Title: From Blood and Ash
Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout
What It’s About: Living among the Ascended, Penellaphe is known as the Maiden, the Chosen, and the Queen’s favorite. She wears outfits in white, a veil that covers half her face, and has strict rules that she has to follow. But there’s more to Penny than meets the eye.
Surviving a horrific Craven attack that ended her parent’s life and left her with scars, Penny vows to never be defenseless and trains with Vikter, one of her personal guards, in various combat skills, archery, and swordsmanship. Being brought up her life in the solitude that does not allow her to have contact with anyone but Tawney, her handmaid, the Royal Guards personally assigned to her, and the Duke and Duchess under whose protection she falls, Penny yearns to experience more of life.
So she sneaks out one night to a local in, pretending to be someone else, and finds herself face-to-face with Hawke, a newly-arrived Royal Guard, who everyone finds irresistible including herself. Their tryst is interrupted, and Penny narrowly avoids being discovered. Several days later, Penny takes a walk to the Queen’s Garden, with her personal guard, Rylan, who ends up being murdered by Descenters—those loyal to the Dark One known as Prince Casteel, who claims to be the True King of their Kingdom of Solis. Penny narrowly avoids being kidnapped by stabbing the Descenter, but has to hide what really happened. Since this was the second murder involving Descenters or Atlantians (other humans with long lives that are enemies of the Ascended) in a week, stricter security measures are put in place including those protecting Penny.
One of those stricter measures includes a new personal guard for Penny, who turns out to be none other than Hawke. In the Duke’s office, Penny is asked to take off her veil to show Hawke her face, and the Duke takes particular pleasure in putting her down. She defies him with a secret smile, which she knows will result in her getting a “lesson” in the form of a caning later from the Duke. When she turns to face Hawke, the Duke remarks that half of her is beautiful, while the other is a tragedy, to which Hawke replies that both her halves are beautiful.
Afraid that Hawke would recognize her from their prior meeting, Penny refuses to talk to him, until he verbally attacks Tawney and she corrects him. He doesn’t seem to make the connection, and Penny feels relieved. A few nights later, the Craven—which are remnants of humans drained of blood but not killed—attack the castle, and Penny takes it upon herself to head to the Tenements around the castle with her bow and kill them. After all, Penny has been part of the movement with Vikter that attempts to help people who would become a Craven die in peace, so she knows what needs to be done. After the battle, Hawke shows up, intercepting Penny, who fights him off. He seems to find joy in this, and the longer the scuffle goes on, the more he teases Penny, until he finally traps her and tells her that he’s known exactly who she was from the minute he saw her in the Duke’s office. He leaves her with only a request—to wear better shoes and clothes than the slippers and nightgown she wore, next time.
The Duke and the Duchess make a speech after the attack of the Craven, upholding the society’s customs. During this speech, Penny’s powers, which allowed her to feel pain in mortals, flare up and she suddenly feels a myriad of feelings she has never felt before, so she’s overwhelmed. Hawke grounds her with a comment. Suddenly, a man, who has been making his way through the crowd, starts to ask questions what happen to the second and third-born children, why they aren’t seen. Just before he’s taken down by the Royal Guards, he throws a Craven hand at the Duke and Duchess.
As the night of the Rite draws near, Penny and Hawke become closer. She trusts him with her past, and her dreams, while Hawke makes observations about her life as the Maiden, and protects her in ways that the other Royal Guards have never done—by standing up to the people who abuse her. Their feelings for one another flare and get stronger, no matter how much Penny tries to suppress them in order to not cross her duties as the Maiden. And Hawke also has his own secrets.
The night of the Rite arrives and new Ladies and Lords in Wait are welcomed, while the second and third-born children of couples are handed over to the Priests and Priestesses. Penny is allowed to attend for the first time, as this is the last Rite before her Ascension. Realizing that her Lady Maid, Tawney will not leave her side, Penny leaves the party since she is unable to socialize with anyone per the rules of the Maiden. Instead, Hawke takes her to a hidden alcove, where their feelings for each other run wild, but Hawke also has the decency to stop them before it goes too far. Upon their return to the castle, the night turns into horror, as the Duke is revealed to be murdered with a cane staked through the heart, while the castle comes under siege by the Descenters.
The Duchess, with a contingent of the Royal Guards, along with Tawney, Penny and Vikter, head to a “safe” room, which the Duchess believes will protect them. Vikter knows better, and asks Penny to ready herself. To the Duchess’ utter horror, Penny fights back against the Descenters, even though she is explicitly forbidden to do so. They manage to fight the Descenters, and in a moment of safety, Vikter lets down his guard, at which point a Descenter plunges a sword through him. Penny runs to his aid, and just before she is also killed, Hawke shows up, beheading the Descenter. Just before Vikter dies, he asked Penny’s forgiveness for not protecting her properly, momentarily looking at the Lord in their presence. Vikter’s death devastates Penny, and she turns on the Lord, killing him, because he was one of her torturers alongside the Duke. Hawke knocks her out.
