhead for some character (him and Sam Heughan), but I can’t help it with this one! Ken just has that mischievous smirk in almost all his modeling photos that really just remind me of this character, who I still don’t know whether I like them or not quite yet!

Lord Chaney: Finn Wittrock

Image courtesy of thewrap.com

Finn is an incredible actor, probably one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood right now! He’s incredibly versatile, and I can say that even just from watching him perform a wide variety of characters in a couple seasons of American Horror Story. Plus, Lord Chaney is an Ascended, and I just picture them being beautiful beings.

Vonetta Contou: Logan Browning

Credit to owner

Logan Browning has become a favorite of mine since I’ve seen her star as the powerful roll of Sam in the Netflix show, Dear White People, I also picture her as Kieran’s sister in this series. Her acting chops are definitely up to par, I know she’d do nothing but add even more greatness to the cast!

Jasper Contou: Luke Evans

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Jasper was one of those characters you just fall in love with the moment you meet them, and I could say the same about Cinna from Suzanne Collins’ trilogy, The Hunger Games. At first, I was like a ton of the fandom who’d fancasted Idris Elba and/or Lenny Kravitz, but Jennifer Armentrout actually confirmed that Jasper is white (It makes sense if Kieran and Vonetta are lighter in skin tone), so I had to reimagine the character and who could play him. Luke Evans, whose been in The Hobbit trilogy and even Gaston in the live-action remake of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, would be my new Jasper!

Hawke Flynn/ Casteel Da’Neer: Michael Malarkey, Jaime Astrain, or Danilo D’Agostino

Michael Malarkey, image courtesy of the actor/musician’s Instagram profile
Jaime Astrain, image courtesy of balistarz.com

Danilo D’Agostino, image credits to owners

Of course, like almost every other fandom with a wickedly devastating male love interest like this character, there’s a huge debate of who would be perfect to play him. EVERYONE has their own preference of who they feel is attractive enough and skilled enough to play the part, which is totally fine! Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I have to say I can agree with just about every choice I saw come up: Stephen Amell, Jesse Metcalfe, Theo James, Matthew Daddario (who was my original choice), but after much deliberation on my part, these are the three I’ve narrowed it down to!

Penellaphe “Poppy” Balfour: Peyton Gastel, or Laura Gwyneth Butler

Peyton Gastel, image courtesy of the model’s Instagram profile
Laura Gwyneth Butler, image courtesy of listal.com

Poppy is the vampire para-romance heroine we really need; she’s the exact opposite of Bella Swan, and I am fully behind her on her journey, and these two are my final choices of who’d portray her in a cinematic format! The first is a model I found on Instagram who has the red hair, green eyes combo that is Poppy! My other choice is a model who Facebook user Tiffany R. on the Facebook group I’m a member introduced us to, and I fully support this choice as well!

Queen Eloana Da’Neer: Gal Gadot

Image courtesy of celebmafia.com

She’s used to playing a powerful, regal figure like Diana (aka: Wonderwoman) in the DC Superhero movies, but I also imagined her playing the role of the Queen of Atlantia, and also Casteel’s mother. She’s actually a very complex character as you read on in The Crown of Gilded Bone, and I know Gal would do an amazing job!

King Valyn Da’Neer: Chris Pine

Credit to owner

We all know King Valyn was going to be blond daddy goals, and at first I was picturing Brad Pitt playing this role, but I know with how word of mouth is he was miserable on the set of Interview With a Vampire back in the 90’s, so I think he’d avoid another vampire franchise like this one. As for Chris Pine, why not? He’s got the looks, the acting ability, and we know he has chemistry with Gal Gadot in the Wonderwoman movies too!

Commander Jansen: Simon Merrellis

Image courtesy of the actor’s IMDB profile

He was a character that I—and I’m sure most of the fandom is guilty too—totally overlooked and didn’t think would become a bigger character than where he was already at. But reading the third book, he practically shoves his way to the forefront and became worthy of my consideration to add him on here. I only know this actor from the STARZ hit show, Spartacus.

Hisa Fa’Mar: Lesley-Anne Brandt

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LOOOOOVE her in Lucifer, and even though the characters are incredibly different from one another, I know that Lesley can play badass, powerful females. She’d have no problem being the General of the Atlantian Army.

