Title: Song of Blood & Stone
Author: L. Penelope
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Publication Date: July 16, 2019
Genres: Epic Fantasy
Shelves: Female-fronted, female-authored
Although Song of Blood & Stone wasn’t quite what I was expecting – it took a long while to acclimate myself to the world-building, and it was more YA than I was expecting – once I settled in and found the flow of the story, it was a decent read. Nothing earth-shattering or genre-defining, but a story with enough charms that I could overlook most of its flaws.
Let me start with that world-building. It’s kind of all over the place, drawing upon different genres and eras, but I’d call this a WWI historical fantasy . . . infused with elements of steampunk . . . and overlaid by epic mythology and magic. It’s an odd mix, and the juxtaposition of magic with telephones, electricity, and automobiles was jarring. I still remember the first time an automobile showed up – it completely ejected me from the story. It gets even more awkward in the second half of the book when L. Penelope begins getting more overtly political, dealing with issues of racism, refugees, and homophobia that felt a little too heavy-handed.
Jasminda and Jack are an interesting couple, strong characters with deep backstories, but their romance felt a little too quick and convenient, which is unfortunate because the book becomes mired in period romance for a long while before finding its way back into fantasy. Ella and Benn are secondary to them, but their relationship felt more real and their story felt more significant. What the book lacked for me was a strong villain to serve as a counterpoint. There are some villainous characters, cruel leaders, and scheming family members, but nobody to really provide a sense of genuine danger. Even the supernatural forces, the Queen Who Sleeps and the True Father, are more vague figureheads than actual characters.
In terms of plot, Song of Blood & Stone was a rather simple story with no surprises and a too-convenient ending. There was so much potential in Earthsong and blood magic, with the massing of forces on either side of a magical divide creating some genuine tension, but it’s never realized. There were a few “that’s cool” moments but they were overshadowed by a “that’s it?” climax. On top of that, all those issues of racism and refugees are ultimately wasted, used to create a false sort of emotional investment in the reader without saying or doing anything important. Most importantly, this is a story where the heroine does very little to advance the story, with Jasminda mostly following along, listening, bearing witness, and being taken advantage of as a sort of catalyst. I liked her, and she had definite potential to be so much more, but she’s more a romantic lead than a fantasy protagonist.
Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀
My sincere thanks to Sara Megibow at KT Literary for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.