Bloodleaf is Cyrstal Smith’s debut novel and is the first in a trilogy. I was originally intimidated by the book because, let’s face it- both the cover and title are pretty… strong, and I’ve never had a strong stomach for blood. I went in with very low expectations and am happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the book!
Aurelia is the first princess born to the Renalten crown in two hundred years, destined to fulfill a treaty by journeying to marry Valentin, the prince of Achelva – Renalt’s greatest enemy. Rumors of an unwell, cruel prince abound, and the only thing that eclipses Aurelia’s apprehension of her impending marriage is her fear of those who’d kill her to prevent it.
When an assassination attempt forces Aurelia to use forbidden magic to save a stranger, she is driven from Renalt by the witch-hunting Tribunal and a mob out for blood. But before she can claim asylum in the court of her betrothed, her travel party turns on her, forcing her to trade places with her treacherous lady-in-waiting, Lisette.
Now penniless in Achleva and bereft of her identity, Aurelia must decide if she wants to surrender to her new life or fight for her old one, all while navigating the complicated ties binding her to the enigmatic prince, the unquiet ghost of an ancient queen, and a poisonous plant called bloodleaf.
Aurelia is a pawn in a centuries-long game of love, power, and war— and if she can’t extricate herself from it before Lisette marries Valentin in her stead, she may face losses far more devastating than her crown.
Bloodleaf is, at its core, a story of two kingdoms, rife with political drama and a rich history of feuding. This is what dominates the plot of the book and caused it to be, in my opinion, a bit confusing. It’s told by Aurelia’s point of the view, the princess of Renalt and a blood mage who practices in secret for fear of persecution. I won’t be shy about it- she’s as pampered and indiscriminate about the consequences of her actions as any stereotypical princess and it was a pain to read the book through her point of view.
The first part of book that takes place in Renalt is agonizingly slow. It’s stuffed full of politics, whining, and plot jumps. It almost feels as though Smith was getting bored of setting the stage in Renalt first and wanted to get everyone quickly to Achleva. I don’t fault her for it because that’s when things really started to pick up and I found myself eagerly flipping through the pages.
In Achleva, we’re introduced to a cast of new characters that stole my heart, and seemed to be much more developed than Aurelia herself. Of course, the enigmatic and broody Zan is my favorite. The relationship that develops between him and Aurelia is a delightful slow-burn.
The underlying layers of the plot are pretty predictable, but the addition of the magic and mythology is what made those plot twists fresh and new. And I very nearly threw the book across the room when they happened, screaming something along the lines of, “I should have known!!!!!!!” I wish there had been more definition and depth to the mythology behind Cael, Aren, and Achlev- but Smith did a fair job of scattering as much detail as she could throughout the book while still enticing the reader.