Confession time - I received a free copy of both The Black Lotus and The Blood Orchid from YA Bound Book Tours in exchange for an honest review, however this has in no way influenced my reviews. There are no five star reviews in exchange for freebies on this blog!
It's 1752 and Melissa meets the man who will change her life forever. At her disastrous debut, Melissa meets the handsome Justin Lestrade and finds herself falling into his world. But Justin has secrets and many enemies. His dark past will not only ensnare her, but damage everything she knows and understands. Join Melissa as she sinks into a world of old feuds and ancient magic.
The Black Lotus is a story of dark fantasy and historical romance, and it opens with one of the best hooks I've read in ages! Melissa De Vire is on the market for marriage - as young women tended to be in 18th century England - when she meets the mysterious and smoking hot (obviously!) Justin, and his group of slightly odd and possibly crazy friends. From then on, she finds herself fighting against not only the pressures of a patriarchal society, but an ancient curse that manages to pull her into its web, by way of the aforementioned love interest.
The characters were well-written and, as a result, their actions always felt believable and genuine. Melissa was a determined, resourceful protagonist - even if her behaviour would have gotten her thrown in a santitarium in 18th century England! - I always love reading characters who aren't Mary Sue types who are prodigies at everything they come across, but rather use their wits and skills to play situations to their advantage. Her relationship with Justin felt pretty instalove at first, but the author delved more into their pairing as the story went on which made things a lot more believable as more of his backstory was revealed.
The story is a little vampire-esque, with missing maidens and blood curses and creators/sires/whatever you want to call them who curse others to bear the weight of their suffering. The cursed may be immortal, but they get sick and injured like regular people, they just need someone else to take their wounds. It's a wickedly dark prospect - eternal life, if you're willing to take it from someone else, lest you literally fall to pieces as your body deteriorates around you. Given that the book clocks in at 562 pages, according to Goodreads, I really wanted to know more about the origins and some of the finer points of the curse, but that's probably just me being picky.
Likewise, I couldn't help but be distracted by the glaring amount of grammatical issues with the book. The author had an infuriating habit of ending sentences with a comma instead of a full stop, and upper casing the first letter in She and He after dialogue tags. At first it, it was a little distracting, but it quickly became pretty annoying as I kept reading.
Ultimately, the book was way too long. The story itself was great and kept me intrigued, but a tighter edit would have kept me enthralled. The writing style felt suited to the historical setting, but was too verbose. I have to confess to skim reading at times, which I really do try and avoid, but there was a lot of repetition, sometimes from one sentence to the next essentially repeating the same information in a different, more grandious prose. I think there were four or five seperate instances of different characters commenting on Melissa's beauty in the first chapter. I was a bit lie "okay, we get it, she's gorgeous, now let's move on." The enormous page count for the first book in series (to give some context, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone only clocks in at just over 350 pages compared to this book's 562), coupled with the lack of resolution with the story, meant that I ended up rating this book three stars rather than the four it started off as, or the five it flirted with at times.
I read this book immediately after finishing the last one, and, in hindsight, I think this may have lessened my enjoyment somewhat. There's a little bit of second book syndrome here, where the story just didn't grab me and hold me the way the first one did.
Whereas I really liked the 18th century England historical setting, the times jumps in this one that placed the characters in the middle of the French Revolution were a bit jarring. Whereas book one felt like it was set in ye olde England, this one didn't feel like it was set in revolutionary France. The author clearly knew her stuff with the first setting, but it felt a little shaky with the second one. Little details about French life and culture in that time period sprinkled through the story would really have made this book come to life! I loved seeing the characters move out of their comfort zone and experience their powers in the wider world, but Blood Orchid suffered by comparison to Black Lotus, probably because I read them back to back.
I kind of went backwards on Melissa and Justin as a pairing too. She's proven herself to be a strong and capable character, but he continually treats her like a child who needs to be sent to her room while the grown ups talk, despite the fact it's pretty much his fault she's in this horrible situation. But, as with many books, she's stuck with him. Magical bonds are something of a pet peeve of mine in fantasy. I much prefer to see characters together because they want to be, not because they're forced to be. Bonds of genuine love and desire carry more weight with me than ones of obligation and necessity. Ultimately one tends to lead to the other in the story, but I personally find the relationship somewhat tainted by how it started. Conflict and tensions are great, but invisible leashes and ties nobody asked for are not. Melissa has got enough fire and determination to make it on her own, especailly after such big time jumps, and I failed to see why she would choose to stay with Justin. especially after what he did.
I really hated the implacation - true though it was - that Justin needed Melissa to be cursed in order to really make an effort in finding a cure. It's the kind of lazy characterisation that makes it seem like the guy's brain is in his pants and he's not capable of really trying to fix himself and his friends unless he's getting laid at the end of it. I found myself kind of rooting for Emily - who was a bit of a bitch - because at least she seemed to have everyone's best interests at heart, even if she went about things with all the subtlety and sensitivity of a bull in a china shop.
This book was much shorter and tighter than the first, to the point where I finished it without even realising I was almost at the end. The story was good and the heroine relatable (despite being a powerful immortal!) but I couldn't escape the nagging feeling that this book was a bridge in the series, that it was setting up the pieces for a bigger story that I wasn't going to get here.