Disclosure: Affiliate links are used in this post.
I was looking for a fantasy romance, and came across From and Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout, and while I was intrigued by the premise, I was not a fan of her novel.
For one, I hate vampires and werewolves (it’s just too overdone), and they are definitely in this book, just different names (Wolven, Atlantian, etc).
Second, the romance in this book is pretty disappointing. You have the classic virgin (Poppy the Maiden) with the hunky young guy (Hawke the guard) who has no flaws. All the ladies want him and he has a history of sleeping with women, and yet he decides he wants Poppy. This normally does not bother me all that much as it’s a classic trope in romance, but it’s pointed out so much in this book it’s rather irritating.
However, despite those flaws, Armentrout does a great job including consent (or does she?) in her novel.
Let’s take a look at a few scenes in From Ash and Blood:
(WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS)
His head slanted, and I felt the warmth of his breath on my lips. A tight tremor of anticipation coiled its way down my spine at the same moment my stomach dipped with uncertainty. There was no time for the two warring emotions to battle. He pivoted and strode forward with the same kind of feline grace I’d seen from him before. In a matter of a few stuttering heartbeats, he was guiding us down, his grip strong but careful, as if he were aware of his strength. He came down over me, his hand still behind my head, his weight a shock as he pressed me into the bed, and then his mouth was on mine.
Hawke kissed me.
There was nothing sweet or soft, like I’d imagined a kiss to be. It was hard and overwhelming, claiming, and when I sucked in a sharp breath, he took advantage, deepening the kiss. His tongue touched mine, startling me. Panic flared in the pit of my stomach, but so did something else, something far more powerful, a pleasure I hadn’t experienced before. He tasted of the golden liquor I’d once snuck, and I felt that stroke of his tongue in every part of me. It was in the shivers that erupted all over my skin, in the inexplicable heaviness in my chest, in that curling, tightening sensation below my navel and even lower still where there was a sudden, throbbing pulse between my legs. I shuddered, my fingers digging into his flesh, and I suddenly wished I hadn’t worn gloves because I wanted to feel his skin, and I doubted I’d be in any shape to concentrate on what he was feeling. His head tilted, and I felt the brush of his oddly sharp—
This is the first time Poppy and Hawke meet. In this scene Hawke thinks she is someone else, Britta, as Poppy has disguised herself in order to sneak out, which makes this scene a little tricky in terms of consent because he thinks she’s someone he has been with before, so to him this is consensual as they know each other. And since this is written from Poppy’s view we can see she is enjoying herself as well, and she does not stop him.
BUT because Poppy is not Britta and she is pretty much misleading him, it’s not exactly consenting, even though they both appear to enjoy it. The lie ruins the consent.
Now let’s skip ahead to where Hawke still does not know who Poppy is, but he now knows she’s not Britta, but still pursues her.
Those eyes of his seemed even brighter than before as his finger traced the outline of my mask, all the way to where the satin ribbon disappeared under the fall of my hair. “May I remove this?”
Unable to speak, I shook my head no.
Hawke halted for a moment, and then the half-smile appeared—no dimple this time, though. He trailed his finger away from the mask, then ran it along the line of my jaw and down my throat, to where the cloak was fastened. “How about this?”
His fingers were deft, and he brushed the cloak aside and then trailed just one fingertip along the neckline, following the rapid rise and fall of the swell of my breast. A riot of sensations followed his finger, so many I couldn’t make sense of them all.
Okay, so we have some good consent here. He asks if he can remove her mask, she indicates no by shaking her head. He accepts her no and moves onto her cloak, and she indicates yes with a nod. They still do not know each other, but I do not feel that is necessary for sex. Think of it as a one night stand. They will probably never see each other again, so as long as both are okay with this, then it is consenting.
“I’m waiting,” he said, swiping his thumb once more and scattering my already disjointed thoughts. “Tell me what you enjoy, so I can make you love it.”
“I…” I bit down on my lip. “I don’t know.”
Hawke’s gaze flew to mine, and such a long moment passed that I began to wonder if I’d said the wrong thing. “I’ll tell you what I want.” His thumb moved in slow, tight circles across a most sensitive part. “I want you to remove your mask.”
“I…” A sharp, pulsing thrill rippled through my body, quickly followed by my heady wonder. What I felt… I’d never felt anything like it before. Sharp and sweet, a different type of anguish. “Why?”
“Because I want to see you.”
“You can see me now.”
“No, Princess,” he said, lowering his head until his lips brushed the neckline of my gown. “I want to really see you when I do this without your gown between you and my mouth.”
I like that Hawke asks her what she likes. This is important, especially in a new sexual relationship as you do not know the other person’s likes and dislikes when it comes to pleasure.
Poppy is a virgin, but this exchange implies she has never even touched herself. It is never clarified in the novel if Poppy has masturbated, but she is pretty much sheltered and forbidden from everything, including sex. Even with being sheltered, she is still 18/19 years of age and it seems unrealistic for her to not have touched herself even once, so I feel she should be able to give him something more than “I don’t know,” but I digress.
I’m not too upset with the consent when it comes to the sexual acts so far, but I am not exactly thrilled with the relationship because one, they just met and it was based on a lie, two, