**Yes, I’ve intended to keep this review spoiler free, with just really minor spoilers that may not even count as spoilers.**
**All GIFS are from GIPHY**
This book is so, so good. I give it 5/5 stars. It’s by none other than one of my favorite authors, Jennifer L. Armentrout.
From Blood and Ash takes place in the setting of a kingdom. It is about Pennellaphe, or “Poppy,” a maiden. She is expected to be “pure” in terms of sexual relations, and restrictive in relations of any kind, even if they’re platonic. She isn’t allowed to experience pleasure. While everyone around her is able to roam around freely as they wish, Poppy is expected to be escorted at all times by assigned guards, even within the castle.
She is constantly veiled when outside of her room, and she is not to be spoken to or socially interacted with by others. The only exception to this rule is her guards and the Duke and Duchess, and her personal lady assistant. Even then, she’s not allowed to have close relationships with them or anyone else; these relationships are supposed to be strictly professional. Lords and Ladies in waiting for an event called the Ascension are visible to her but are prohibited from talking to her, and likewise, she isn’t allowed to interact with them. Vikter, one of Poppy’s guards, is like a father to her. Despite the rules and restrictions, he secretly helps Poppy train to fight and for self-defense. Tawny, Poppy’s lady assistant, is around her age and despite their assigned relationship, the two are close and regard each other as friends. Yet, the doubt of the friendship’s genuineness looms over Poppy often as she wonders if Tawny and her would even be friends if she wasn’t assigned her companion. Tawny is the only lady in wait who is allowed to interact with Poppy.
The position of the Maiden is regarded with great honor throughout the castle, city and kingdom. The Maiden is regarded as being the “Chosen One” by the gods and thus someone who is extremely blessed. The Maiden is expected to be appeasing and demure. She is the epitome of purity and innocence, obedience and submissiveness. The fact that the position isn’t her choice isn’t considered and is taken for granted. It is expected that she should be grateful as others would yearn for the honor that she has.
Despite what is expected of her, Poppy is a live spirit who yearns not just to be alive, but to actually live. She often sneaks out of her room when her guards are unaware and when the rest of the castle is sleeping. Although Vikter and Tawny often don’t approve of Poppy’s forbidden adventures and fear that she’ll get caught and then punished, especially by the cruel Duke who doesn’t need a real reason to punish Poppy through his so-called “lessons,” they stay loyal to her and keep her secrets. Poppy also has a gift that allows her to feel other’s pain and lend her own comfort to them to ease their pains. Only Vikter and the Duke and Duchess are aware of this gift, although Vikter is not supposed to know. Despite being forbidden to use the gift until after her Ascension, Poppy uses her gift often to help others. It frustrates her even though she can help people in pain, she is restricted from doing so.
The Duke and Duchess are of those who are Ascended; they are made nearly immortal and are believed to be blessed by the gods and thus deemed worthy by them. They are to be revered and respected by everyone, and they are believed to be made in the image of the gods. But Poppy doesn’t understand how someone as cruel as the Duke can be blessed. And she doesn’t understand the same with Lord Mazeen, another cruel character who likes to assist the Duke with his “lessons” against Poppy. With the next Ascension coming up, Poppy is dreadful. She doesn’t exactly know what being Ascended will mean for her, and she is fearful of it with the uncertainty. Yet, her questions about it are shushed by others and left unanswered. She feels doubtful about whether she actually wants to continue to live the life of a Maiden, one where she is deprived of choice and freedom. But she is apprehensive about voicing her doubts out loud and even to herself, because after all, she grew up believing that such a thing is treasonous and wrong.
At the same time, as the story progresses, Poppy is forced to confront what she’s been taught and to consider what she should actually believe. Poppy’s evolution of her take on being a Maiden accelerates as Hawke, a guard, comes into her life. In the beginning of the story, they meet during one of Poppy’s forbidden adventures– her first time at the Red Pearl. The Red Pearl is a sort of night club where poker is played and sexual pleasures are indulged in. When Poppy sees Vikter at the Red Pearl, she fears that she’ll be recognized by him even though she is hidden with a disguise different from what the Maiden wears. She wanders into a room to hide from Victer where Hawke happens to be. He starts kissing her, mistaking her for someone else. Poppy doesn’t stop him, but Hawke quickly realizes that he doens’t know the person he is making out with. He quickly becomes intrigued by Poppy and can tell that she doesn’t have experience. Poppy, despite having the first face-to-face interaction with Hawke, knows about him– she’s seen him during training as a guard in the castle area multiple times. Their “meeting” is cut short as Hawke is summoned by someone for something duty-related. He tells Poppy not to leave, saying that he’ll be back soon. Poppy is tempted to stay, but she ends up leaving. Poppy hopes that Hawke does not recognize her as the Maiden when they see each other in the castle; if her whereabouts are reported to the Duke, she is in huge trouble in addition to being dishonored by the gods. But maybe that’s exactly what she wanted– to be deemed unworthy of Ascending. This is explored throughout the story. Unfortunately for her, Hawke is soon assigned to be one of Poppy’s guards, which makes it even harder for her to conceal her identity from Hawke and risky for her to get caught. If Hawke informs the Duke about her whereabouts, then she is done for. Poppy worries that Hawke already knows her identity, and she struggles with the conflict of relief and disappointment. On one hand, she would be relieved if Hawke already recognized her as the girl from the Red Pearl but decided to stay mum. On the other hand, she feels disappointment at him realizing and deciding to pretend like nothing happened between them.
Looming over Poppy and the people of city is the fear of the Dark One– an evil prince who is. He, along with the Atlantians he rules over, are abhorred for their responsibility in the creation of the Craven, pale-grey creatures that are out to get mortals and the Ascended alike.
This book was nothing short of amazing. Armentrout was skilled at creating suspense and at taking me by surprise with action that sprouted unexpectedly from the calm. Like, she really got me with the unexpected. There were some major turns of events that I really just did not see coming and struggled to fathom because of how shocking they were. The story was action-packed, gory at times, and also extremely romantic and sexy. The chemistry between Hawke and Poppy was to die for.
The author’s descriptions of Poppy’s feelings were also very detailed. She did a great job of stirring sympathy and even empathy at times within me for Poppy as I read about her experiences with trauma and good things/pleasure, and everything in between.
Armentrout also made me seethe and want to scream in some parts where she detailed the Duke and the Lord’s vile treatment of Poppy as they took advantage of her helplessness. And she also made me want to jump with joy as I read other parts, particularly the ones involving the interactions between Poppy and Hawke and ones where revenge was very, very well-served. She also made me really just want to cry in some parts– I felt my heart breaking for Poppy as she experienced betrayal and exploitation and I resonated with her confusions over her identity, role and relationships.
I was the maiden. the chosen. my earlier convictions about what the gods concerned themselves with weakened. would they find me unworthy? panic didn’t seize me like it should. instead, a spark of hope did, and that unsettled me more than anything.”Jennifer L. Armentrout, From Blood and Ash
we were holding hands. to a lot of people, that would be nothing. some would probably even find it silly, but it was huge to me, and i cherished it.”Jennifer L. Armentrout, From Blood and Ash
His words had touched the deepest part of me, and it was thrilling. i felt alive, like i was finally waking up.”Jennifer L. Armentrout, From Blood and Ash
‘Death is like an old friend who pays a visit. sometimes when it’s least expected and other times when you’re waiting for her.'”Jennifer L. Armentrout, From Blood and Ash
I really liked the relationship dynamics between Poppy and Hawke. Sexual tension was apparent and built and ready to break. Both were independent and brave characters. Poppy was brave for taking the risks that she did and for helping others despite consequences. I loved that she knew how to take care of herself and how to defend herself. I really liked how Armentrout made her far from being a damsel in distress, but at the same time balanced the role of Hawke saving and defending her in multiple occasions. In other words, the author didn’t make being self-reliant and being helped by others mutually exclusive.
‘I do wonder if you actually believe half the lies you tell.’
tawny’s gaze snapped back and forth between us.
‘i am not lying, thank you very much.
he smiled, showing off the dimple in his right cheek. ‘whatever you need to tell yourself, princess.’
‘don’t call me that!’ i stomped my foot.
hawke lifted an eyebrow. ‘did that make you feel good?’
‘yes! because the only other option is to kick you.'”Jennifer L. Armentrout, From Blood and Ash
‘NOW YOU INSULT ME AFTER THROWING A DAGGER AT MY FACE? YOU’VE WOUNDED MY TENDER FEELINGS.’
‘TENDER FEELINGS?’ I SNORTED. ‘DON’T BE OVERDRAMATIC.’
‘HARD NOT TO BE WHEN YOU THREW A DAGGER AT MY HEAD AND THEN CUT MY NECK,’ HE SHOT BACK, HIS GRIP ON ME SURPRISINGLY GENTLE COMAPRED TO THE HARDNESS OF HIS TONE.”Jennifer L. Armentrout, From Blood and Ash
And speaking of, I loved how Hawke loved and even encouraged Poppy’s independence and self-reliance. He thwarted the trait of having a big male ego that entailed insecurity when faced with an independent woman who knows how to take care of herself. In fact, he not only was okay with Poppy’s ability and skill, but he actually loved it. He found it sexy; it turned him on. And he encouraged it.
“‘YOU ARE SO INCREDIBLY VIOLENT.’ HE DIPPED HIS CHIN AND WHISPERED, ‘IT STILL TURNS ME ON.'”Jennifer L. Armentrout, From Blood and Ash
With regards to physical appearance, Poppy is fair-skinned with long, brownish-red hair that is usually tired into a braid and tucked under her veil. She has scars on her face from when her parents were killed when she was young, and she has several scars on her body from where the Duke punishes her.
Hawke, just like the rest of Armentrout’s fantasy characters who are male love interests, is extremely attractive. He is tall and strong. He has brownish skin, a beautiful face with high cheekbones and a sturdy jaw. His eyes are shockingly beautiful, being of a goldish-yellow hue. And his hair curls around his face and has a dark, bluish-black color.
I loved the way that Hawke and Poppy interacted from the beginning of the story. Their relationship involves a lot of banter and annoyance from each other, with the annoyance being mostly from Poppy directed at Hawke for his relentless teasing. I love that Hawke is extremely perceptive and sensitive; he can sense Poppy’s emotions and intents even without words being spoken. And I absolutely love that he is extremely respectful of boundaries when it comes to sexual interactions with Poppy. He never even thinks to take advantage of her and is particular about making sure that he has her consent. He does it in a way that is extremely kind, considerate and sensitive.
I really loved reading this book outside in my house’s netted patio hours after midnight, hearing sounds of crickets and the night coming from the woods under the moonlight. It was such a great late-night read. I’m looking forward to having my hands on the sequel once it comes out. As always, Armentrout doesn’t disappointment and is leaving my brain hungry for more.