Song of Blood and Stone

I'm always a little bit wary of SFF titles that get published by imprints which don't normally, or rarely, release fantasy or science fiction works. More often than not, it means that the novel shows mainstream appeal, but might not please more demanding genre fans. Hence, L. Penelope's Song of Blood and Stone sat on my pile of books to read for a long time. What ultimately encouraged me to give it a shot was the fact that the press release claimed that it featured superior worldbuilding akin to that of Brandon Sanderson. Well, that was a crock of shit and no question about it.

Although adult themes are explored throughout the narrative, Song of Blood and Stone was little more than a generic YA fantasy offering featuring a doomed star-crossed love story. Everything was black and white, and I have a feeling that the corny romance will appeal more to teenagers and young adults. For people expecting depth and shades of gray, you may have a hard time getting into this one.

Here's the blurb:

Orphaned and alone, Jasminda lives in a land where cold whispers of invasion and war linger on the wind. Jasminda herself is an outcast in her homeland of Elsira, where her gift of Earthsong is feared. When ruthless soldiers seek refuge in her isolated cabin, they bring with them a captive--an injured spy who threatens to steal her heart.

Jack's mission behind enemy lines to prove that the Mantle between Elsira and Lagrimar is about to fall nearly cost him his life, but he is saved by the healing Song of a mysterious young woman. Now he must do whatever it takes to save Elsira and its people from the True Father and he needs Jasminda's Earthsong to do it. They escape their vicious captors and together embark on a perilous journey to save the land and to uncover the secrets of the Queen Who Sleeps.

Thrust into a hostile society, Jasminda and Jack must rely on one another even as secrets jeopardize their bond. As an ancient evil gains power, Jasminda races to unlock a mystery that promises salvation.

The fates of two nations hang in the balance as Jasminda and Jack must choose between love and duty to fulfill their destinies and end the war.

Penelope's Song of Blood and Stone is billed as an epic fantasy tale, but it is anything but. The worldbuilding of Brandon Sanderson? Are you kidding me!?! Alongside Erikson, Martin, and Bakker, I'd say that Sanderson is one of the very best worldbuilders writing today. Not so with Penelope, I'm afraid. The countries of Elsira and Lagrimar don't resound with any sort of depth. White people as pale as Scandinavians and Dutch on one side of a mountain range and black people on the other. Genetically speaking, I'm not sure this is even possible. Truth be told, had this book not been written by an African American woman, I have a feeling that this would have been considered more than a little half-assed. The magical system, with its Earthsong and Earthsinger, appeared quite interesting. Alas, though certain sequences are flashback scenes elaborating on how a schism divided Earthsingers from the rest of the population, we don't learn as much as I would have liked about how magic actually works and where it comes from. At least, the author eschewed the conventional European medieval fantasy setting. Instead, L. Penelope's universe features a level of technology similar to that of the 20th century, with cars, trucks, planes, firearms, etc.

Jasminda is well-drawn protagonist and her POV, especially early on, made for a good read. The same can be said of Jack, at least until his true identity was revealed. Problem is, from then on the doomed star-crossed love story imbued every single plotline with a corny romance that pretty much killed the story for me. Perhaps I'm too old and cynical to believe in such perfect fairytale kind of romance? Also, I could have done without the chapter-long sex scene. And since their perspectives are the only points of view of the novel, other than that of the flashbacks, there are no other POVs to help Song of Blood and Stone reach another level. In any event, the supporting cast didn't feature any truly compelling men and women that could have helped in that regard.

The politicking aspect of this book, especially, left a lot to be desired. A refugee crisis is a complicated event, not a simple black and white matter. But the way it was portrayed, with Jack the sole honorable person in the country, willing to beggar the realm to welcome the refugees of Lagrimar, it made little sense. No wonder the entire government turned against the endeavor. I was expecting shades of gray associated with the moral dilemma that such a human crisis represents, something along the lines of C. J. Cherryh's Downbelow Station. Sadly, it wasn't meant to be. And although serious adult themes such as sexism, racism, abuse, rape, etc, are explored throughout the storylines, the black and white approach made this one read more like a YA novel.

The pace was fluid enough, which made for an easy read. L. Penelope's prose can be evocative, creating a beautiful imagery from time to time. However, she lays it a bit thick with the romance, which gets old real fast. All in all, Song of Blood and Stone was never truly boring. It's just that it was a generic fantasy offering with star-crossed lovers taking center stage, with a plot that was nothing special. Hence, though it made for a quick read, it left me totally indifferent to the characters and their plight. Summer vacations are approaching. So if you are looking for a light fantasy read to bring to the beach, this book might do the trick.

The impossible love story between a white man and a black woman might appeal to "the future that liberals want" memes crowd, yet one has to wonder if this manuscript would have been picked up had it featured Caucasian lovers. The ending of the book left the door open for many things to come in the upcoming sequel, but I wonder if I'll be giving it a shot. Time will tell. . .

Well-written with some good ideas and concept, but in the end a more or less forgettable novel which relied too much on romance. That's Song of Blood and Stone in a nutshell.

The final verdict: 6.5/10

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