Greythorne is a sequel that’s forgotten what made the first story great

Greythorne by Crystal Smith. Image Courtesy Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books
Greythorne by Crystal Smith. Image Courtesy Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books /

Though there are entertaining elements to the story, Greythorne isn’t the Bloodleaf sequel we hoped it would be.

Crystal Smith’s Bloodleaf was one of the most original YA fantasies of 2019, the story of a lost princess with a dangerous magical gift in a world that views everything about her as monstrous. The story involved magic and history, a brave princess and a charming romance, and managed to put some fresh spins on tired tropes.

Unfortunately, the same can’t really be said for its sequel. Greythorne continues the story of Princess Aurelia but doesn’t’ live up to the promise of the first novel. Instead, this feels like a tale that has not only lost its way but forgotten the things that made the first installment of the trilogy so great.

When I first read Bloodleaf, I was sort of surprised that it wasn’t a standalone story – it had a generally satisfying ending, and it felt like the novel left its characters in a generally good place. It wasn’t clear where the story would go in another installment – and Greythorne certainly doesn’t make a second novel seem necessary.

When Greythorne begins, both Achleva and Renalt are in fairly dire straits. Aurelia’s younger brother Conrad has become king, and a refugee crisis is threatening to overwhelm his young rule. The ambitious and cruel Magistrate Arceneaux is attempting to reinstate the rule of the Tribunal, and Aurelia herself is living in hiding, swindling drunk gamblers in an out of the way tavern with the help of a squad of charming courtesans and a kind barkeep.

In some ways, it feels like the start of a different story entirely.

The thing is, Greythorne in and of itself is fairly entertaining, a twisty story that has several intriguing surprises in it. But as a sequel to Bloodleaf, it’s hard to view it as anything other than a disappointment.

The plot is disjointed and overly complicated, frequently sidelining the characters and relationships we cared about in the first novel. The haphazard changes to the rules of magic and the introduction of what is essentially time travel feel shoehorned in, and the general focus of the story has shifted considerably.

Greythorne gives us the barest glimpses into who Aurelia is anymore, or how she’s changed in the wake of everything that’s happened to her. It’s much more difficult to connect with this woman who now seems to have so little motivation outside of saving one person’s life so that she can turn around and sacrifice herself.

The story also introduces several new fairly generic characters, including a magical wood witch who will doubtless have an impact on the rest of the trilogy. But the introduction of her family history and its ties to the Renaltan royals feels like an unnecessary storyline that takes us ever further away from the core group of characters we care about. (Even if I did end up liking Rosetta a great deal – but I still couldn’t help thinking she had maybe wandered in from a different book entirely.)

Plus, the final sequence is nothing but plot exposition, as Aurelia literally just describes a dozen things she’s doing that essentially only happen because they’re set-up for the sequel that’s still coming.

Yet, the best part of the story is somehow still Aurelia, which speaks to the overall strength of our character and how much the first novel made us care about her.  She remains extremely likable and capable here, even if she’s become a more of a YA fantasy cipher heroine in this sequel than I would have liked. (I truly miss her ability to see ghosts and all this stuff about Greywalking between the worlds of life and death honestly just exhausts me.)

Smith smartly allows her princess to have plenty of rough edges — she makes selfish choices, she does things she shouldn’t, and is more than willing to hurt, or even kill, others in the name of her mission. But it’s hard to say that I, as a reader, really felt like I knew her anymore. And that’s a real shame.

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Greythorne is available now wherever you get your books.