Those waiting to learn how to topple a dystopia will have to wait longer; I am STRUGGLING trying to get the post right because I need to be hopeful. Feel free to write me with ideas or encouragement if you have them.
Anyway, Vela Roth’s first book in her Blood Grace series helped me calm down for a while, so I’m posting about it for now 🙂
The book is called Blood Mercy, and it’s about Lio, the sweetest, gentlest character who is the direct opposite of a possessively jealous alpha hero: he listens, thinks, considers, and holds his beloved Cassia in utmost respect! You won’t get any condescending secret-keeping ‘for her own protection’ or other silliness like that. He is, of course, worried how she’ll react to him, though, because he’s a Hesperine. That’s essentially a vampire who needs blood to subsist on, although because they mind-link to whatever creature they’re feeding from, killing that person or creature would be extremely unpleasant (so they never kill unless it’s absolutely necessary), besides which Hesperines are all super-nice and pure of heart. Think Hallmark-Channel-level harmlessness, and yet the country that Cassia is from paints them as cruel and bloodthirsty killers.
Cassia is an illegitimate princess (born on the wrong side of the royal blanket), and Lio is part of a delegation that has come to broker peace between Cassia’s father, King Lucis, and Lio’s nation (well, it’s more detailed than that, but that’s the gist of it). Lio and Cassia’s relationship is not a push-and-pull, but a very slow, rocking sort of lullaby as they work toward standing side by side. Their love buds gradually into soft bloom, with Lio’s awe blending with Cassia’s eventual close-eyed surrender.
The cover captures this perfectly:
Anyway. The first 70% is mostly buildup of the relationship and explanation of the world. We meet Cassia when she is wary and the guarded, illegitimate daughter of a king who rules with an iron fist. She keeps her head ducked and lies low, watching for anything that might hurt her in any way. She seeks out Lio in secret with a question that both he and the reader are burning to know why she asked.
Honestly, I kept expecting Bad Things to happen every time they met, but my comparison to the Hallmark-Channel-level calmness earlier applies here, too. Rather than bombarding the reader with Drama! (TM), Vela Roth lets the reader soak unabashedly in Lio and Cassia’s relationship for the majority of the book, so you can sink yourself into it without guilt or fear. It’s like a slow-moving, misty dream world, carrying you along on the calm current of Lio’s even-keel personality that keeps the boat from rocking. And things only start cascading down around them around 75% through.
Lio is quite unique with his magnanimity and gentleness, which is necessary when dealing with Cassia’s constant guardedness. He’s careful, cautious, and their relationship unfurls like a rose (anyone yelling at me about using a cliche, pffffffff to you 😛 But it honestly fits, because the rose is also the symbol of the goddess of the Hesperines). In any case, this book is ideal for those tired of the constant head-butting of other more stubborn-headed main characters.
I truly enjoyed the minor characters, too, like Hadrian, although he wasn’t in there terribly much. His presence at Cassia’s childhood tragedy was touching. I was intrigued by King Lucis, too, and thought he must get bored sitting around all day just sending messengers (haha, I even asked Vela, the author, about this – see below!). I wanted to know if he trained with his men, and if not, is he going to flab as warriors who aren’t training sometimes do? And what kind of relationship did he really have with Cassia’s mother? I mean, he came to visit her after she gave birth, which doesn’t seem like something a man who didn’t care would do, so I feel there was SOME feeling there? Anyway, color me intrigued! But then, I think I’m normally intrigued by characters I’m not supposed to be intrigued about in books? Aaagh!
I love the book most in the last third, when Cassia begins to look around her to find those she can help – those were my ultimate favorite parts, a lot of them as she’s trying to save her maid’s betrothed and begins to wield power with baby steps to find her tamped-down bravado. My #1 favorite part, though, was the first moment Cassia and Lio meet face to face, when Lio appears and she’s by the fountain and he belatedly notices the liegehound (trained to maul and kill Hesperines like him) and he’s like, “Oops, my bad.” I love the look of surprise he had in that scene 🙂 And my second favorite was the scene where he slips unwittingly into her mind at a banquet while he’s sitting at a table, sipping wine, and he realizes the person she’s fascinatedly looking at is him. Swwoooooon.
Also, I realize I’ve been exceptionally UN-chaotic in this post, which means you can tell what effect the book had on me: calm, soothing… 🙂 so, if you need this in your life, here’s the link to it, and you’re welcome 🙂
Aaand I recently also read and really, really enjoyed Vela Roth’s Blood Price, which is something like a Romeo and Juliet retelling, only between loving, gentle adults who attempt to end their families’ fued with a somber approach AND with a happy ending instead of a tragic one!
And now! Drumroll! I give you an author interview with an inside look into the workings of the author herself! [Bolded text is mine; non-bolded are her answers!]
