by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Chosen from birth to usher in a new era, Poppy’s life has never been her own. The life of the Maiden is solitary. Never to be touched. Never to be looked upon. Never to be spoken to. Never to experience pleasure. Waiting for the day of her Ascension, she would rather be with the guards, fighting back the evil that took her family, than preparing to be found worthy by the gods. But the choice has never been hers.
The entire kingdom’s future rests on Poppy’s shoulders, something she’s not even quite sure she wants for herself. Because a Maiden has a heart. And a soul. And longing. And when Hawke, a golden-eyed guard honor bound to ensure her Ascension, enters her life, destiny and duty become tangled with desire and need. He incites her anger, makes her question everything she believes in, and tempts her with the forbidden.
Forsaken by the gods and feared by mortals, a fallen kingdom is rising once more, determined to take back what they believe is theirs through violence and vengeance. And as the shadow of those cursed draws closer, the line between what is forbidden and what is right becomes blurred. Poppy is not only on the verge of losing her heart and being found unworthy by the gods, but also her life when every blood-soaked thread that holds her world together begins to unravel.
With no spoilers, what is this book about?
This book is so much more than castle intrigue + lonely girl falls for her guard, but unfortunately to say more is to give away major plot points. Let me just say, this book has everything I could ask for in the first book of a Young Adult/New Adult Fantasy series that will have me obsessed with the world and characters and begging for more, no matter how long it takes for the author to put out more content (though from what I’m seeing….JLA is pushing these books out like there’s no tomorrow.) This book will serve you all of these troupes and this is NOT an exclusive list (mild content spoilers): guard falling for the “royal figure” they are protecting, forbidden romance, I See You troupe, I love all your flaws troupe (yes I’m making these up as I go…), one bed troupe, enemies to lovers, plot twists, You’re Mine troupe, and general plot twists that will have you going back and wanting to reread it with a …fresh perspective. Please, if you like enemies to lovers, steamy YA/NA books, badass unapologetic and strong MCs….read this immediately.
My official rating of this book is best expressed by this Lady Gaga quote: “talented, brilliant, incredible, amazing, show stopping, spectacular, never the same, totally unique, completely not ever been done before, unafraid to reference or not reference…” IT WAS PERFECTION. I will never stop raving about this book. And that is a PROMISE!
MAJOR spoilers below!
I don’t even know where to begin. Once this book hooked me (maybe 25% in) I was IN in. Some major reasons I loved this book:
1) Strong female main character who isn’t shy about wanting revenge on those who hurt or oppressed her, and is unapologetic when carrying out the violence that is necessary.
2) The pacing is (for the majority of the book) superb. First off, having Poppy and Hawke meet (without him knowing who she is) and share a steamy scene in CHAPTER TWO was something that made me realize immediately that this book, and those who recommended it to me, were NOT playing around.
3) Poppy and Hawke’s chemistry, banter, charm, and compatibility was apparent from their first meeting and somehow kept building and building and BUILDING.
4) Balance of steamy scenes with touching, sentimental, sweet scenes. The tension and heat of the “one bed” scene when they have to share a bed mat because she is shaking/freezing, and needs his body heat and warmth (first of all hot) and then things…escalate…was so well-written and satisfying, and then the next scene is essentially him waking her up by touching her cheek and thanking her for trusting him by taking that risk with him. It’s just everything you could want and more.
5) The AMOUNT of steamy scenes. What can I say? Most books these days have one pivotal sex scene. JLA said, I’m gunna give the girlies what they want with this one. And that she did!!!
6) I don’t know how else to put it, but, the betrayal plot. Hawke, who we find out is really Prince Casteel, turns out to be this powerful, perceived-to-be-“evil” monster figure. You all know by now I am a major villain stan. Well, I was obviously a sucker for Hawke turning out to be the lost prince of Atlantia, the prince Poppy has feared will “come for her” and kill her. Though of course, Hawke/Casteel plans to do nothing of the sort. We find out he DID come for her with the intent to steal her away. Of course, neither of them planned on falling in love with the other.
7) The multiple plot twists. Hawke is Casteel, the Ascended are actually basically vampires and are stealing the kingdom’s children to feed on whilst blaming that and like a ton of other horrible things on Casteel’s people, Poppy is actually half Atlantian, and….
8) The perfect ending. Finding out that Hawke/Casteel’s nickname for Poppy the entire time, “Princess”, is going to come to actual fruition, since he announces in the last sentence of the book that they are going “home” to Atlantia to be wed. I—!!!!
I don’t know how else to say that this book was simply everything I want in a story. From the MC’s personalities, to their chemistry, to the narrative build up and tension, to the multiple plot twists, to the use of troupes in unique and surprising ways…I just love love LOVE this book. An immediate all time favorite.
As I said above, the pacing is extraordinary for the majority of this book. However, from like Chapter 2 to 25% in, I found myself getting so angry at the Ascended, the abuse Poppy was being subjected to, and everyone’s (Victer, Tawny, the Duchess…) unwillingness to do anything about it. I KNOW that this was to contrast Hawke’s willingness to stand up for her, intervene in situations he wasn’t “supposed to”, and ultimately murder for her. And YES, it made the events following all the more satisfying. So I get why these parts were necessary. It was only frustrating on a first read since I didn’t know Poppy was going to GO THERE..aka cut off the Lord’s hand, arm, and head in a fiery rage! So this isn’t a weakness so much as a necessary part of the book to lead to the incredible satisfaction of later moments.
I have to say Poppy, who is kind, vulnerable, strong, fierce, and just wants to be truly seen, live, protect others, and love and be loved. But Hawke/Prince Casteel might turn out to one one of my favorite love interests of all time.
-Poppy and Hawke meeting when she barges into his room at the Red Pearl and then they basically end up making out and bantering
-Poppy and Hawke leaving the Rite and hiding in a tree(?) together and kissing
-Poppy absolutely losing her shit by murdering her abuser, the lord, by graphically *cutting him up in pieces* after they were all attacked, she lost her father figure, and the Lord made some offhanded snarky comment about him
-Hawke telling Poppy that if he thought he were leading her to punishment, he would basically run away with her
-Basically everything that happens after they leave the castle…including sharing one bed, their first time sleeping together, Hawke’s betrayal, finding out he is Casteel, and my favorite scene of all…
-Casteel saving Poppy’s life by making her drink his blood, Poppy then stabbing him, him chasing her out into the woods, drinking her blood, and them having s** in the snow! The tension, the drama, the heat, the EPITOME of enemies to lovers! NOTHING tops this!
“Gods, you don’t have to ask me twice, Princess, and you never have to beg.” Hawke after Poppy asked him to kiss her
“I’m so incredibly unworthy of you it should be a sin.” Hawke to Poppy before they first sleep together. I love this line so much
“Hawke wasn’t the catalyst. He was the reward.” We love a female who changes herself FOR herself and gets to fall deeply in love in the process.
“You’re a monster.” “You finally see me for what I am.” THE TASTE!
“We go home to marry, my Princess.” This is the last line of the book. Basically Hawke/Casteel calls Poppy “princess” through the entire book, and it all comes full circle here, essentially insinuating that he has known from their first meeting that he will wed her. This romance level is unheard of. I am speechless. The taste is immaculate.
The next book in the series, Kingdom of Flesh and Fire. I heard it is remarkably similar to my favorite book of all time, A Court of Mist and Fury, so I have very, very high hopes that this will be another 5 star read.