A Tunnel in the Sky

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The Bloodleaf Series
by Crystal Smith

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted January 3, 2019
Edits & Addendum on , 2020

1. Bloodleaf / 2. Greythorne / 3. Ebonwilde (pending)

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I received a paperback ARC of this title directly from the author, whom I followed on Twitter even before I knew she was a writer. She and I share an enthusiasm for Syfy's 12 Monkeys, for which she produced some remarkable fan art. When I found out she had written a novel I requested it from Net Galley, but they wasted no time turning me down, and then Edelweiss, where it still languishes in the pending file. A tweet about that prompted her to offer the ARC. I realize I'm not in the target demo for this book. I'm a 68-year-old man partial to SF or urban fantasy, this is a YA epic fantasy with a 17-year-old woman protagonist. While I know it's not possible, I did try reading it from that perspective. All of that is in preface to say I hope my reaction to it was not influenced by any of those factors. I rated it 4 stars on Goodreads, although a more accurate score would be around 3.75.

The title refers to a plant which has magical restorative properties and which was created through a previous magic ritual. The events take place in the kingdoms of Renalt and Achleva, which if I read correctly had previously been part of the same country, but were separated due to the rivalry between three royal siblings some 500 years previously. The city of Achleva was created through magic which enclosed it within a huge, circular wall that contained three gates. The magic also ensured that passage through the gates, or over the wall, was prohibited unless authorized by Achlevan royalty. The main character is Princess Aurelia of Renalt, who lives with her mother the queen-regent, and her younger brother Conrad, the future king. Her father died a few years before the main action. In infancy, Aurelia was betrothed to Prince Valentin of Achleva, whom she has never met, and only occasionally corresponded with. She has allowed her friend Lisette to carry on the correspondence, since Aurelia is not interested in the royal life, in either country. Instead, she practices her magic in secret, since the Tribunal forbids it, frequently hanging those declared to be witches. The power of the Tribunal had increased since the king's death, with at least one of its leaders not averse to using magic themselves to further their agenda.

Being a debut novel there are a few weak spots, primarily in the beginning, but it doesn't take long for the plot and character development to solidify. Aurelia is naive about some things, remarkably mature about others. She sometimes has self-doubts, not ashamed of her magic but remorseful that it has estranged her from others, including her brother. She makes mistakes, but owns up to them, but is still surprised when others seem to have a higher opinion of her than she does herself. She's not interested in power, but not indifferent to her privilege. Her father taught her that a noble monarch serves the people rather than the other way around. Contrast that with how King Domhnall of Achleva views things in the opposite way. He loves his power, loves being protected by the Wall. He's selfish, a libertine and a liar, but considers himself a stable genius. That's not the only nod to current events. Aurelia tells another that to support the king is to ignore the suffering of the general population, so the only alternative is to resist. I won't detail much of the plot, the how or why of Aurelia ending up inside the Achlevan wall, the how or why of Lisette being the one who is presented to King Domhnall and Prince Valentin as the betrothed Princess Aurelia. A few events are telegraphed ahead of time, several others are surprises, including the true identity of two of the characters. At first I was upset by the death of my favorite character, even though I realize that event had been foretold in previous clues. It meant Aurelia had to persevere without the influence of a very strong ally, but their memory will remain with her. Even when she acknowledges that "the strongest magic requires the greatest sacrifice," she realizes it's not just the one performing the magic that has to sacrifice.

This is the first book in a trilogy, but its conclusion is not a huge cliffhanger, so I'm not sure what the future holds. A major foe has been defeated (permanently I hope), but another might be held at bay only temporarily, dependent on other dark magic to bring it to the fore. The power of the bloodleaf seems to be more than just one of healing or the restoration of life. It's likely the source of Aurelia's magic, and if that is the case, another child may grow up to wield similar, if not greater, powers. The walls around Achleva have fallen, the city lies in ruins. Will it be rebuilt or abandoned? Will Aurelia find happiness with Zan? Will Conrad be a noble king? I'm anxious to find out in the second book. Recommended, primarily for fans of epic fantasy, YA or not.


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It turns out Aurelia and Zan may not be destined for a life together, or maybe the third book will reverse their fortunes. Greythorne will be published in one month, September 1, but I read an e-ARC provided by Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. It's at least as good as the first book, perhaps better in certain parts, including the final chapters. Full of magic and suspense, surprises galore, and more plot twists and turns than you can shake a blood mage's knife at. There are also additional revelations of the true identities of several characters, some from the first book, others new to this one. The title refers to both a place and a family. Kellan Greythorne was Aurelia's guard from a very early age. His parents are dead, his older brother Frederick now the patriarch of Greythorne Manor. Frederick is also now Regent to young King Conrad, who is just eight years old, crowned at Greythorne since the Tribunal still controls the hereditary capital of Syric. Even though the Tribunal's leader had been defeated in the first book, his chosen successor turns out to be at least as despicable, using magic themselves to convince others that Princess Aurelia's magic is the true evil to be punished.

There are echoes of traditional folk/fairy tales, from Hansel and Gretel to Sleeping Beauty, even a bit of Circe from Homer's Odyssey, but they are presented in unique and exciting ways. As with many fairy tales, the dark forest and the spirits that dwell within is used effectively. In this case it is the Ebonwilde (the title of the third book), where we meet Rosetta, who can transform from human to fox in a flash. She is well over a hundred years old, as is one of her sisters, Aurelia's nursemaid Onal, whom she had thought couldn't be older than seventy. Aurelia, Kellan, Onal, and Rosetta journey through the rest of the forest to return to the devastated Achleva, where they encounter Zan, whom Aurelia had previously fled since to be near him was to risk death. Something that had been happening to Aurelia all her life, which she believed to be just dreams, was traveling to an other-worldly realm, The Gray. It's not quite Heaven or Hell, not even Purgatory or Limbo, but a portal to both time and space. Once Aurelia realizes this, she utilizes The Gray to influence both past and future events. The conclusion is exciting and fast paced, but as with the ending of the first book, it is difficult to tell where the story will go from here. The cover image for Ebonwilde shows a dark haired girl, whereas Aurelia is blond. Is that Malifica, the spirit that had haunted Aurelia in reflections, or someone else, perhaps a transformed Aurelia? Maybe Ella? Can't wait to find out, but unfortunately it's not out until next June.

The cover images here are not the ones you'll see if you click the purchase links. The one I'm using for Greythorne, which I found on Goodreads, closely matches the original cover of the first book, and I prefer them to the new style. It must have been an early concept, later changed, since they're using the new image even for the UK release. I may change them here when I get to the third book, since it's likely to have only the new style.


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Crystal Smith

2019, 2020

Purchase Links:

Bloodleaf Greythorne

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