Crystal Smith’s Bloodleaf is a harrowing tale of blood and sacrifice, following a princess abhorred by her people and a kingdom on the precipice of turmoil.
Princess Aurelia of Renalt harbors a closely-kept secret: she’s a witch—a status that could mean her demise. A kingdom plagued by fear and skepticism, Renalt harbors a deep and abiding hatred for magic, persecuting witches for their occult deeds. Under the watchful eye of the Tribunal, an organization dedicated to eradicating witches, Aurelia stirs their suspicions like no other, with rumors circulating of her magical prowess. After publicly confirming their suspicions in a moment of desperation, Aurelia flees the safety of her kingdom, accompanied by her brother, her guard, and her begrudging ally from the Tribunal. As the foursome journey to the kingdom of Achlev, Aurelia unearths a traitorous plot to turn the tables of power, razing both countries and all she holds dear.
Crystal Smith deviates wonderfully from the standard tropes of the fantasy genre, diverging from the typical cookie-cutter stereotypes in favor of a compelling and altogether refreshing take. As I was just beginning the book, I wholeheartedly believed the tale would be a predictable one, having read books of similar theme and nature in the past. Yet, Bloodleaf threw me for a loop at multiple points, shattering my preconceived expectations and taking me for a wild and unexpected ride. Aurelia’s story is not only delightfully original, but also a thrilling and heartrending tale of love, duty, and continuous sacrifice—an emotive concoction that truly tugs at the heartstrings.
In my eyes, the characters either make or break a novel, and Smith excels at crafting rich and dynamic characters whose stories you invest in. Selflessness personified, Aurelia is a character you can’t help but empathize with and root for, marveling at what she’s willing to sacrifice for the good of the realms. In the same vein, the supporting characters, much like the protagonist, possess a similar larger-than-life quality. From Nathaniel’s loyalty and strong familial obligation to Zan’s sense of duty to Kate’s good-naturedness in a world of doom and gloom, each character plays an important role. Whereas, in some cases, supporting characters are lost in the background, tossed to the distant back burner of the story in favor of the protagonist, Smith ensures that each character is integral to the plot progression.
Aurelia’s younger brother Conrad, for instance, was a character I found myself particularly interested in, namely regarding his role in the story. Despite his much smaller presence in the book, Conrad still maintained quite a prevalence, influencing the course of the plot in ways I hadn’t foreseen. The ambiguity and uncertainty surrounding Conrad’s character contributes to the mysterious, keep-you-guessing theme rife within the Bloodleaf.
Similarly, the world building embodies that same air of mystery, for Smith deposits bits of information and history in periodic doses. While this typically would be a grievance for me, as I very much appreciate a fleshed-out world from the start, this style works effectively throughout the book. Enough backstory and temporal description are provided to understand the gravity of the plot and the characters’ choices, without an overload of information. Rather, it’s granted as needed, allowing readers to piece together how everything connects at the thrilling conclusion.
For fans of high-stakes fantasy or those simply in search of a riveting read, Bloodleaf is a spellbinding story that bewitches.