Several days later, Penny is summoned by the Duchess, who tells her that she is to make her way to the Capital under orders from the Queen, for her own safety. The only person entrusted to this task of transporting Penny is Hawke along with a contingent of people he has chosen. They set off the next day, camping out in the Blood Forest, where the Craven supposedly live. Hawke’s and Penny’s romance steams up a bit that night, while he tries to keep her warm. The following day, on their way out of the Blood Forest, the group is attacked by Barrats, huge rats that have found a home in the forest, and lose two of their men. Penny uses her powers to ease one of the men’s death, shocking Hawke and other individuals on the team, who realize that the rumors about an Angel coming to ease people’s deaths in the kindness, have been true.
They make it to a town nearby, that doesn’t seem to have a Lord or any Ascended. At first, Penny and her contingent think nothing of it, and Penny and Hawke spend the night in each other arms, even though it is explicitly against the rules for her. Penny has realized that she wants something more out of her life, and Hawke is that person that she wants in her life going forward. During the night, Hawke gets called away to a matter, and when she wakes up, she goes in search of him, only to happen upon one of her Royal Guards, who starts questioning how everything is so strange about this town. Together, Penny and the Royal guard make it to the stables, but they are surrounded by Kieran, who turns into a Wolven, a wolf-like creature, and another person. They dispatch the Royal Guards, leaving Penny untouched, who in turns tries to fight them off, until Hawke shows up and tells her that she’s needed for Prince Casteel.
As a result, Penny ends up in a cell, and later Hawke visits her, revealing that the history that she has always learned from the Ascended is not the true version of history. Penny attempts to deny it, but realizes the questions he poses are questions she’s always asked herself. Sometime later, two members of Prince Casteel’s group show up to take her to a different location, but they barely make it out of the dungeons, when they are attacked. Kieran shows up just in time, to help Penny and the two others fight off the group, but Penny is severely injured with zero chance of surviving. He calls for Prince Casteel, and Penny’s life is saved by Hawke—who gives her his blood to drink—while she’s going in and out of consciousness.
She ultimately wakes up in a bedroom, with Hawke watching over her. Out of fear of who and what he, she stabs him straight in the heart, which gives her some time to run away. But Hawke catches up to her, and they make up with each other in the snow. They return to the lodge, where Hawke takes her to the kitchens to get her food, telling her that he’s made an example of the people who have attacked her, and if she wants to be under his protection, she needs to be seen with him. During the dinner, Prince Casteel makes the decision that they need to return to Atlantia so that Hawke and Penny can marry, surprising everyone in the lodge.
My Verdict: This book was a gift by my husband, because he knows how much I loved the Throne of Glass series by Sarah Maas, and Sarah Maas was the one that recommended this. And by far, this book is my favorite that I have read this year. It’s so intense, and action packed, along with the romance that continues to blossom between Hawke and Penny. Furthermore, the world that Jennifer has created is uniquely different than other series I have seen—it’s very similar to The Throne of Glass series, in that is has a darker undercurrent of you don’t quite know what is going on, and why everyone seems to be under this spell that bonds them to a particular group or society.
My favorite character is actually Hawke because of his secretive ways and complexity. From the beginning, you get the sense that there’s something more to him, a part of him that he’s not sharing whatsoever with anyone else, but there’s enough to put things together if you know where to look. I don’t want to ruin the surprise or spoil the book, but halfway through the book, I’ve had this idea in my mind about him and who he is based on all the things presented about him in the book, which ended up being true.
Penny on the other hand is very naive because of the way that she’s been brought up. She’s also abused by the Duke and the Lord, along with the Priestesses despite the rules being that no one can lay a hand on her. But she’s also stubborn and smart. She knows why she wants to break the rules and learn to fight—rightly so, because it’s allowed her to defend herself and her friends on more than one occasion. What is really interesting about Penny is just how she takes things at face value because of her upbringing—she believes that what she has been told or taught throughout her life is the truth, and feels bad about thinking things that don’t align with that—but then when she’s faced with the truth from Hawke, she realizes that she has been asking those questions herself all along. I look forward to seeing how she develops in the next book, and how she reacts to certain truths that she’s just now discovering. I’m also looking forward to seeing how her relationship with Hawke progresses, now that she knows what and who he really is.
Overall, a great read, and I can’t wait for the next book in the series!