Today is my stop on the blog tour for ‘In the Jaded Grove’ by Anela Deen organised by Storytellers on Tour. This is the first book in the Kindred Realms, but can read as a standalone, and it is also a contestant in SPFBO 7.
I hope that you will check out the book and the authors, and enjoy the rest of the tour with the schedule in the banner below or (HERE).
*Disclaimer: ‘I was given a copy this book in exchange for an honest review, all views are my own.’*
Simith of Drifthorn is tired of war. After years of conflict between the Thistle court and the troll kingdom, even a pixie knight known for his bloodlust longs for peace. Hoping to secure a ceasefire, Simith arranges a meeting with the troll king—and is ambushed instead. Escape lies in the Jaded Grove, but the trees of the ancient Fae woodland aren’t what they seem, and in place of sanctuary, Simith tumbles through a doorway to another world.
Cutting through her neighbor’s sunflower farm in Skylark, Michigan, Jessa runs into a battle between creatures straight out of a fantasy novel. Only the blood is very real. When a lone fighter falls to his attackers, Jessa intervenes. She’s known too much death to stand idly by, but an act of kindness leads to consequences even a poet like her couldn’t imagine.
With their fates bound by magic, Simith and Jessa must keep the strife of his world from spilling into hers—except the war isn’t what it appears and neither are their enemies. Countless lives depend on whether they can face the truths of their pasts and untangle the web of lies around them. But grief casts long shadows, and even their deepening bond may not be enough to save them from its reach.
Portal fantasy is an interesting subgenre and one that I’ve not read as much of as I would like. However, in those that I’ve read, there has tended to be an imbalance in which world dominates the story – and while that can be exciting and interesting, In the Jaded Grove turned that on its head and I think that’s part of why this book worked so well. It’s the meeting of two worlds, that in many ways highlights the strengths and uniqueness of each while dealing with the conflicts and struggles in both, and I loved that Deen ultimately doesn’t choose between them, but instead creates an eventual blending of aspects from both worlds. After all, there are two sides to a portal, and the grass is not always greener on the other side – but there is much to be learned, and gained from both sides.
This in turn leaned into the worldbuilding, and again Deen does an excellent job of achieving that balance between the two – especially when one of those two is magical in nature, and filled with all the wonder (and chaos) that can bring. However, while I loved the time that we spent in the Jaded Grove – and there was some truly beautiful descriptions, as well as a careful, deliberate layering of details, that really helped to capture its magical, otherworldly nature. This in turn was well-matched with a grounded, but no less richly-realised real-world setting. Deen did an excellent job of making the time the characters spent in the real world, just as layered and vital, as that spent in the Grove and I think this complimentary approach, made the characters and their experiences shine all the brighter – because we could see, and feel and experience where they were coming from, as well as their first tentative steps into new worlds and that slow growth into understanding these other worlds.
I loved the magic system – and the little details about how different races have different conduits (also I was so happy to see Boggarts mentioned) was fantastic, and it was a well-developed system for a relatively short book, and some of the magic sequences were my favourite parts of the book. As I said, I loved that Boggarts were mentioned, but beyond them, there was an interesting mix of magical creatures, and I enjoyed that the Trolls were not what they might have seemed. Deen does a great job of playing with the fae and embracing the darker twists on that nature, and that combined with the magic, and the different creatures – and intrigue and conflict, that means that so little is as it might seem on the surface – makes for a fascinating story.
However, beyond the magical and the worldbuilding, this is a story about grief and love, and family. It is a story steeped in emotion, and Deen knows how to draw that emotional line to its greatest potency in the subtlest of ways. It is also this emotional aspect that makes the balance between the two worlds so important, because our two main characters are both caught in different storms – each shaped, and linked to the world they came from, and I think we would have lost so much if we hadn’t spent time in both worlds. It’s also a testament to Deen’s skill with emotive writing, that it is so easy to connect with both Jessa and Simith’s struggles, which are both very different and very complicated. Jessa’s grief is raw and consuming and almost a physical adversary that she is fighting a war against, while Simith is fighting a war while struggling with what he has had to become.
“Father.” Simith’s voice emerged as if from underwater. “When will you forgive me for the monster I became?”
A tremor moved across his father’s shoulders, but he didn’t look back. His reply was so soft, Simith almost didn’t hear him. “When I forgive myself for letting it happen.”
Yet, from these two very different experiences and emotional battles, Deen draws these two characters together in a way that feels utterly believable and is a wonderful exploration of connections and acceptance, love and family. The relationship that blossoms between Simith and Jessa is beautiful to behold, but it is just one facet of the relationships that are portrayed throughout In the Jaded Grove – on both sides of the portal – and while they are our central pair, those others are allowed to shine without question or shame. And, the importance of family cannot be stressed enough – from Simith’s troubled relationship with his parents because of what he has done during the war, to Jessa’s complicated, grief-torn relationship with her family and her Filipino roots and heritage. All of these aspects are shown and explored in such an open, unquestioning way – this is just how the world is, and how it should be, and yes there are conflicts and struggles, but there was also healing and acceptance, and it was all just part of the whole. As it should be.
In the Jaded Grove is very much a human story. Even the conflict in the world of the Jaded Grove is so very human at its heart because it is so easy to look at the political intrigue and the source of conflict in our world and find the same root causes – racism, inequality and those that utilise those in their schemes for their own benefit regardless of the cost. There were some surprising twists and turns, and paired with the action and fast-pacing it did make for gripping reading – but there were a few places where it felt a little rushed. It was a fascinating counterpart to the more personal conflicts of the characters, but I think because the focus was so much on the characters and the emotion, that the plot beyond that wasn’t quite as developed as it possibly could have been. That said, I loved what Deen did with the conflict and the uncovering of the truth, and the ending showed how far both characters had come and left me with a wonderful, hopeful feeling.
I’m not entirely sure what I went into this book expecting, but it wasn’t what I found and I am more than happy about that because In the Jaded Grove is a fantastic example of what portal fantasy can be. But, it is more than that, and it was the emotion in this story that really gripped me beyond the world and the magic. This is a fantastic book for anyone who loved fast-paced fantasy with a breathtaking emotional depth.
About the Author:
A child of two cultures, this hapa haole Hawaiian girl is currently landlocked in the Midwest. After exploring the world for a chunk of years, Anela Deen hunkered down in Minnesota and now fills her days with family, fiction, and the occasional snowstorm. With a house full of lovable toddlers, a three-legged cat, and one handsome Dutchman, she prowls the keyboard late at night while the minions sleep. Coffee? Nah, she prefers tea with a generous spoonful of sarcasm.
Prize: A signed paperback of In the Jaded Grove by Anela Deen + A Collection of Poems by Emily Dickinson + Art Print + Stickers + Book Plate + Postcard + Bookmark – International!
Starts: July 11th, 2021 at 12:00am EST
Ends: July 18th, 2021 at 11:59pm EST
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If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.