"Despite her bare skin against mine, she wore secrets like armor, and she shed them for no one. Not even me."
'Blood & Honey,' the sequel to Shelby Mahurin's 'Serpent & Dove,' has been on my absolute must read list for this year.
Though I never got around to reading the first book, the series came with so much fan hype and so much love that well in advance I'd ended up ordering 5 book boxes for the title.. 3 of which include copies of the book. Then when release date arrived and all the boxes were slow to arrive, I purchased a 4th.. an e-book copy so I could read it sooner.. rather than later.
Book two in the Serpent & Dove Series, follows our main couple.. Lou & Reid.. along with their closest friends, as they run from those who want them dead or captured. After a desperate escape from death at the hands of the Dames Blanches, that's pretty much everyone who isn't in their group.. the coven, kingdom, and church are all out for their pound of flesh and their friends are few.
Coco and Ansel are the only ones who seem to be all in, though the group is filled out by Beau and Madame Labelle. Mostly these two add bits of conflict or scheme for whomever's 'own good,' or offer aid in pivotal moments. Lou and Reid know they need strong allies, but for the possibility of securing them, time is short and they must split up. As they attempt to reach out, a nasty fissure grows between them and Morgane toys with them.. their lives and their emotions, as they make their journeys.
"..when a person brings you more hurt than happiness, you're allowed to let them go. You do not have to follow them into the dark."
I did really enjoy the book, it moved at a great pace and was full of plenty of heartache, drama, and harrowing moments. In fact, the opening was great.. one of the best starts to a book I've come across all year. It alerted me easily to the lay of the land, what to expect, what they were up against, and updated me on some of the history I missed by not reading the first of the series. But I also felt like there were a few issues for me personally, though they didn't cause me to withdraw from reading it at all. It was immersive and I consumed it with urgency.
While I enjoyed some of the banter amongst the group members, sometimes it also felt a little forced. I don't know, the emotions in general in the book felt that way. From Lou's hard-headed urge to pick fights to Reid's self-righteous indignation, it just didn't feel genuine all the time.. though to be fair.. most of the party members are emotionally stunted do to their upbringing or experiences and I believe the awkwardness I struggled with was intentional. That being said, though there were moments I liked them both or felt sorry for them, I only really felt attachment to the main couple at the beginning and the end.
There's so much back and forth, especially between Lou and Reid, but amongst the others as well. There's just a lot of unnecessary posturing, often in cases where it just feels token. People making what I would characterize as thoughtless decisions left and right, that harm others or their relationships with them. The relationships themselves cycled frequently and I believe what Mahurin may have meant to convey with this, was the depth of harm their decisions were having on them.
Unfortunately, to me.. what it felt like was a very immature co-dependent fearful attachment between characters. They were close one minute and at odds the next, then back to being close again.. constantly almost looking for reasons to fight about the same things they'd been over and over. It didn't feel as if it happened organically, but it's also not unrealistic. I used to know someone who picked fights with their significant other just because they were bored. Go figure.
"I'd never met a person so attuned to melancholy; at the first sign of introspection, he seemed to just appear like a starving man before a buffet of pastries and sweets."
Ansel is a sweet cinnamon roll and my absolute favorite character in the book. Those of you who have read it, probably have a pretty clear read on my feelings, though I won't spoil here with details. I also absolutely loved Claud and honestly, his character actually is the most interesting in my opinion. Nicholina, mad as a hatter.. but twice as fun, precocious Gabrielle, and Beau.. eventually, also became characters I really liked.. though the reasons couldn't be more different.
From a world-building perspective, there's a lot to see. Mahurin did a fantastic job of creating dynamic regions for the different beings inhabiting them and distinctive ways of life for each. Truth be told, there was one more possible group of allies mentioned at the beginning as being too far away.. and those we saw were so intriguing, I'm kind of hoping they might yet make an appearance in book three.
"Magic didn't rot. It cracked, like a splintering mirror. With each brush of magic, those cracks in the glass deepened. The slightest touch might shatter it."
What I think Mahurin did best, is the crazy magic system. Though some of it is almost difficult to visualize with the emergence of patterns, I loved the way magic wielders connected to their abilities and I loved that there was a scaling cost for using them. Periodically, I do see other authors employ this kind of structure as a way to limit what can be done and keep the conflicts challenging, but the specifics in relation to life and memory especially were fascinating. Were there moments of convenience where even hard answers could be made okay with a little magic? Yes. I also didn't really mind.
I'd like to see those prices paid a bit more. I learned very quickly that though the risk might be great, there was usually some quick fix around the corner.. and that takes a bit of the strength out of them. Not that the author is afraid of gutting the reader a bit with her choices.. just that the story could benefit from more very real consequences that can't simply be magicked away.
"What you are now is not what you've always been, nor is it what you will always be. You are a snake. Shed your skin if it no longer serves you. Transform into something different. Something better."
All in all, I'm eager for the next book. There certainly was a lot to be considered as to the future of this small found family by the time I reached the end pages. Not quite a cliffhanger, the bulk of the plot is wrapped up, there's just a bit of foreshadowing for the continuation of their story.