Ulises asked, “How can I look at these maps, see this riddle, and do nothing? They are my brothers.”
Elias reached across the table and flicked aside two shells with a fingertip. The map curled into itself. “It’s bound to be a goose chase. You know that?”
“Or a treasure hunt,” Ulises countered, “and you’ve always been good at those.”
Nineteen-year-old Elias is a royal explorer, a skilled mapmaker, and the new king of del Mar’s oldest friend. Soon he will embark on the adventure of a lifetime, an expedition past the Strait of Cain and into uncharted waters. Nothing stands in his way…until a long-ago tragedy creeps back into the light, threatening all he holds dear.
The people of St. John del Mar have never recovered from the loss of their boy princes, kidnapped eighteen years ago, both presumed dead. But when two maps surface, each bearing the same hidden riddle, troubling questions arise. What really happened to the young heirs? And why do the maps appear to be drawn by Lord Antoni, Elias’s father, who vanished on that same fateful day? With the king’s beautiful cousin by his side-whether he wants her there or not-Elias will race to solve the riddle of the princes. He will have to use his wits and guard his back. Because some truths are better left buried…and an unknown enemy stalks his every turn.
Isle of Blood and Stone comes off to me as one of those quieter YA fantasies that are hidden gems. It’s not fast-paced, nor does it have tons of thrilling action. But the characterizations fuel the story as we follow on an 18-year old mystery that needs to be solved. Despite the sedate pace, I enjoyed the emphasis in the story on maps and following the political intrigue within St. John del Mar. There’s a marked focus on character relationships and heading into danger, as well as fantastical elements that add flavor to the story. I’d recommend Isle of Blood and Stone to fantasy readers who don’t mind less action in favor of characterization and solving mysteries. It’s for sure a deviation from the princes and princesses route that YA fantasies like to take.
The book starts off with the discovery of two maps which contain clues about the lost princes of del Mar. As a skilled royal explorer, Elias is tasked with solving this mystery and finding out where exactly the lost princes went when they disappeared 18 years ago. Along with them were two people that also went missing – one of them being Elias’s biological father. Much of the beginning focuses on Elias’s hesitation in following the map. He doesn’t know how this could change the kingdom, because if the princes are found, his friend and current king Ulises would have to step down. He also doesn’t know how to deal with seeing his father, as he’s grown up with a stepfather who he loves and cherishes. Solving the mystery would pretty much create as many problems as it solves.
“If there is someone out there who knows a different truth… do you not want to learn of it? Not for me, not even for the king. But for your own sake?”
Navigating the landscape of del Mar was super interesting, from haunted forests to hidden lands. I enjoyed following the characters as they unraveled the mystery, and ultimately the schemer who put things in motion. Elias has many allies, but could one of them be the schemer? His allies are composed of a variety of characters: the strict Commander Aimon, the helpful teacher Lord Silva, the daring girl Reyna, and Mercedes, the spitfire girl that has a piece of Elias’s heart. They’re all vibrant characters that support Elias as he uncovers the truth of what happened 18 years ago.
There’s a light romance in the book that follow the friends-to-lovers route with Mercedes, who is also Ulises’s cousin. She’s rather independent and vocal, which is awesome to see in del Mar (especially considering there’s all signs of the patriarchy). I enjoyed their subtle progression in romance and how light it was in the midst of everything else going on.
“‘I don’t need a champion, Elias. And I won’t have you running to the king and telling tales. I can fight my own wars.”
One thing that I was a bit iffy about was the stigma on leprosy in Isle of Blood and Stone, which gets a larger role as the story progresses. Because del Mar models a historical nation, there’s a lot of antiquated ways (especially with how medicine is conducted). The people with leprosy are outcasts because of the disease and the general lack of knowledge of the rest of society. Perhaps this will get addressed more in later books, but I would hope to see them more humanized and less thought of in a derogatory way, especially given the negative connotations we see of it in history as well. Although Elias and his friends treat them well, they are more wary around people with leprosy.
“For a sea chart was never solely a sea chart. On the surface, it was simple parchment: sheepskin transformed into vellum, paint, and filt; a work of art. But he had learned never to mistake the importance of a good nap.”
Grab your best adventure boots and follow Elias in his quest to uncover a buried secret about missing royal princes and hidden motives of revenge. Isle of Blood and Stone has direct writing that focuses on characterization and plot progression rather than action. Despite that, it’s still an exciting adventure as readers and Elias slowly unravel the motives for the kidnapping 18 years ago. There’s a hint of romance (very sweet, very subtle), and great character conflict as Elias battles between leaving things as it is or discovering secrets that could change his life. I’ll be looking out for the sequel, and hope fantasy readers give this one a chance!
Thank you HMH Teen for the review copy!