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Young Adult Fiction 638
atmospheric YA fantasy mystery
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BELLADONNA is an enthralling YA fantasy with a strong element of mystery. From the time she was born, Signa has been surrounded by death. First, her mother and then subsequent guardians have died while she has lived with them. She has a particularly unique ability in that she can heal even from things that should kill her. Whenever this happens or someone near her dies, she can see Death himself.

Signa has decided that Death is her adversary, and so when she travels to stay with her cousins and uncle at Thorn Grove as she waits to inherit her fortune, she is determined to defeat Death, no simple task. At Thorn Grove, her mother's sister has recently died and haunts the grounds, while her cousin is gravely ill with something similar. Signa is determined to discover who is behind it all and save her cousin while also entering society and finding a future marriage for herself.

What I loved: The story revolves around a couple mysteries - one about Signa and her relationship with Death and the other around what happened to her aunt and is currently happening to her cousin. These really drove the plot, making it feel steadily paced as the reader tries to uncover all the secrets at Thorn Grove. The magical elements around Signa's power over life/death and her ability to see and talk to spirits added a lot of atmosphere on top of this large estate and its morose residents that added to the emotions of the story.

Signa is a compelling character, who feels that everyone in her life has been taken from her. Uniquely, she has abilities that can change this, and she is determined to do so. The balance of life/death is something she has to grapple with, and it is even more challenging when she does not seem to be able to die herself. Her life has been somewhat sheltered, but she dreams of doing all the normal young woman things, including having her season/debut and finding a marriage. Her desire for this is compounded by the lack of having a defined family during her childhood, and this becomes a driving force for her.

Other characters were intriguing, though the plot mostly centers on Signa and Death. Death is someone who brings an air of the mysterious whenever he appears, and he is someone I would be curious to learn more about in future books. Likewise, this seems like a series that will become stronger as it continues, and Signa really comes into her own as an investigator. Much of what happens in the book seems to be things she stumbles across, and I could definitely see her becoming more organized in the future as she comes into her own.

Other thought-provoking themes around grief/loss, family, wealth disparity, gender roles, political/monetary power, and the things that hold us down are also interesting to consider. As Signa's world broadens, she begins to understand the ways that her inheritance has changed the ways that people relate to her as well as the ways that women are limited by society - and the way that any power they do obtain can be misconstrued as witchcraft. Her prospects are compared to those around her as she begins to understand the way that wealth and politics influence the possibility of love and the ways that can be juxtaposed with survival.

What left me wanting more: The romance felt a little forced, and I would have appreciated a bit more build into it and more understanding of it from Signa's perspective to fully buy into it. Once it was happening, it felt very rushed, but it was still an intriguing relationship. Additionally, there are a couple big twists at the end, and one of them felt very obvious from the very beginning - I just wish there had been a bit more of a surprise there.

Final verdict: BELLADONNA is an enthralling and atmospheric YA fantasy mystery that I would recommend for fans of A CURSE OF ROSES, BEYOND THE RUBY VEIL, and LAKESEDGE.
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September 07, 2022

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