Song of Blood and Stone by L. Penelope got recommended as a potential comp for mine, specifically focusing on the romance through war aspects. I think that’s probably part of the reason I’m struggling to put my thoughts into words here. I came into it expecting it to similar to my queer violent fantasy and it’s… not.
For one thing, both participants in the main romance appear to be straight, which was definitely not what I expected for an M/M comp. Don’t get me wrong, the romance was sweet. The attraction between the main characters was clear (to the point where the ace side of me was going “oh my gods, you two, get on with it”). They treated each other well, which is a delightful change from the romance I read when I was younger (which contributed to me not reading romance for over a decade). They truly and deeply cared for each other and that came out in their actions. And, I didn’t get annoyed or bored with it the way I have with some straight romances recently.
But it was a romance between strangers, rather than long-time friends. It was a romance between a prince and a shepherdess, with an almost Cinderella-like feel, instead of a pair of assassins raised by the villain. While both stories involve a romance set in the lead-up to war, in Song of Blood and Stone, it felt like the romance was separate from the war plot until the very end. In this book, the war ended, whereas in mine, the war begins.
It also wasn’t as violent as I expected. I mean, the story opened with racial slurs and threats of racial violence, then two separate rape attempts (towards both of the main characters), so I was expecting a similar level of combat and violence all the way through. But once we leave her house, there are a few isolated incidents of violent racism and a whole lot of politicking. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy political fantasy, but again that wasn’t what I was expecting from this book.
But it also wasn’t what I’d expect from a political fantasy, either. There wasn’t much manuevering for the throne, or dealing with outside royals. Rather, this is a new monarch dealing with internal strife–particularly around refugees. This is an extremely relevant topic right now, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in a fantasy novel before. I would have honestly liked to see that delved into even more, but this story was tightly focused on the romance. (Not a bad thing if you’re here for the romance!)
About halfway through the book I was wondering how they were going to wrap up the plot they set up. I started to think they wouldn’t, that killing the villain would be a series goal, but no. It’s not quite a deus ex machina, despite the appearance of literal gods, because it’s still the human MCs who have to save the day (and save the goddess!). Yet, it didn’t quite feel like a twist, either? The ending was well-foreshadowed and set-up throughout the book, but again I was expecting more violence.
This might be a book I’ll have to reread again to get a better feel. (I realize this review was pretty unfair since I spent a lot of it comparing it to a book that’s not even picked up by an agent yet. Sorry about that.)
One thing I will say I was super pleased to see is that the MC does not reconcile with her abusive racist family. She confronts the racist matriarch once and decides no, that bullshit is not worth her time. I LOVE that. There’s way too much pressure in society and books for people to put up with abusers “because family.” I am so glad to see she’s not putting up with it.
Overall, this was a good book. I liked it. I’d be interested in picking up the sequel when it comes out.
Recommended for: anyone who wants romantic fantasy, fans of interracial romance, people who want a Black woman lead, a sweet romance fans, people who want a sort of 1920s-ish second-world fantasy, #ownvoices black leads in fantasy