Fantasy, New Adult/Adult

A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Pages: 637

Series: Blood and Ash #2

Publisher: Blue Box Press

Release Date: September 1, 2020

Genre(s): Fantasy

Format: Paperback

*NOTE: If you have not read From Blood and Ash, please stop reading this review NOW! Spoilers for this book follow, but feel free to check out my non-spoiler review of FB&A here to see if you’ll enjoy the series :)*

Goodreads Synopsis

“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 Did I Think?

THIS. BOOK. KNOCKED. MY. SOCKS. OFF. ‘Nuff said. Kidding, kidding! You guys know me – I always have way too much to say about my favorite reads of all time, and I think the Blood and Ash series has officially made that very prestigious list!

Let’s kick this thing off with a little background on where A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire picks up. At the end of From Blood and Ash, Poppy learns that Hawke Flynn isn’t exactly who he says he is – she’s been kidnapped by the Dark One himself, also known as Casteel Da’Neer, the Prince of Atlantia. She also learns that he has every intention of using her as ransom by trading her in to the Queen and King of Solis so that Casteel’s brother can be released from his centuries-long captivity and torture by the Ascended. Poppy and Hawke certainly had a romantic connection with one another in From Blood and Ash, but there’s something about HARDCORE BETRAYAL that throws cold water on the romance blossoming between these two. Poppy feels very conflicted because just when she thought she managed to obtain freedom from her obligations as the Maiden and has escaped those that seek to harm her, she is once again a pawn in someone else’s game. Casteel is also in a very precarious position, as even though he had every intention of trading Poppy in to save his brother, it’s clear that he is struggling internally to decide if that’s really something he can do now that he and Poppy have become rather close. This confusion comes to a head when Casteel very unromantically proposes to Poppy at the very end of the novel, stunning Poppy (clearly) and all of us readers! Plans are made for the crew to travel to Atlantia for this very unexpected wedding (among other things), and that is where the reader is left to impatiently wait for A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire, EEEPP!

The first thing I wanted to chat about is how the world-building has evolved so beautifully in A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire. Since it’s not uncommon for there to be a lot of time and detail spent on explaining what’s happening in a fantastical world in a first book in a series, it was hard for me to get a complete picture of what each location actually looked like in From Blood and Ash. However, Jennifer, as always, gave us just what we needed in the first novel, as I was able to piece together those details with the new ones in A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire so I could begin to visualize each and every location in vivid detail. The descriptions that she uses to illustrate what these places look like in A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire are beautifully written, and being able to envision the places Casteel, Poppy and gang travel to was so much fun for me. I felt like I was on my own little adventure without having to even leave my couch!

I am completely overeager to talk about our absolutely stunning, murderous little creature, Poppy! I seriously do not even think it’s possible to have a character undergo more character development than this girl right here! By the end of FB&A, Poppy has transformed significantly, but that was just a drop in the bucket for how much she grows in this book. At the beginning of the novel, Poppy’s still reeling from Casteel’s betrayal, and while this leads to her making some imperfect decisions, I believe that this just made her character feel that much more human and relatable to the reader. I mean, come on! How the heck would you react if you went through half of what Poppy has? I think I would be more stabby than she is, and that is saying A LOT! Going off of this stabby note, one of the elements of Poppy’s character that remained constant was her need to fend for herself and her generally fiery personality. I love her sassiness and the fact that she is confident enough in herself now to snap back at those who are disrespecting and/or making false accusations about her. Both her saucy comebacks and kick-butt wielding of weaponry serve her well in this novel, that’s for sure! Moving past Poppy’s slightly violent personality, I think a lot of fictional characters tend to be a little blind to when the changes in themselves appear and what prompts them, but Poppy certainly does not fit this mold. I really enjoyed her reflections on how she began to take her life back into her own hands, and that she didn’t solely come to the conclusion that Casteel was the one who prompted all the changes in her (though he was definitely a catalyst for a good many). Her evolution began long before he even showed up, and her acknowledgement of this and giving herself credit for her own strength and fortitude was really nice to see. I also enjoyed the fact that she was willing to take a look at who she is and what she wants out of life. I found this so relatable because humans around Poppy’s age are trying to answer similar questions themselves as they journey into adulthood. As a whole, I thoroughly enjoyed Poppy’s character and watching her continue to learn more about herself in this book. Can’t wait to see how these plans shake out in the next book, especially given what she uncovers about herself at the very end of this one!

