Warning: This review will contain spoilers.
I woke up this morning, my bookmark wedged at the end of Act I in Blood & Honey, blissfully unaware of the emotional trauma I was about to suffer. “Just one more chapter,” I said to myself, still nestled in the warmth of my blankets as I reached for it. One chapter turned into the end of Act II, when I realized I desperately needed to get up and feed my cat two hours later.
Praise Jesus I did feed her, too. I only survived Act III because she sat on my leg and purred while I sobbed.
Let me just say, above all other things, Shelby Mahurin is a queen of character development. From the start, I knew I liked where Reid’s character arc was going. I relate to our beloved God-fearing witch hunter on a spiritual level (is that a pun? If it is, totally intended). As someone who studied Bible-Theology in college, he was easy to understand. While personality-wise, I tended to relate to Lou a heck of a lot more, logistically, I really appreciated Reid. And in this book, I knew he’d have a lot of baggage to sort through with the revelation at the end of S&D that he was dun, dun, dunnnnn A WITCH.
First of all, the fact that she had him STRUGGLE with this was beautiful. I loved every minute of him being in denial of what he was, especially since it made the moment when he finally accepted magic so powerful. I do wish there would have been more of a struggle with his faith, though. At the end of S&D, I remember him questioning God’s existence. And since I felt like Woodwose’s confirmed existence at the end was sort of like saying God exists in this universe, it would have made sense for him to struggle with having been a Chasseur, and now knowing he was a witch, to question his faith a little bit more. He questioned magic a lot. He questioned whether it was good. He questioned what magic did to Lou. But he never questioned how having magic changed the faith he’d been raised in. It was just a lot of denial until… he used magic. I felt like this was neglected. But again, this is coming from someone who did study Bible-Theology, talking about a seemingly secular book.
On the subject of a seemingly secular book, can we talk about Lou? Aside from having told my mom I have a second stomach reserved for deserts all my life (something Lou said in S&D that made me wonder if I was Lou in an alternate reality), in S&D, I wasn’t always Lou’s biggest fan. It wasn’t the witchness or the anti-Godness, so much as it was she seemed to be really rash and impulsive. Again, I must say, I still loved her character. She’s headstrong and smart and strong. But I felt like a vast majority of the things that went wrong in S&D went wrong because Lou made a dumb decision.
So, I loved her character arc in this one. It’s rare you see a character who is impulsive and rash suffer so much from their impulsivity. I loved her having this reckoning that she’s been going too far, realizing she’s messed up, and feeling broken. I don’t think enough authors have the guts to break their characters like this.
I also want to say, Shelby Mahurin gutted me with the words, “Reid says I’m… lost,” all the way to, “Don’t abandon me,” (pages 421-423). It’s one of the rawest, most powerful, most beautiful prayer, and for Lou’s character arc to include that was astounding. It was an angry prayer, but it was also filled with so much longing. I don’t think there was a moment in the book where Lou was more honest with herself. With how she feels. And I think, in her final chapter, this feeling of abandonment really shines through. That it’s Lou’s biggest fear, and in the end, she feels utterly alone. Her character arc was beautiful from start to finish.
(Also, bit more about theology/skip if you want more of the review: I found it interesting that the only answer Lou claimed to have received was silence, yet a little while later, it’s Claud Deveraux (a.k.a. Woodwose, a.k.a. Cesarine’s God-figure) who comes to visit her, and they discuss her prayer. He then goes on to remind her that she isn’t alone, because Reid is back and he’s asking for her. Almost like an answer to her prayer…)
Honestly, Lou and Reid were the shining moments of this story, and I absolutely adored them both. But there were a few things that I wasn’t a huge fan of, and obviously it wasn’t enough to lower it from 5 stars, but it was enough to just quickly address.
It’s really dark. Unsettlingly dark. There isn’t a lot of hope, and I felt like, as a reader, the book dragged a little bit because of this. It wasn’t the pacing, it was the content. But the matter that was dark was handled delicately. One of my favorite moments took place at the Archbishop’s funeral, when Reid FINALLY grieved (better than him throwing knives at Lou. Better than almost anything. I adore Reid).I just wish there had been a little more hope sprinkled in, because you need to see light in the midst of darkness.
My biggest gripe with this story was that I felt like there were too many characters to keep straight. I read the entire book and I still don’t know the two twins who traveled with Deveraux. I don’t know their names. I don’t completely understand their importance. I barely managed to keep track of where Madame Labelle was at any given time in the story. It’s a big cast of characters, and that made it difficult to follow the journeys of the characters I loved most. Aside from Lou and Reid, I felt like the only side character who had decent page time was Beau. It’s not that Coco and Ansel didn’t have their own arcs, but it felt overshadowed by the massive amount of characters in the story. I would have LOVED to see Reid and Coco’s friendship grow. Their scenes together, and how much Lou liked them getting along, would have made an interesting addition to the story. Since this was a character-driven book, it needed a smaller cast of characters.
And Ansel. My baby. My favorite character. I felt like he was done dirty. My boy was basically treated like crap the entire book ONLY TO DIE? ONLY TO BE THEIR MARTYR? He didn’t deserve that! I am so upset with how it ended. I mean, of course, it had to end like that. I get that. It was a great ending. BUT IT HURT. SO MUCH. I do wish he had gotten more page time. It felt like his only purpose in this book was to die. Sure, he had his heroic moment saving Gaby and Celie, but couldn’t he have gotten more page time? I would have loved to see him and Coco interact more after they kissed (I think Coco needed more page time, too).
This sort of leads into that ending. Because I want to hate it. I want to hate Shelby Mahurin for the emotional trauma she has caused me. I’m definitely not going to sleep tonight, and it’s her fault. But I can’t. It was a fantastic ending. It really was. I read some reviews that said it ended too quickly, but I actually disagree. I think the ending pace was wonderful. I didn’t have time to catch my breath, which is part of what made it so devastating (in the best possible way). They accomplished their goal. They saved Celie and Gaby, but it was totally a pyrrhic victory when they lost Ansel. As Coco said, he’s the best of them. To lose him is devastating. It still sucks.
But I’ll be honest, that part was nothing compared to La Voisin and Nicholina betraying Lou at the end. I said this before. I’ll say it again. Lou’s character arc was *chef’s kiss*. The fact that she feared being abandoned, that she spent the book pushing people away to protect them (sometimes, even to protect them from herself), and the fact that she prayed because of how afraid she was made this ultimate abandonment, being left to La Voisin’s plan, was both beautiful and shattering. Like I said, I commend Shelby Mahurin for breaking Lou the way she did. And I do wonder if her breaking Lou in the final book to come will have any impact in Lou’s view of faith.
Remember how I said most of the book seemed really dark, and lacked hope? I felt like that about the end until I got to one of the last lines (Reid’s perspective). “I frowned. I hadn’t seen her grin since–since–“ (531). I won’t say why that single line gives me hope, but if you’ve paid attention to Reid’s analysis of Lou’s grins, you’ve probably guessed.
I don’t think Lou’s as abandoned as she thinks she is.
I think Mahurin just wants us to believe she is.