Welcome, Vela! If I’m not mistaken, you said there will be a book 6!?! Do all the books follow Lio and Cassia, or do you segue into other characters, too?
I always feel a little awkward trying to explain why I’m writing ten books about the same couple, all in the range of 500 to 700 pages! But Lio and Cassia – and their world – really do have that much story to tell. Part of that is because their series sets up the supporting characters who will get their own books in future. Forthcoming series will focus on characters you meet in Blood Grace, like Rudhira, the prince of the Hesperines.
We love us some linked stories 🙂
So… what did you edit OUT of this book? [and why?]
There’s a suitor of Cassia’s, Lord Ferus, who is particularly nasty. Originally there was a subplot where she carries out a successful scheme to get rid of him once and for all. I wanted to focus on the secret activities Lio and Cassia pull off together, so I took out the downfall of Lord Ferus. But you’ll find some references to it in Book 2.
Lord Ferus – yep, what little appeared of him in this one was pretty nasty 😀 But if we get references in Blood Solace (which I’m currently reading now!), I hope we find out exactly how she got rid of him!
So what was your hardest scene to write, and why?
Hands down, the most difficult part to write was Cassia’s flashback when she confides in Lio about her past. I won’t spoil it here, but due to experiences in my own life while writing the book, her pain was very real to me. But that part of Cassia’s backstory is the emotional foundation of the book, and her revealing it to Lio is the most important turning point in their relationship, because it’s the moment when she gives him her trust. So the pain is there as an opportunity for the healing and the romance.
Their whole relationship was lovely! And on that note (well, sort of lol), what was the ‘funnest’ scene to write, and why?
The scenes with Knight, Cassia’s doggo, are always a blast to write. I especially enjoyed writing about Lio’s efforts to win him over. It’s entertaining that Lio, as powerful as he is with his fangs and magic, is still very much at a disadvantage against Cassia’s dog. And he needs Knight’s approval to have a chance with her!
I did love in their first meeting when he’s so entranced by her that he almost entirely overlooks the threat!
Do you want to share a snippet from the book?
The first sensation of her skin on his, the mere brush of a bird’s wing, swept through Lio’s entire body. She perched her fingers on the tips of his, barely touching.
“Touch strengthens the spell.” He wrapped his hand around hers.
Her hand was so small in his, but he could feel the calluses on her palm and the strength of her grip. He could smell the sap and soil under her fingernails. For a moment they stood like that, both their hearts growing loud in the silence. Perhaps loud enough even for her to hear them.
He let his magic drift out around them, into the darkness and the light. Then he pulled his power close. Her lips parted, and she took a breath. He wrapped her up in his magic, layer upon layer, but ever so gently. Her eyelids drooped, even as her heart pounded louder.
All of their more emotional scenes are wondrous 🙂
Out of curiosity, did their characters spring to life by themselves or did something inspire you to write their story?
“Sprang to life” is a great description of how I met these characters. I was lying awake in the middle of the night trying not to worry about things going on in my life at the time. (We all know nights like that!) I would say they simply walked into my imagination and started having philosophical conversations by a fountain in the woods at night. I knew immediately that Cassia had lived a life of silence; that she could be honest with Lio, and she found it both exhilarating and risky; and that although he had fangs, he was kinder than humans.
“We all know nights like that!” – yup! Nights like that need to be taken out on a leash so they can bay at the moon and territorially mark a tree or something and then hopefully go to sleep 🙂
“I would say they simply walked into my imagination and started having philosophical conversations by a fountain in the woods at night.” – I LOVE this image! Especially as it’s how Cassia and Lio bond.
“although he had fangs, he was kinder than humans.” – humans get such a bad rap! Peeps reading this, be kind so we get a better reputation in books 😛
Anyway, onward! I’m also curious why you made Cassia freckled! I have no freckles but I’ve always particularly liked them because they make me think that nature painted art directly on a person’s body 🙂
I love that interpretation of freckles! I think what I found appealing about giving Cassia freckles is that it’s another way people regard her as imperfect, similar to her illegitimate birth. And yet her freckles are something Lio particularly loves and appreciates about her – which she later comes to like about herself, too. So her freckles are a kind of physical representation of the emotional dynamic of their relationship, in which Lio cherishes her unconditionally, which is very healing for her after the ridicule she’s faced in her life.
Similar to how many people come to like their own features.. When I was young, for example, I always wanted straight hair.
I was also intrigued by King Lucis and thought he must get bored sitting around all day just sending messengers. Can you give us some details about his daily activities that aren’t in books (but of course aren’t spoilery)? 😀 Does he have a lover, what does he eat for breakfast, for example, and is there anyone at all he can be 100% honest with?
Haha this is a great point about Lucis’s inactivity! I wrote him that way to try to convey how he looms in Cassia’s life, ominous and larger than reality. Our greatest fears are too big and scary to do normal things like eat breakfast, right? At least in our minds. But of course, he does in fact have to use the privy like other humans!
