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BOOK REVIEW: The War of Two Queens (Blood & Ash #4) by Jennifer L. Armentrout

“You're the one who taught me that I cannot save everyone, but I can save those I love."

I am still currently obsessing over the Blood and Ash series even though I was slow to the train of actually diving into the series, and holy cow, with every book I am getting more and more hooked to the storyline! I just finished the fourth book in the series, and now having to wait for the next one to be released is going to be torture! Before diving into the prequel series (A Shadow in the Ember (Flesh and Fire #1)), I want to share all my thoughts of what all happened in the fourth book, The War of Two Queens! And just in case you haven't read this series yet, or if you are reading and haven't gotten to this book yet, I will do my very best to keep it as spoiler free as possible!

Now first off, I am not going to lie, this book is long...and even though I was very much enraptured with the storyline, there were many moments I felt like I was reading for quite a long time and only got through 1 or 2% of the book. Anyways, when I reviewed the third installment in the series, I am pretty sure I said it was my favorite book so far in the series. Now, having finished the fourth book, I have to change my response and say the 4th book is now my favorite! Typically, when reading a series, I oftentimes feel like it cannot get better than the first book. There is just something about the initial storyline that obviously has drawn you in to continue reading the series. And then I am 9 times out of 10 always pleasantly surprised when each book in a series gets better and better, exciting me to no end to see what will happen. This is truly one of those series!

This book has everything that you could look for in a story (at least in my opinion!). It has the intense romance (Casteel and Poppy... jealous sigh). It has a leading, strong, badass feminine protagonist. It has action where you are sitting on the edge of your seat hoping your favorite characters make it through, and it has so much angst and shocking revelations that are just thrown out of left field (yet everything keeps leading up to these revelations, so why am I shocked every time I read one?!). One thing I really enjoyed with this book is the dual POV from both Poppy and Casteel. Since they were apart from each other for the majority of the book, it was nice seeing what was happening to the both of them. That way you didn't feel as if you were missing out on anything.

There is so much character development throughout this book for a few of the characters. First, Poppy is truly coming into her own, and her choices are always ones made where she has the people of the realm as her main focus. How can she take action against the Blood Queen without harming innocents and destroying whole cities? She tries to be methodical and take every action into consideration. Seeing her be able to proudly announce to the Blood Queen that she was able to triumph over cities without killing was a wonderful show that cruelty and guns a blazing is not always the answer. On the other end of this, when Poppy does lose innocent lives, seeing how hurt and guilty she feels, even if it was not from her actions, was beautiful. The weight of the world is on her shoulders, and she feels it immensely.

I have to say, I didn't know how I was feeling about Malik when I started reading this book. I couldn't tell where his loyalties and trust truly lay. Then, as we learn more about his choices, and it truly was his choices, I felt compassion. The pain and suffering he has gone through willingly (and I won't say why or for what reason!) makes you see him in a different light. And when we learned what Malik did, what he set into motion? I was angered, but I also understood where he was coming from. This was a man who felt the weight of the realm on his shoulders, who wanted the best for the survival of Atlantians, wolvens, and mortals alike. Doesn't that make a strong and true leader? When they can do the unthinkable or unimaginable for the betterment of their people?

Kieran is by far my favorite character in this series. He is loyal, kind, strong, and always knows when a tease or joke is needed. He has this beautiful relationship with Casteel, where they are truly so much more than friends, brothers, or any other label. Then his relationship with Poppy was beautiful to see grow throughout this book. He was there for her every step of the way. He has learned to understand her thoughts and actions and accepts them. He helps her and supports her in any way that he can. He is her shoulder to lean on, her ear to listen, and so much more. I thought it would be weird to see this growing friendship/relationship between Kieran and Poppy, especially without Casteel around. But it was beautiful and sweet, and so meaningful. On the other end of the spectrum, I loved all of Kieran's interactions with the other characters as well. He jokes (or is it really joking? lol) with Reaver, still is able to be a protective older brother to Vonetta, and a leader as the advisor to Casteel and Poppy. He is an all around great character in my eyes, and I am worried to see what will happen for him. Or maybe I shouldn't be since he is connected to Poppy and Casteel now??

I know I have said this before, but I truly am very stingy with highlighting and making note of quotes in books. However, just like the books before this one, I highlighted so many quotes and wrote so many thoughts down as I was reading this story! Below are some of my favorites that really stood out to me.

