4 out of 4 stars
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Enter the land of Everosia, where amulets and incantations, wizards, dwarves, elves, and dragons enchant. Beware of toxic venom, vile reptiles, and suspiciously wary soothsayers. As ancient tongues and owl omens uncover long-guarded secrets, quest seekers will discover their true destinies as threats begin to swirl around them. Written by indie author Chloe Hodge, Vengeance Blooms is a YA fantasy novel that’s filled with magic, mystery, mischief, and the olden days of yore. It is the 1st book in the Guardians of the Grove trilogy, and sets quite the scene for spellbinding sequels.
Orphaned Ashalea Kindaris is the sixteen-year-old, silver-haired elvish maiden at the center of this tale. When her parents are gruesomely ripped from her life, she vows to avenge their deaths by any means necessary. As she transforms into a fearless huntress under the tutelage of Magicka training master, elder wizard Wezlan, darkness descends around them and her true quest becomes known. As writhing masses of malevolent shapes, shadows, unspeakable monstrosities, and clawed phantoms surround her, will she be able to escape the clutches of her never-ending nightmare? Will golden beacons of light, unlikely alliances, a budding romance, and contemplative moon gazing rescue her from crippling despair?
Everosia is home to 3 elvish cities and their surrounding villages, and mages train at the esteemed Renlock Academy. The Gates surround a portal in Everosia’s inner sanctum, a portal that serves as a gateway to other dimensions. All races of the realm protect this gateway, and these Guardians of the Grove must combat the added appearance of temporary portholes that have allowed proliferating evildoers to trickle in. Ashalea is tasked with recruiting the newest order of these Guardians. Formidable adversaries are encountered, and tenuous allegiances are made with the Onyxonite clan of assassins. An over-sea journey to the Isle of Dread leaves bodies in its wake, and a fiery conclusion literally fans the flames for subsequent travails. Throats will be slashed, blood will be spilled, but will evil eventually lead these characters to victorious conquest or irreversible ruin?
The realistic relatability of the characters and Hodge’s immersive worldbuilding are both riveting in every regard. The descriptive prose is poetically lovely in examples like: “a speckle of freckles and green eyes that spoke of darker stories.” Carved jade staffs with emerald jewels hold old men upright, and hollowed out trees provide enchanted shelters for woodland dwellers of the realm. But the inevitable fight scenes and bloody battles are just as verbosely vibrant in passages like:
There is thoughtful inclusion of an illustrated map at the beginning of the novel that helpfully depicts the land of Everosia and all of its subtle nuances, and charming art designs encircle each page number and chapter heading. Pebbled pathways beckon, crystal quarries glisten, water sprites frolic, and pearlescent water dragons shimmer beneath the surface. But towering castles also conceal dungeons, underground sewers, and murky cesspools, where beggars live in abject poverty and ever-flowing excrement.“Monster after monster spat out from its mouth, twisted creations from other dimensions. Where claws raked and rendered, swords slashed and stabbed... Bodies melted into a sickening slosh.”
Themes of torture, parenticide, and mutilated carnage abound, and brothels, corsets, and cleavage make a titillating appearance too. There are a few mentions of flirtatiously provocative innuendos and some brief scenes of fiery lust. Only scattered, borderline profanity is present, so this young adult series would be appropriately suitable for the target age group. This 365-page story is written in British English, and while I found the contents consistently riveting, I did encounter some typographical mistakes and mild grammatical errors throughout. Readers will encounter charming personalities, witty banter, humorous antics, and moments of personal growth and self-discovery. Thrill seekers will delight in joining this cast as they creep down corridors, descend into cursed pits, and wield weaponry with great aplomb. But elves of any age still seek reassurance, and they are just as likely to succumb to shaky moments of arrogance and annoyance. I loved everything about this book, and I'm not normally a fan of the genre.
Renewed vitality is sought and loyalties are tested as heroic acts of self-sacrifice separate the saviors from the sheep. Since the aforementioned errors snuck in just under the quantitative threshold, I can gladly award this book a rating of 4 out of 4 stars. This dark fairytale has all the hallmarks of becoming a fan-favorite epic fantasy trilogy! I eagerly await the release of book two in the series, set to publish later this year. Where else will the story take us, as these Guardians assemble and unite?
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