A lot of what Lucis is doing in his daily life is full of secrets that will be explored in the upcoming books, when we get a real look into what makes the king tick. I can say that being his lover is not a position any woman would want to find herself in – he’s a very destructive person to the women in his life. And one reason he is so successful at keeping his power is because he is never honest with anyone.
Lucis is an abuser whose anger and need to control others makes it impossible for him to have normal, healthy relationships.
“we get a real look into what makes the king tick” – wonderful 😀
“he is never honest with anyone” – this must also make him a little crazy, because humans are not meant to be this solitary, I would say.
Are any of your characters based on someone you know in real life? Or inspired by a popular fictional character?
(I’m skipping this one because the answer to this ties into your question about my cat! 😂 See below!)
Ooh, we LOVES cats!
If you could meet your characters, what would you say to them?
Oh wow, I would probably turn into a total fangirl and say embarrasing things. I think at heart, most writers are just big nerds who are super excited about their own characters. After I got over my drooling swoon moment, though, I would want to have a long talk with Lio about magical theory and the history of the world. And I would want to be best friends with Cassia and ask her to teach me how to be so good at political strategy (and how to keep my plants alive).
Haha, my plants commisserate!
What role would you take if you were in your fantasy world?
I’d want to be a Hesperine scholar for sure! I’d become an immortal and install myself for eternity in one of their beautiful libraries, surrounded by books and really good coffee.
LIBRARIES FOREVER! Lol
Who is your favorite character / which do you relate to most and why?
My favorite character is the one I’m writing right now, because you really have to give your whole heart to whoever’s point of view you’re in at the moment. That’s one of the joys of being a writer – you get to love and live through so many different characters.
What risks have you taken with your writing that have paid off?
Not giving up on this series. I’ve gotten marketing advice before that it would be better to shelve Blood Grace and work on something else. Instead, I kept publishing the books of my heart, and now I hear from readers who tell me these are the books of their hearts, too. I’m glad I didn’t give up, because I would have missed out on the joy of sharing this story with those readers.
Thank you for not giving up on it!!
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Keep writing. No matter what happens in your life, no matter how others doubt you or you doubt yourself – what really matters is that you just keep writing. Learn to write under all circumstances. Make it your constant. Creativity will keep your soul going in tough times.
And what tropes interest you most and why?
The trope I return to again and again is fated mates or soul mates. It’s irresistible, this idea that there could be someone who is completely right for you – the person who understands you as no one else does, who is your true partner through everything life throws at you.
I want one! 😛
In your bio you write “She set out to write stories that blend the rich worlds of fantasy with the passion of romance.” – at what age did you start writing – as a child, teenager, or as an adult? Was there something specific that sparked you to write or is it just in your nature?
I started writing fantasy when I was seven. (No, that short story will never see the light of day, don’t ask! 😂) When I was around thirteen or fourteen, I started incorporating more romance into my fantasy stories. I feel like I was always a writer, it was just something I had to do. But having a family that encouraged reading and creativity from an early age definitely influenced me.
A lifetime writer 😀
Your bio also says, “Her feline familiar is a rescue cat named Milly with a missing fang and a big heart.” – How did you meet Milly? Does she ever make a cameo in your books? If not, she should 😛
I completely agree! In fact, the only character I’ve ever based on someone from real life is Milly’s fictional self, a cat character named Millicent. She’s a sorceress’s familiar in Rudhira’s series.
I met Milly when she showed up on the back patio, completely lost, pounds underweight, and desperate for affection. After trying to locate her family, it turned out she was abandoned by the people who adopted her from the Humane Society – so she was a rescue cat who ended up homeless a second time. She picked the right back door to come to, because we got completely attached to each other, and now I’m her forever person.
Cats are smart (some would say devious haha)! Do you want to share a pic of her?
Oh my gosh, is she totally snubbing that toy? Lol! So like a cat!
Alrighty, finally, I just wanted to add this question because I’m a music-lover 🙂 Is there a particular song that encompasses the book’s atmosphere for you? I imagine it might be something terribly romantic and emotional for Lio and Cassia haha
I love listening to indie composers while writing! Lio and Cassia’s love theme is “Nevermore,” a gothic piece by Adrian von Ziegler.
YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ugiw9-t70TM
That IS very emotional and romantic and suits them perfectly, I think 🙂
Thanks so much, Sonya
Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions! And for y’all out there reading, thanks for being kind and giving humans a better reputation from now on 😛 Here are Vela’s social coordinates if you want to (very NICELY) stalk her:
Website: www.velaroth.com [She has a free book available when you subscribe to her newsletter, too!]
Facebook Group: www.facebook.com/groups/hesperaschildren
Happy living for now, everyone!