On to a character who I think managed to give me legit anxiety: Casteel Da’Neer, aka Hawke, aka The Dark One, aka Cas… yeah, he’s got way too many names, but all are equally as endearing, I suppose! This may be a little inflammatory (sorry, FB&A Casteel lovers!), but I wasn’t really sure I was Team Hawke even then, and then when that shizz went down happened right at the end, my distaste for his character was even more potent. However, you all will be happy to know that I am OFFICIALLY on the Cas train after reading this book! I am a total sucker for characters that are a little mysterious and dangerous, but have this softheartedness to them that’s just super hard to see. Until this book, I legitimately found Casteel SUPER heartless. I know, I know. The dude has been through stuff, but I think because he wasn’t opening up to anyone about it, it was hard for me to like him and just take his word for it when he wasn’t exactly forthcoming about a lot of things surrounding his past. However, this book showed me how very wrong I was about him, so thank you Jen for helping me see the light! As with the first book, I really enjoyed Casteel’s hilarious banter with those around him and seeing the various sides of his personality (both the ones I find so adorable and those that freak me out a little because he can get downright scary). The love that Casteel has for his fellow Atlantians really shined in this book (ughh… I can’t help but also bro-ship Cas and Kieran… they are so cute!), and it was so great to see that though his actions were questionable at best sometimes, he truly was doing what he was in an effort to protect those he cares about. Reading about Casteel’s past with the woman he previously loved and when he was in captivity in Solis seriously broke my heart, but I think those moments were what allowed me to truly understand how far Casteel’s character has come and why I should respect him, even if the reader wasn’t introduced to him until after he has managed to partly move on from these experiences. Overall, I found myself swooning amongst the rest of you Casteel-lovers in this book, and I literally cannot wait to read more of his witty (and often, wholly inappropriate but oh-so-humorous) commentary in the next installment!    

You really thought I was going to skip over discussing the ROMANCE in this book? Heckkkk no, y’all, though I am going to be super vague since I’m not about that spoiler life. First and foremost, THE ANGST. Normally, I don’t mind when there’s a little “I love you, I love you not” action going on, but there were moments where I literally wanted to throw my book across the room because I literally couldn’t take the back and forth anymore. However, I do think the romantic tension between Casteel and Poppy was completely necessary in this book because they had so much they needed to work through following all of the half-truths told and betrayal from the first book. All of the back and forth really did make certain moments that much more moving. And, if I’m being honest with myself, I don’t think I would be shipping these two nearly as hard if there hadn’t been as much angst and if I hadn’t had watched them both try so hard to move past their previous baggage to make it work between them. I wish I could say more, but to avoid spoiling anything for you all, just know that there were moment where I got legit teary-eyed because Poppy and Casteel are EVERYTHING!

Before closing out this review, I have to take a second to talk about all of the out-of-this-world-amazing supporting characters in this novel. With the exception of Kieran (who without a doubt is right up there with Poppy and Casteel in terms of LOML status), I am hard-pressed to pick one that I like more than the others. Just as Armentrout spends time developing our main leads, she doesn’t shirk her responsibility of creating equally as compelling side characters that make the dialogue and action within the story that much more enjoyable. Each and every one serves a purpose, and I had so much fun seeing each of their personalities shine. I am so looking forward to seeing more of these guys in the next book!

A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire had everything I was expecting it to have and more. I loved each and every character, the movement of the plot was smooth as butter, the action and romance were on-point, and the descriptions of this fantastical world were beautiful to read and envision for myself. I was on the edge of my seat from beginning to end, and I am absolutely STOKED for The Crown of Gilded Bones to release in April of 2021… or before? PLEASE?!?!

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

*NOTE: This book is definitely only for mature readers (the romance is STEAMY and there is also quite a bit of graphic violence/murder). I would not recommend this book to readers under the age of 18.*

If you thought you were totally in love with this series after reading From Blood and Ash, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet – pick up A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire immediately! It won’t disappoint 😊

Fantasy, New Adult/Adult

From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Pages: 625

Series: Blood and Ash #1

Publisher: Blue Box Press

Release Date: March 30, 2020

Genre(s): Fantasy

Format: Paperback

Goodreads Synopsis

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.”

