Review: BLOOD & HONEY by Shelby Mahurin

Publisher: HarperTeen
Page Count: 528
Release Date: September 1st, 2020
Series: SERPENT & DOVE, Book 2
Rating: 2.5/5 Stars – Didn’t Like It

Note: I was provided a free ARC by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Warning: Spoilers ahead for book one in the series. You can read a review of the previous book here: SERPENT & DOVE

Lou and Reid are on the run from just about everyone in the kingdom. Lou’s mother, the witch queen Morgane, wants to kill her and complete her plan to destroy the royal family. Reid has betrayed the Chaussers, the order of witch hunters that protect the kingdom, in order to save his wife Lou. On top of that, Reid has discovered he is a rare male gifted with witchcraft, making him even more of an enemy to the kingdom. When Lou and Reid discover that Morgane is plotting an attack at the funeral of the Archbishop, the two realize they will need to call upon other allies in the kingdom to fight her. Unfortunately, those potential allies are reluctant at best to work with a former witch hunter. With time slipping away, Lou, Reid, and their friends must find a way to convince these groups to their side, before it’s too late.

Oof, this review pains me to write. I LOVED last year’s SERPENT & DOVE. It was a book that took an absurd premise – a witch and a witch hunter end up in a marriage – and made it absolutely work. Lou and Reid were a great enemies-to-lovers romance, and the magic system, where a person must sacrifice something similar to achieve an effect (for instance, if you want temporary better hearing, you temporarily give yourself weaker eyesight), was intriguing. I went into SERPENT & DOVE thinking it was a standalone book, and was torn when I discovered a sequel was in the works (since then, the series has picked up for a full trilogy). SERPENT & DOVE was a great self-contained story, and I truly didn’t feel like I needed more.

Still, I went into BLOOD & HONEY full of excitement to see some favorite characters return. What I got was unfortunately a letdown. Gone was the playful bickering of two characters who had come to love each other despite their differences. Instead, Lou and Reid had regressed into two characters that seemed to determined to bring up every reason they had to hate each other. I was especially perplexed by Reid. He had been a bit of a stick-in-the-mud in the first book, but by the end he had shown signs of loosening up. In this sequel, however, he was not only rigid, he was demanding and controlling – despite having fallen in love with free-spirited Lou. At every point he’s complaining about how evil magic is, how Lou needs to stop using it, how it’s abhorrent. He makes no attempts to understand it, despite it being a very fundamental part of his wife’s – and now his – existence.

Lou, unfortunately, deserves some of his criticism because for some reason (perhaps stemming from a dangerous magic used at the beginning of the book) she is becoming dangerously cold-hearted with the use of her magic. Lou has always been a ruthless character, but that always came from a place of survival. The idea now is that Lou is in danger of becoming her mother, the evil witch-queen Morgane, apparently just from the using magic at all. BLOOD & HONEY gives you two characters who are both in the wrong, who suddenly make-up for no real reason heading into the final battle.

I’m focusing a lot on the characters in this review because they were so important to why I loved the first book to begin with. In general, well-written characters are the most-important thing for me in a book. Even the secondary characters felt a bit lackluster. So much time is given to the angst of Lou and Reid that the others aren’t given much to do (I could not begin to tell you why Beau is traveling with the group). There are some potentially interesting new characters introduced among Lou and Reid’s traveling companions, but once again they have relatively little to do on the page.

The plot itself is fine. Lou and Reid and the rest of their friends race against time to collect allies against Morgane. This requires Lou and Reid to be split for part of the book (which didn’t help the relationship aspect). They make some new alliances, but it didn’t feel like a ton really actually happened. I devoured SERPENT & DOVE in just under 24 hours; the sequel took me a full week. It didn’t help that there was no reintroduction of any of the secondary characters. No helpful aside of “this person is the prince” or “this is Lou’s best friend.” I spent the first few chapters cross-referencing with book one trying to remember who some of the characters were. If you’re diving into this one, best find a recap somewhere first.

BLOOD & HONEY is an unfortunate misfire due to the characters. Lou and Reid have understandably different views on magic, and I appreciate that the characters might disagree on things given their different backgrounds. But the way they approached those differences felt like it came from a place of malice and distrust. Both characters proclaim internally that they love the other, but I almost never saw it on the page. If you are returning to the series hoping for more swoon-worthy romance, I’m afraid you’ll need to seek it elsewhere.

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