Kirha Contou: Danai Gurira, or Angela Bassett

Danai Gurira, image courtesy of latimes.com
Angela Bassett, image courtesy of amomama.com

Two totally iconic POC woman in Hollywood, I would be happy with either choice to play the mother of Kieran and Vonetta as well as wife to Jasper. This is a softer role—at least so far of where we’re at in the series—but I imagine Kirha is a glorious fighter on the battlefield when she needs to be! Danai was in Black Panther and The Walking Dead, and Angela Bassett I know from American Horror Story, Black Panther, and 9-1-1 on Fox.

Perry: Nathan Owens

Image courtesy of the actor/model’s IMDB profile

So as soon as I found out this Wolven is actually Delano’s on-and-off lover, I had to include him in my fancast! This gorgeous model would add some serious eye candy to the screen, and the total hotness that is the friendship with Casteel and Kieran as they’ve all known each other since childhood.

Miss Wilhelmina Colyns: Nia Long

Image courtesy of hawtcelebs.com

I’m so happy we get to meet the illustrious, infamous being that is Miss Willa Colyns in this series. She’s more than just an author of a smutty diary that is—not so secretly—Poppy’s favourite book, but is also an elder of the Atlantian kingdom! Nia Long is a stunning pop culture icon whose been acting for quite some time now, I totally remember her all the way back when she was in Fresh Prince of Bel Air, but she’s also been in Big Momma’s House, Third Watch, and NCIS: Los Angeles.

Ian Balfour: Ben Barnes, or Nathaniel Buzolic

Ben Barnes, image courtesy of seventeenmag.com
Nathaniel Buzolic, image courtesy of bookingagentinfo.com

So yes, I’ve totally already binged Shadow and Bone on Netflix as I type this, so meeting Ian shortly after that probably has made me have Ben Barnes on the brain, and can you blame me? He was a magnificent Darkling, and I’d love to see him apart of this series if it ever came onto our screens too someday! If SaB took about eight years or so to make it happen, it could very well happen for Blood and Ash too! Nathaniel has a background in vampire filmology as well, he was Kol Mikaelson in both The Vampire Diaries and The Originals!

Nyktos: Henry Cavill

Credit to Owner

A lot of the fandom has put Henry’s name out there as possible fancast choices for Hawke/Casteel, and while I’d never be so douchey and rude as to tell anyone who they can and can’t choose for their own personal casting, I also couldn’t say I agreed with that either. Henry needed to play an older character, and why not play the King of the Gods? This way we’re all happy that Henry can be a part of the series after all, and get lost in either his dreamy eyes or his impressive jawline!

The Consort, Sera: Katheryn Winnick

Image courtesy of unitedagents.co.uk

I wanted to fancast this role ASAP since it appears that were also getting some prequel books in the Blood and Ash world that stars Nyktos, and spoilers in the third book also reveal more about this character. Katheryn Winnick was in the popular show Vikings, and I keep telling myself that I need to watch it someday!

Nektas: Tom Ellis

Image courtesy of Emmy Magazine

I’m a big fan of Lucifer on Netflix, and while Mr. Morningstar is a way different character than the Draken, I just had Mr. Tom Ellis in mind when we finally see Nektas’s mortal form. It may be because I see Tom in his devilish special effects (see image below), but I can admit it’s also just because I like to look at him, and his accent adds so much charm to his persona!

The Handmaiden/Revenant: Megan Fox

Image courtesy of bellasugar.com

This was an interesting new concept added to the series in The Crown of GIlded Bone, and as soon as this character was introduced into the story, I got some major Kate Beckinsale in Underworld vibes. I also instantly thought of this image of Megan Fox I picked, and thought she’d play the role incredibly well. I can already tell this character will be one to watch out for in several ways, and Megan Fox honestly doesn’t get enough credit for her acting abilities. I believe she has more to offer than just how Hollywood perceived her and marketed her as back in the day when Michael Bay pretty much almost completely blacklisted her.

Prince Malik Da’Neer: Reeve Carney

Image courtesy of alcotron.com

We finally meet the older brother to Casteel, the firstborn Da’Neer son who was set to take the throne. I loved the twist with him, I can say I didn’t see it coming and all he had to offer the game of thrones we’re now playing in this series. This actor was in Penny Dreadful, and instantly who I thought could play Malik as soon as we met him!

Queen Ileana: Christina Hendricks

Image courtesy of mytechworld.com

I am honestly doing a chef’s kiss at how perfect I think this casting choice would be if they made the Blood and Ash books into the show or film series. Christina Hendricks has been in Mad Men, and she’s also currently in the Netflix show Good Girls, and she has a unique look to her, a sultry vibe who I think is the ONLY choice who’d perfectly capture the Blood Queen and leader of the Ascended.

