Song of Blood & Stone has had something of a confusing publishing trajectory. If you're new to the series, here's a quick rundown before my review. L. Penelope self-published Song of Blood & Stone in 2015, then the book was picked up by St. Martin's Press and reissued in May 2018. Now there's an extended version coming out in paperback July 2019. The second book was also self-published and is due to come out in October from the same publisher. There's also a prequel novella out as of January. Got all that?
This review is of the first traditionally published version of this book, read on audio. Not the self-pubbed or the new extended version.
Song of Blood & Stone is a timeless and timely fantasy romance filled with politics and violence and magic. The politics and worldbuilding are complicated, so this review will cover but a tiny portion of it. Jasminda's parents had something of a forbidden romance, her father from Elsira and her mother from Lagamiri, two nations that have been at war for centuries. Lagamiri, the kingdom with magic (Earthsong), has been ruled all this time by the True Father, a tyrant who steals the songs of his people in order to subjugate them and keep himself powerful and alive. Elsira is a monarchy, kept "safe" by armies and by a magical wall that keeps Lagamiri from invading. The wall is coming down, and everything is spun into chaos.
With the magical wall coming down, hundreds of refugees are crossing the boundary from Lagamiri into Elsira. Not unlike current refugee crises around our world, the white Elsirans want to expel the black Lagamiran refugees. Elsira is supposedly not run by a tyrant, but its people claim jobs and housing and "dangerous magic" as the reasons they don't want the refugees. They even make an agreement with the True Father to send back the refugees (who will be killed) in exchange for Lagamiri to not invade. It all sounds so very familiar.
As for the romance, the book begins with Jack held captive by soldiers who decide that Jasminda's isolated cottage is the perfect place to stay for a few days. (Content Warning for attempted sexual assault on both Jack and Jasminda, plus actual physical assault and a close-call escape. The beginning of the book may be difficult for some readers.) Eventually they escape and set out to save the world, as you do. Their relationship builds gradually and is complicated by issues of race, class, and duty. They do get that HEA, but it's an interesting journey to get there, and I did wonder how they'd make it work.
(You may also be interested to know that there's an aunt in a long-term lesbian romance.)
Overall, this is a solid read for fans of fantasy romance. It's thought-provoking and immersive and I look forward to the second, which follows a different couple. My only complaint is that the ending was a bit abrupt, but I suspect that the new extended edition fixes that.
If you're a librarian reading this, I strongly suggest bringing these titles in now that they'll be in trade paperback. (Look at those covers!)
Suzanne received an advance copy of this book from the publisher for review, then sat on it for a year and finally read it on audio via Hoopla.
Content Warnings: war, death, murder, attempted sexual assault, children in peril, racism, xenophobia