As a long-time reader of fantasy books that incorporate elements of magic, royalty, and fierce young women, I’ve longed for a book to thoroughly probe and expound on each of these story components while also making the main character explicitly a woman of color with whom I could strongly identify. Well, Song of Blood and Stone delivers all of this in a such a satisfying way that I am still processing the fact that I may have found a series that is as intriguing and affirming as N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance trilogy. In fact, my sense of disbelief is so profound that I’m already looking forward to my second reading of this novel just to make sure that the story exists – I breezed through the story in the matter of a day!
During my second reading, I’ll look forward to meeting each of the main characters once again. Jasminda is a young woman of mixed Elsiran (white, red-haired, non-magically-inclined people) and Lagrimari (Black, magically-inclined people) heritage who presents as a Black woman and has to deal with the aggression of her Elsiran neighbors alone after the death of her mother and disappearance of her father and twin brothers. Because her family is very unconventional in Elsiran society, they live in a secluded homestead near the Lagrimari border to avoid the racism of their countrymen. Jasminda is content enough with this arrangement...until she meets Jack. Jack is an Elsiran spy whom she saves from near death and has secrets of his own. As the story proceeds, we see how valuable these characters become to each other and just how important their roles are for the good of their region.
The plot thickens when we see just how much this fantasy world is tied to the issues we face in reality. Though the book isn't very descriptive about the timing of this story, there are telephones, radios, and cars with no description of high or low tech these countries are, you can't read this story without it feeling very present. For instance, one of the main conflicts within this book stems from the strong xenophobia with which the Elsirans regard the Lagrimari refugees. The Lagrimari are ruled by a strict tyrant and near deity called “True Father." The True Father forces his constituents, regardless of age, to yield their inborn magical abilities to him then spend the rest of their lives as miners, other forms of manual labor, or in his harem. Even with knowledge of the harsh circumstances that the Lagrimari refugees flee when they migrate to Elsira, most Elsirans are willing to scapegoat the Lagrimari for the scarcity in natural resources and austerity measures they've had to take on due to economic strife. This is exacerbated by the false news articles and caricaturization of the prince as someone who is more concerned with providing meals for foreigners than for his own people. Sound familiar?
Matters take a turn for the worse when a soldier shoots a young, Black, Lagrimari boy who dares to walk towards food rationed for his people after the soldiers have decided they will not distribute food to foreigners ‘when it comes from their tax money.’ This scene puts an eerie, almost Luke Cage spin on the imagination exercise of Black people having superpowers and the treatment they could expect. Without powers, Black people are regarded as preternaturally dangerous, but with powers, the Lagrimari are known to mend themselves, and in this case, because the boy is surrounded by his community, they are able to heal him in time. While this moment is a clear parallel to issues faced in reality, it also sets up the true conflict between the Elsirans and Lagrimari: they each have what the other needs to survive. The irony is that while the Lagrimari actually have powers, the Elsiran lead freer lives. One hopes that the Elsiran will get over their racism and magic envy as the series goes on, but given the author's penchant to reflect societal realities in this narrative, it's more likely that the Lagrimari will find what works for themselves.
The thing I found most rewarding about reading Song of Blood and Stone was the fact that the author provides us with a true resolution at the end, while also leaving storylines open for what looks to be two more installments of a very interesting story. I very much look forward to reading those and the rumored dragon-related project up the author’s sleeve.
Have I ignited your curiosity? You're in luck, there's a 5 chapter sneak peek here. Happy plotting!