King Jalara: Jude Law

Image courtesy of gettyimages.com

Jude Law was actually very close to becoming my choice for King Valyn, but then I remembered how well he played the villain in King Arthur, and he does have a sexier, almost devilish appeal to him, so I wanted him to stay on the dark side and play this role as well too!

So there you have it for now!

With many more books on the way—including a least one told from Casteel’s perspective—I know there will be even more characters to add, so wait for those next books to release and I’ll add more names and faces ASAP!

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

Fantasy, New Adult Romance, Paranormal

My Review: From Blood and Ash (Blood and Ash #1): by Jennifer L. Armentrout

*Kindle Edition*
Publish Date: March 29th, 2020
Number of Pages: 622 Pages
Publisher: Blue Box Press
Genre(s): Fantasy, New Adult Romance, Paranormal

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

Total Star Rating: 4.25 Stars

The global pandemic has affected us all in different ways, that much is certain. There are plenty of things that I could say on the matter, but one thing I’ve noticed how it’s affected me is my lack of ability to focus or concentrate. It’s affected me on my writing, and has especially affected my reading. All of a sudden, the act of reading is twice as hard to do and I can hardly even find the energy to finish a book; I’ve even dropped multiple titles like Morning Star by Pierce Brown, Vengeful by V.E. Schwab, and really struggled to even finish Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo. The point I’m trying to make about all this is how it felt like I’d fallen into a deep reading slump, and From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout absolutely saved me!

Like it’s advertised, this book is perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas, and it was an incredible story filled with everything that makes a fantasy story great: quests for vengeance, mythical creatures, bravery, friendship, love, betrayal, loyalty, mystique, forgotten civilizations, and even some suspense. Don’t forget the romance, there was definitely some romance! It was a definite highlight of the whole story, which isn’t exactly shocking for a Jennifer L. Armentrout novel based on what I’ve noticed of her work over the years.

Some of the storyline was fairly predictable, but a lot of it was also not, and I was surprised at how many twists I actually did not see coming, even as I thought back and realized all the little hints that the author placed throughout, and what they eventually meant. The ending was especially surprising, but I gather that anyone who enjoys the author’s other books will totally expect it from her, and will enjoy it just as much. I’m just personally glad it wasn’t a total cliffhanger of an ending; it has quite a final sentence to end it with, but it’s not like I’m totally unsatisfied with it either.

While nothing was too incredibly mind-blowing or greatly original about the story, I still found myself really enjoying this book way more than others right now, and even stayed up all night reading it to see what happened next. I still am not 100% on the worldbuilding, along with its history with the different kingdoms and the wars that are mentioned in the narration, but it didn’t stop me from enjoying the story either way.

While it may seem like a perfect addition to the YA Fantasy genre, I can say it definitely belongs more in the New Adult category similarly to how A Court of Thorns and Roses is actually NA too. With how the main heroine develops and with how far the romance goes, while I’d never tell someone what they can and can’t read, others may want to reconsider this for the younger and more impressionable readers. I’d say this book is safe for anyone 16+ in age, but then again, I was reading books with sex scenes when I was just in 8th grade, and I turned out fine!

What It’s About:

The Official Blurb:

Captivating and action-packed, From Blood and Ash is a sexy, addictive, and unexpected fantasy perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas and Laura Thalassa.

A Maiden…

Chosen from birth to usher in a new era, Poppy’s life has never been her own. The life of the Maiden is solitary. Never to be touched. Never to be looked upon. Never to be spoken to. Never to experience pleasure. Waiting for the day of her Ascension, she would rather be with the guards, fighting back the evil that took her family, than preparing to be found worthy by the gods. But the choice has never been hers.

A Duty…

The entire kingdom’s future rests on Poppy’s shoulders, something she’s not even quite sure she wants for herself. Because a Maiden has a heart. And a soul. And longing. And when Hawke, a golden-eyed guard honor bound to ensure her Ascension, enters her life, destiny and duty become tangled with desire and need. He incites her anger, makes her question everything she believes in, and tempts her with the forbidden.

A Kingdom…

Forsaken by the gods and feared by mortals, a fallen kingdom is rising once more, determined to take back what they believe is theirs through violence and vengeance. And as the shadow of those cursed draws closer, the line between what is forbidden and what is right becomes blurred. Poppy is not only on the verge of losing her heart and being found unworthy by the gods, but also her life when every blood-soaked thread that holds her world together begins to unravel.

