Book 1 of the Earthsinger Chronicles
By L. Penelope
St. Martin’s Griffin, ASIN: B07SMWXJQN
Paperback, 523 pages. © July 16, 2019
Elsira and Lagrimar lie close together, yet worlds apart. Separated by the Mantle, a magical veil that prevents travel between the two lands, Elsirans and Lagrimari haven’t mingled for generations. But now the True Father, ruler of Lagrimar and the world’s most powerful Earthsinger, has found a way to crack the Mantle and seize sovereignty in both lands.
Jasminda lives outside the local border town on her family’s farm, struggling to pay her tax debt. Local folk shun her because of her brown skin, her mixed Elsiran/Lagrimari blood, and her Earthsong. Jack, an Elsiran spy, bolts into her life while on the run from Lagrimari soldiers. Her Earthsong heals his wounds. His connections can help save her farm. When he flees his captors, she follows.
Every day brings Lagrimar’s attack closer. Jack prepares his own army for the worst. Jasminda’s unique Song may hold the power to awaken the Queen Who Sleeps, the only one powerful enough to stop the True Father. But time is running out. If Jasminda can’t find the answers quickly, she knows Elsira—and Jack—will fall.
In Song of Blood & Stone, Author L. Penelope weaves a believable fantasy world complete with rich tapestries of mythology, authentic border tensions, and inescapable politics. One thing that struck me throughout was the story’s reflection of issues we face in our own world, namely racism and clashes over immigration. Penelope accurately depicts the helplessness felt by those on the receiving end of slights and prejudice against Earthsingers, not just because of their magic but also because of their dark skin. In the Lagrimari refugees, fleeing horrific conditions wrought by the cruel king of their own lands, Penelope shows threats and harassment faced by immigrants in a land filled with those unwilling to share plentiful resources. The fear, hatred, and bigotry—aptly portrayed in the pages of this story—could have been taken from pages of our own history books, or news media. In all, Song is often bleak, and as a reader I lived in the moments of hope held by those in the story.
Penelope’s characters, for the most part, were well fleshed out. Jasminda, part Elsiran and part Lagrimari, is a strong, self-reliant female determined to salvage what she can in a city where she is ostracized and mistrusted. Jack, an honorable soldier with a compassionate heart, is determined to do his duty, no matter how much it disgusts him. Ella, a “Jacqueline-of-all-trades,” is called to complete an almost impossible task with no resources and against overwhelming odds. While there was a bit of stereotyping there, I could empathize with these three, at least, and lose myself in their experiences. By the end of the story, with all three in totally unfamiliar and challenging roles, I found myself rooting for them and interested to see what happens next.
Even as a fantasy romance with many steampunk elements, the story itself is almost a classic good-vs-evil sort. Backstory is slowly sprinkled into the tale through visions revealed to Jasminda’s mind. It wasn’t hard to figure out where it was going—but Penelope threw in an interesting twist I didn’t see coming. With the clarity of hindsight, I could understand many other things in the story.
I must admit that it took me a while to get into the book, in part because romance is not a genre I usually read. There’s a good bit of star-crossed angsting, which detracted from the story for me. In addition, the book includes some pretty steamy sex scenes, which I felt raised the readership from Young Adult to New Adult.
That said, overall I enjoyed this novel, and by the time I reached the last page I was ready to begin the sequel. If you enjoy a good mash-up of fantasy and romance, you’ll enjoy Song of Blood & Stone.