Bloodleaf by Crystal Smith

*Spoiler free*

Aurelia is a princess, but they call her a witch. Surrounded by spirits and burdened with forbidden magic, she lives in constant fear of discovery by the witch-hunting Tribunal and their bloodthirsty mobs. When a devastating assassination attempt reveals her magical abilities, Aurelia is forced to flee her country with nothing but her life. Alone and adrift in an enemy kingdom, Aurelia plans her revenge against the Tribunal, desperate to bring down the dark organization that has wrought terror upon her people for hundreds of years. But there’s something deeply amiss in her new home, too, and soon she finds herself swept into a deadly new mystery with a secretive prince, the ghost of an ancient queen, and a poison vine called Bloodleaf. Aurelia is entangled in a centuries-long game of love, power, and war, and if she can’t break free before the Tribunal makes its last move, she may lose far more than her crown.

I’ve been wanting to read this book for awhile. It sounded intriguing, the cover pulled me in, and I had heard some pretty decent things about it! For some reason, I pushed it to the back burner. Though, I’ve recently seen so much love for this series online (I think because the second book was just released!), that my interest in finding out what this series is about shot up. A princess accused of being a witch, hiding out in an enemy kingdom, and trying to come into her powers while trying to untangle the turmoil surrounding her made this book sound like it would be right up my alley! Trigger warnings: graphic animal death, self-harm (for blood magic), ableism

I can see where the love for this series comes from. It’s the type of world that’s easy to get swept away in, and has characters that are easy to love. While I did find myself really liking this book, there were aspects that I’m just not sure of. It makes my feelings toward this book feel a bit tangled.

I’ll start off with what I did like! This world was a fascinating one, that has this beauty to it. When I saw the map at the beginning of the book, my jaw couldn’t help but drop. That’s how stunning it is, both in art and in the book itself.

I also really, really liked Aurelia. She’s scrappy, determined, and just seems like a really decent person. I think what drew me to her so much is that she’s so tough, but also so human at the same time. She trips up sometimes and sometimes she doesn’t make the right calls, but she’s always willing to get back up and fight to try and make things right. She felt like a real human, a real girl that I could hug if I wanted to.

All the characters has this realness to them and that’s what drew me to all of them. Kate, Nathaniel, Zan, and even the ones who weren’t exactly always working with Aurelia. Kate is the sweetest person ever, Nathaniel has a heart of gold, and Zan has so much inner strength.

For most of the plot, I really liked where it went. It was fast-moving and had secrets lurking in unexpected places. It kept my heart racing and my blood pumping. It was tinged with darkness and something slipped beneath the surface that hinted at more.

My problems with this book seem to be that I felt like things were just explained and left at that. It made it seem like the stakes weren’t as high as they were and the impact major events didn’t pack as much as a punch. There were hints of foreshadowing here and there for some aspects, but they felt so disconnected from the rest of the story. They felt like random lines instead of something to invoke fear and questions of what this world really is. I felt like there just wasn’t enough history explained to make everything connect together seamlessly. It made plot points seem disjointed and character motivation seem just to the left of aligned. It also made it seem like this book could’ve gone so much deeper, but instead it just stayed at the surface of the world. It could have dug deep into the politics of this world, but instead it left Aurelia trying to pull together threads of a plan. I dunno, I just know that I felt kind of frustrated with this book, even though I did enjoy reading it.

I also wasn’t a huge fan of the prince of Achleva being called weak and other things like that just because he was sick. This was talked back against a bit, but I can’t comment more than that since I am not disabled.

Also, this is more of a personal preference than anything else, but I feel like I wanted the ending to be more open ended. I felt like so much was wrapped up at the end of this book, that the second on would just open up a whole new can of worms. Yes, there’s a few plot threads here and there left dangling, but I usually prefer more solid threads to be followed throughout a series. That’s just my personal opinion though!

Despite my issues with this book, I did really enjoy reading it. My heart broke at places, I reveled in the beauty and brilliance of the world, I was intrigued with the hidden secrets and lurking dangers, and I fell in love with the characters. It was a really solid book and I did end up really liking it!

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