Some truths do nothing but destroy and decay what they do not obliterate. Truths do not always set one free. Only a fool who has spent their entire life being fed lies believes that.”

— Jennifer L. Armentrout, “From Blood and Ash”

What I Liked:

  1. Hawke Flynn! He becomes Poppy’s personal royal guard when it seems like someone or something is targeting her as being the Maiden, and I can honestly say he’s a perfect addition to any book boyfriends list that anyone possibly has. He’s the perfect mix of charming, cocky, witty, cheeky, and he has an edge that shrouds him with an air of mystery that makes your heart beat just a little faster whenever him and Poppy are near each other. He’s a great love interest because he challenges Poppy both mentally and physically, and he’s protective but never forces her to do anything she doesn’t want to do, and he also doesn’t treat her like some defenseless damsel. He really likes the word intriguing to describe her, and has strange golden eyes and dimples that she (and most of us who’ve read it) are absolutely obsessed with!
  2. Poppy’s Character Development! As the important role of the Maiden amongst the people, Poppy has had an incredibly sheltered life for as long as she remembers. Secretly being trained to defend herself in combat, she also defies the pressure and expectations placed on her by socializing with her small inner circle, and I thought the author wrote her resentment and the coming-of-age growing need for freedom perfectly. She’s had everything figured out for her, scheduled for her, and she has so many limits to being the Maiden: a holy-like figure required to wear a veil at all times in public, that it makes total sense that she wants everything that life has kept from her, which leads me to the next number on the list…
  3. The Romance! With her growing need for freedom and choice, Poppy also falls for her new personal royal guard, Hawke Flynn. He teaches her that it’s not only normal to want the things she wants out of life but isn’t allowed to have, but he even encourages her to go and seize them for herself. He doesn’t hide the fact that he’s attracted to her, so he constantly flirts with her, and they exchange some sexy banter as well. She eventually can no longer deny she feels the same way, and the romance developed just so wonderfully…there was such a great balance of sweet and steamy moments, plenty of great banter, and was just electric to read about Poppy learning to embrace her sexuality. I think many impressionable female readers will especially appreciate this character trait of hers.
Image courtesy of Goodreads profile: @arini

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. There’s Quite a Lot of Slower Pacing…While there are (surprisingly) a lot of death scenes like Game of Thrones, but From Blood and Ash also has a lot of slower moments in the story, and a lot of that has to do with what felt like a lot of repetitive inner monologues from Poppy, and plenty of worldbuilding info dumps of this realm. There’s a lot of buildup for about 60% of this book, but then the author answers a lot of the questions she raised in the final part with a string of reveals, but with how much emphasis she constantly put on a lot of it, most of the reveals weren’t as shocking or mind-blowing as they could’ve been, at least in my opinion.
  2. A Lot of Info Dumps…I’ve already kind of mentioned it, and the title pretty much tells you what I mean. It’s not that I didn’t find all of the information boring, there was just too much of it and it felt like the author often repeated herself several times in case the reader forgot about something in particular, which sometimes lead me to skim over certain passages. It wasn’t like she didn’t remind us enough when Poppy had one of her many inner monologues…
  3. There’s No Map…This is such a smaller, more particular critique from me, but with how much emphasis is put on the history of the world with the other kingdoms and noteworthy geographical aspects, a map would’ve maybe helped for this book. Personally, I just feel like any map of some sort should be a requirement for any Fantasy genre title, especially for books like this one where the worldbuilding is so integral to the development of the story.

Conclusion:

Overall, From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout was an exhilarating romantic New Adult Fantasy novel with paranormal aspects that helped me crawl out of a reading slump during this crazy time in the world! While nothing was too original or absolutely shocking, it was still very much an enjoyable story to read late into the night.

I really recommend this to anyone who loves books by Sarah J. Maas, Leigh Bardugo, Susan Dennard, and Stephanie Garber. This book has fantasy aspects with a heavy influence on the romance factor, but luckily is more of a subplot that only enhances the overall story.

This book was indie published, so it seems like it’s not exactly easy to find except on Amazon in paperback unless you have an e-reader, like how I read it. It seems like maybe the author wanted more freedom with the story, plus NA books are more likely to be indie published anyways, so not much of a surprise there. Even though this book just came out shortly before I’d read it, I already can’t wait to get the next one and see what happens next!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell