I know it’s highly unusual for me to review two books at the same time, but it’s also unusual for me to take a hiatus for almost a year without an explanation and yet… here we are. And while I’d love to say I’m back just because I loved this series so much that I had to come and share the good news with you, I’m not.
To be perfectly blunt, I hated these books.
From Blood and Ash was a blatant knock off of A Court of Thorns and Roses with a little bit of Twilight sprinkled in for good luck. If you can’t tell just by reading that sentence, it’s not exactly a good combination. It combined a lot of fantasy-genre cliches in the worst possible ways. From the sexy “male” hero with a tragic backstory to the “female” heroine that doesn’t seem to know anything useful, you have a disaster in the making.
This absolute wreck of a series was further encouraged by the fact that Armentrout simply does not have the writing skill to develop her characters appropriately.
Let’s start with Penellaphe “Poppy” Balfour, the Maiden. Sheltered from every type of social interaction and raised to be some type of religious figurehead for her country, you would expect a sheltered, socially-stunted individual who struggles to go outside. Instead, you get someone who swears like a sailor, knows how to use a knife, and sneaks out to go play cards at a bar in town. Obvious plot holes aside, you want to like her for that, but something just doesn’t click.
After a lot of reflecting, I think it’s because, outside of those three things, there’s not a lot to Poppy. She doesn’t manage to play into the sheltered girl role. She isn’t very inquisitive and just accepts most answers to her questions at face value. Even though she is described as smart, she is incredibly easy to manipulate and doesn’t actually prove she’s smart in any way. She may care about people, but she moves past them very quickly. Every other character trait she is described as having gets ignored in the face of her wanting to stab people. There has to be more to a character, especially a main character, than just the fact that they can use a weapon.
The male main character of the story, Hawke, was the most glaring example of bad writing though. It was obvious that Armentrout was going for a snarky, sexy hero capable of killing the bad guys and romancing the female main character at the same time. She was attempting to write the story of a mysterious bad boy who is only bad for good reasons. While I’ve loved similar attempts in other books, with other authors, Hawke was just a creepy manipulative asshole. He is a cheap knock-off of Rhysand with all of the dirty one liners and none of the class to know when to say them. Every meaningful moment is marred by Hawke’s involvement and his insistence on turning emotional connection into something dirty.
Plus, half of the things he does aren’t in the pursuit of saving people, but are, instead, in the purpose of serving his own selfish desires at the expense of the people around him. I’ll get into more about this later, but it’s honestly disgusting to me that anyone can find Hawke attractive after what happened at the end of the first book.
Of course, you’ll only be impacted by the ending if you can actually get to it. The beginning of the book isn’t much better than the so-cliche-it-hurts main characters. While I enjoy a good info dump at times, the world building at the beginning of this series was so excessive and so poorly done. Even after the end of reading through it all, I had way too many questions and way too much confusion. She tried to play off that confusion, that vagueness, as part of the story, but it wasn’t a successful attempt. I was confused, and bored, and left wanting less and more at the same time.
By the time we got to the actual plot, she had already lost me. Obviously her lackluster main characters failed to recapture my attention. And the ending of the first book absolutely horrified me.
That’s why it may surprise you that I picked up the second book in the series, A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire. I honestly don’t understand why I did it. A large part of my decision was based on the fact that there are so many reviews online positively screaming that this series is AMAZING. I felt like I must have been missing something and if I just kept reading I would finally understand why everyone loved it. Plus, I was hoping that, at the very least, Hawke would just emerge as the villain that I saw him as. He’s a bad guy; let him be one!
Needless to say, I’m 30% through A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire and it’s obvious this series is going absolutely nowhere. Poppy is the same brainless, violent moron and Hawke is honestly just straight up abusive. He absolutely disgusts me. I might keep reading it, just in case something changes to make me retract these statements, but I strongly doubt anything could change my opinion at this point. This series is just not worth reading, even if Armentrout somehow manages to pull through now so late in the game.
So is it read-worth? Absolutely not. Save yourself the time.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A Note About Problematic Sex Scenes (Spoiler Alert and Trigger Warning: Dubious Consent)
In all fairness, I don’t think I can finish off this review without mentioning the biggest problems I had with the first book, From Blood and Ash: the love story is straight up offensive.
Even if you ignore the end of the book, which I’m not going to do, the love story is just bad. There is absolutely no connection between Hawke and Poppy. They bond over the fact that they’ve both lost people and that they’re attracted to each other. That’s pretty much it. Throughout both books, all of their conversation seems singularly focused on either Poppy threatening to kill Hawke or Hawke making gross sexual innuendos at Poppy.
Trust me: I hated honeydew before this and I hate it even more after reading these two books.
What’s laughable is the fact that Poppy finds Hawke’s disgusting commentary attractive more often than not. I cringe when I read it. Imagining someone saying half of this stuff to me, let alone insisting that I want them while they say it, makes me want to yack.
Again, I’ve seen a lot of people compare From Blood and Ash to Sarah J. Maas’s work. Even to me, Hawke seems like a knock off version of Rhysand from A Court of Thorn and Roses. However, where I loved Rhysand for his sexy snarky attitude and overtly sexual comments, I absolutely hate Hawke for the same things.
Why? A lot of it has to do with consent and with the purpose around the sexuality. (Spoilers for ACOTAR and From Blood and Ash) Whereas Rhysand did sometimes push things too far Under the Mountain, he did it in order to protect Feyre from clear risk death (their first kiss) and he painstakingly made sure never to take it too far without Feyre’s informed consent. Hawke’s sexual activity with Poppy is done without her informed consent. He spends the entire first book pushing her boundaries without clear consent. He takes her virginity under completely false pretenses, and then has the audacity to hold the fact that she wants him against her after that point.
Let me repeat that: he takes her virginity, he has sex with her, under false pretenses.
After he has sex with her, Hawke’s grand plan to continue to be Hawke starts to fall apart and he is forced to admit that, actually, he’s not even named Hawke. He’s the Dark One, Casteel, that is so feared by everyone in Poppy’s country. According to everything she has ever been told, he is the reason why people in her country live in fear. And then, worse, he was actually in the process of kidnapping her to trade back to her country in exchange for his brother because, again, everything she had ever been told is a lie. He’s actually the good guy, even if he’s a manipulative asshole.. After a little bit of arguing and some predictable death threats, Poppy just accepts all of this as fact.
How are we supposed to find him attractive after that???? How can anyone? He was not written to be a dark romance main character where the reasons why the female protagonists loves him are confusing, wicked, or twisted. This is not supposed to be a dark romance. That much is obvious from the writing style.
You are supposed to think Hawke is a hero and ignore the fact that he raped Poppy.
I just can’t excuse that. It honestly disgusts me. I have a huge problem with anyone who does manage to ignore it and a bigger problem with those who defend him. Poppy put her absolute trust in his complete and utter garbage human. In turn, he manipulated her into having sex with him, something that served no greater purpose, and he betrayed her at the end of it. Instead of calling him out for it, the series just brushes the gravity of what he did aside, throws it into their “romantic” storyline, and acts like everything is perfectly fine. I hate that.
Stop romanticizing abuse. If you absolutely *have* to romanticize it, like in dark romances, at least have the guts to call it out for what it is. Explain that the attraction is sick and twisted, even unhealthy for the main characters. Stop pretending that these messed up things romantic partners do is excusable or desirable when they are anything but. I am sick of it.