Belladonna – ARC review

Author: Adalyn Grace
Publication date: August 30, 2022
Genre: Gothic YA fantasy/romance
My rating: 3.5/5 stars

A murder mystery featuring Gothic vibes and a romance with Death himself. A beautiful cover (seriously, look up what is under the dust jacket on the US versions of this one). An author with an impressive resume (including a stint interning on The Legend of Korra). This book is perfect in theory. And while it certainly delivered on all the vibes and atmosphere, I must confess that the book as a whole was just…okay. It wasn’t bad; it just didn’t live* up to its full potential.

*pun about living (since this book deals with death so much) was not intentional, but now that I’ve noticed, I have to leave it in.

The Plot

New York Times bestselling author Adalyn Grace brings to life a highly romantic, Gothic-infused world of wealth, desire, and betrayal.

Orphaned as a baby, nineteen-year-old Signa has been raised by a string of guardians, each more interested in her wealth than her well-being—and each has met an untimely end. Her remaining relatives are the elusive Hawthornes, an eccentric family living at Thorn Grove, an estate both glittering and gloomy. Its patriarch mourns his late wife through wild parties, while his son grapples for control of the family’s waning reputation and his daughter suffers from a mysterious illness. But when their mother’s restless spirit appears claiming she was poisoned, Signa realizes that the family she depends on could be in grave danger and enlists the help of a surly stable boy to hunt down the killer.

However, Signa’s best chance of uncovering the murderer is an alliance with Death himself, a fascinating, dangerous shadow who has never been far from her side. Though he’s made her life a living hell, Death shows Signa that their growing connection may be more powerful—and more irresistible—than she ever dared imagine.

Trigger/content warnings: death (including death of a family member), graphic depictions of illness/poisoning/murder, suicide-like behavior (character who can’t die can summon Death by doing things that would kill a normal person)

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Review

This deliciously dark Gothic fantasy has a wonderful premise–but alas, it hit several stumbling blocks, and the prettiest thing about it was the cover.

Before I begin, I want to stress: the Gothic vibes were impeccable. You could practically see the ghosts, lurking in both the lavish balls and the eerie, darkened halls. You could feel the creeping shadows and the unnatural chills. And the regency drama was certainly there as well–the scheming for marriages, the preoccupation with etiquette, the gowns and gossip. If nothing else, the sense of place for this story worked beautifully, and if you purely want a book that feels like spooky season, this is a strong choice.

The thing is, the book as a whole fell short in several other regards. There were some plot holes by the end, which I can’t go into without providing spoilers. There were other plot threads that were spun out through the book that never got resolved (perhaps they’ll be remedied in the sequel?). And still other plot points worked out far too conveniently. Beyond that, Signa had a borderline ridiculous preoccupation with the men in her life and her feelings toward all of them–and maybe that’s not too surprising, given her lifelong isolation from society, but the amount of focus she places on her attraction to them detracted from both the pacing of the book’s more plot-based elements (murder mystery) and the impact of her actual emotional and romantic interactions with these men (so much time thinking, the actual events didn’t hit quite the same). And I’m just going to put it out there that I am so done with the trope of “centuries-old-immortal-male-creature-in-love-with-a-teenage-girl.”

For those who are curious, this book is on the very upper end of YA, so there are a couple steamy partsnothing very graphic, but there is a sex scene, and some other mild sexual content as well. Consent elements are good.

I wanted to like this one a lot more than I actually did. It was decent, I liked the side characters (especially Blythe, Signa’s gravely ill cousin with an indomitable will), there was a plot twist that I sort of anticipated but played out in an unexpected way, and the ending set up a very juicy springboard for the sequel, which I do think I’ll want to read when it comes out. But because of its shortcomings, when it comes to my favorite recent reads, this one is squarely in the middle of the road.

About the Author

Adalyn Grace is a New York Times bestselling author of All the Stars and Teeth, which was named “2020’s biggest YA fantasy” by Entertainment Weekly.

Prior to becoming an author, Adalyn spent four years working in live theatre, acted as the managing editor of a nonprofit newspaper, and studied storytelling as an intern on Nickelodeon Animation’s popular series The Legend of Korra. 

Local to San Diego, Adalyn spends her non-writing days by watching too much anime, and by playing video games with her dorky dog.

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads

Huge thank you to TBR & Beyond Tours and the publisher, Little Brown Books for Young Readers, for providing me with a copy of this book! All opinions are my own.

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