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From Blood and Ash: Proof That Story is King

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From Blood and Ash (Blood And Ash Series): Armentrout, Jennifer L.:  9781952457005: Amazon.com: BooksLook past the prose, because that's not what some readers are there for.

I'll admit it, I'm a bit of a book snob. After spending most of my conscious life as a reader and nearly all of my adult life as a writer, I have strong opinions about story, prose, characters, etc. And sure, I know that opinion is subjective and no book works for everyone. But I thought I had a good handle on quality. I thought I understood, for the most part, what makes some books successful and other books flop.

And then came From Blood and Ash.

I picked this one up because it's been a runaway bestseller the likes of which publishing rarely sees. With 25K reviews on Amazon, endless scrolls of fan art, legions of diehard fans, and the kind of hype that usually doesn't happen until there's a movie adaptation, it felt like this book was everywhere. Must read, people said. So during one of my weekend trips to a friend's wedding, I checked it out from the library to read on the plane.

First of all, I don't recommend reading this book in public if you blush easily.

But more importantly for these purposes, I found myself fascinated by this 600 page fantasy-romance hybrid.

See, the thing about From Blood and Ash is that, at the prose level it... well to put it politely, it leaves something to be desired. There are grammar errors, run-on sentences, misused words, cringe-worthy dialogue, and more ellipses than you've ever seen in your life. It's supposed to be a traditional sword-and-sorcerer fantasy, but the heroine uses modern slang all over the place and the world-building is confusing at best, non-existent at worst (I never actually learned what a Maiden is supposed to be or do or accomplish).

Yet the book succeeds.


Well, because it delivers with raunchy flourish exactly what the readers are there for. People aren't coming to this book for the epic fantasy or the intricate world-building or the beautiful writing. They're coming for the relationship. Anyone who's picking up this book is doing so because they're looking for a fun romance to get lost in. They want a spunky protagonist (check), a sexy, brooding, protective hero (check), and just enough background setting for the story to feel immersive (check...mostly). In short, From Blood and Ash delivers on what it promises, and that has the readers coming in droves.

It might seem like I'm being hard on this book, but the truth is that I read the whole thing. I'm quite good at abandoning stories that aren't working for me, so the fact that I finished this one meant that it did. I cared about Poppy and Hawke and wanted to see their story through to the end. I'm tempted to pick up the sequel and maybe read more of the author's extensive backlist.

Which means the author did her job.

Please don't get me wrong, grammar is still important. Quality still helps sell high-concept stories. That's just the point though: quality helps. Great prose and snappy dialogue and excellent world-building help put your book on the map, but it's not the meat and potatoes of storytelling. The thing that inspires 25K readers on Amazon to leave 5-star reviews is the story. The plot. The spine the whole novel is built around.

Get that right and the rest doesn't matter all that much.

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