"Worth it. The pain was more than worth it. I would spend an eternity taking these bites if that meant she was safe. That it wasn’t her in this cell. That she wasn’t the one in pain."

Who wouldn't want a partner in life who thinks this way? Who wants your safety and happiness above their own because you being safe and happy is what makes them happy and content.

“Whether she ruled over all the lands and seas or was the Queen of nothing but a pile of ashes and bones, she would—will—always be my Queen. Love is too weak an emotion to describe how she consumes me and what I feel for her. She is my everything.”

The raw emotion within that quote...just the loyalty and love for one's person, that transcends anything else. The love is so powerful and means everything. Some people might possibly see it as a little suffocating, but I think it is truly beautiful. You can be someone's everything and still have your own mind, your own thoughts and actions, your own path.

“Everything in every realm descends from a Primal—well, besides the draken. We come from nothing. We just are and have always been,” Reaver said, and I had no idea what to make of that—any of it. “And mortals descend from a Primal and a draken,” I finished for him. “From Eythos, the first Primal of Life—also known as your great-grandfather.” He pointed at me, and my eyes went wide. “What? Did you think Nyktos was hatched from an egg? He wasn’t.”

I don't know why but reading the line joking about Nyktos being hatched from an egg cracked me up...all this seriousness is happening and Reaver throws in a line like that.

“I’m not untouched by it. Death is death. Killing is killing, Poppy, no matter how justified it is. Every death leaves a mark behind, but I do not expect anyone to take a risk that I would not take. Nor would I ask another to bear a burden I refused to shoulder or feel a mark I haven’t felt myself.”

This is probably one of the most important lines from the book in my opinion. Valyn, Casteel's father, says this to Poppy, and it is something that Poppy believes in wholeheartedly and carries with her through the rest of the story. Every action after this moment, when the wolven or Casteel attempt to get Poppy to stand back, to let others do it for her, she repeats this. It is powerful, and honestly so true. Why should we ever ask someone to do something if we ourselves wouldn't be willing to do it as well?

“You were born. Your blood was spilled, and you Ascended. Upon that Ascension, you were reborn—birthed from the flesh and fire of the Primals. You awakened.” He shook his head. “Maybe you’re right. Perhaps your choice—your free will—is greater than a prophecy. Than the Fates and what Isbeth believes. Hell, that’s what Coralena believed. She was sure you would usher in change, but not in the way Isbeth wanted.”

This brings to light the whole nature versus nurture concept. Can someone truly be destined for one thing. whether it may be good or evil, just based solely on prophecy for one's life? Because it was written, or because it was prophesied, then it must be true? Or do the actions, the words, the surroundings of your environment make a difference? I truly feel that Poppy is not this great evil that will destroy the world. She has her own mind, and as Malik said, she has her own free will. She hears the prophecy, but she knows and cares about the realm, she cares about what happens to everyone around her, and she will always choose an option with the least amount of lives lost, if any. Can Poppy change what is destined for her? Can her actual actions make the difference?

Though there were many things I loved about this story, I do feel there were some things I didn't like. Truthfully, this book did not need to be as long as it was. I felt like there was a lot of fluff and unnecessary information thrown into the mix constantly. I felt like some scenes were a little dragged out. And as much as I love the tension, steaminess, and spice of Poppy and Casteel's romance, when they cannot do anything until they get into each others pants, I got a little annoyed. What, who am I saying this?? But it is true! There is one scene in particular that I am thinking of (once Poppy and Casteel are reunited) that things could have ended differently if they would have just waited until they were truly to safety! Granted, because they couldn't, it put into motion for them to move forward with The Joining, but still! There is a time and place, and that time was not one of those! LOL

Overall, this was an amazing book just like its predecessors! I am so invested in this storyline and cannot wait for the next book in the series to be released. And knowing that there is a prequel series, I will be heading there next to keep me engrossed in all things Blood and Ash! I gave this book 5 stars because it had me invested from even before page 1 to see how the story was going to pick up where things left off. It had me feeling all of the feels from sorrow to anger to excitement to absolute love, and even shock. I cannot wait to see how everything will play out as this book, just like the third one, is setting us up for an epic battle or moment of some sort. I hope I convinced you to give this series a try, and that I was able to entice you without giving anything away.

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