What Did I Think?

Y’all, I am SHOOK. A little backstory for you all: JLA announced the title and cover of this book on THE DAY IT FREAKING RELEASED (yes, seriously — not even exaggerating!) AND it was her very first time releasing an adult high fantasy novel. As if that didn’t shock me enough, I am completely flabbergasted to say that now that I’ve read it, From Blood and Ash just might have made my top three favorite books of hers of all time!

Now that you understand why I am completely SHOOKETH, let’s discuss the overall concept of this total gem! From Blood and Ash had just about everything I could ever want in an adult high fantasy novel: multi-dimensional characters, stunning descriptions of the very complex world of Masadonia, all the political intrigue, and an action-packed plot that kept me on my toes from beginning to end. I thought the religious tie-ins were fascinating to read about, and I thoroughly enjoyed them in conjunction with the mythical creatures and themes that were also woven into the story. From Blood and Ash has so many moving parts, and I thought all of them worked together beautifully — like a well-oiled machine!

Poppy, our main protagonist, is a force to be reckoned with. Given the role of ensuring the Ascensions of the people of Masadonia, Poppy is forced to live her life in solitude, following the explicate orders of the Duke, Duchess, and priestesses. However, the reader learns quickly that Poppy often secretly breaks away from what is expected of her in order to try and maintain some control over her life. From the very first chapter, we see that she’s not too keen on following direct orders from the people who are supposed to “rule over her” and that she is more than capable of protecting herself when need be. Throughout the course of the book, we continue to see her question everything she previously thought was true, and the more she manages to discover, the more she begins to fight for what she feels is right and what she wants, rather than what those around her expect her to do for the “good of humanity.” I loved that the reader sees the fire in her from the first page and that we hardly ever see it go out, even as she struggles through some very tough moments. I found myself rooting for Poppy over the course of the entire book, and I am so excited to see how the events of this book have shaped her character in the next one!

As always, JLA gives us a totally swoon-worthy supporting lead, and this go-round, it’s Hawke Flynn: handsome, crazy clever, and one of the wittiest JLA characters of all time, if you ask me! Though he comes across as this very mysterious tough guy, he also has a softer side to him that had me saying “awhh!!!” in my head like a million times over. One of my favorite components of Hawke’s character is the fact that instead of trying to protect Poppy from every little thing as her royal guard, he understands her need to take control of her own life and fight for herself. I’ve never been the biggest fan of the whole “tough guy constantly save the damsel in distress” trope, so I was happy to see that Hawke helped when needed, but wasn’t the overbearing, brood-y male lead we often times see in similar novels. To say that Hawke never got on my nerves/made me really angry is a total lie (no spoilers, friend! Just give this book a read and you’ll totally get what I mean!), but a part of my soul still loves him to pieces. Hawke’s character has so many secret layers, and I cannot wait to see more of them unravel in Book #2!

One last comment before I cap this review off: THAT FRICK FRACKIN’ ENDING, YOU GUYS! PREPARE YOUR HEARTS AND SOULS BECAUSE THAT WAS CRAY!

From Blood and Ash was basically what you’d end up with if Throne of Glass and Twilight had a baby. I loved watching Poppy navigate through the uber-controlling world she lives in and how Hawke provided the breadcrumbs she needed to sort the facts from fiction she’s been told her entire life. The romance was legit FIRE, the characters had so many layers that I loved seeing unravel as the story went on, and the plotline was so fast-paced that it was legitimately breathtaking. I am so thankful that the second book, A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire, releases tomorrow because I seriously cannot wait to dive back into this world!

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

*NOTE: This book is definitely only for mature readers (the romance is STEAMY and there is also quite a bit of graphic violence/murder). I would not recommend this book to readers under the age of 18.*

If you’ve read Jennifer L. Armentrout’s other books (particularly her paranormal romances!), From Blood and Ash may just turn out to be your next great read!

I’d also whole-heartedly recommend From Blood and Ash to fans of Sarah J. Maas, and Stephanie Meyer.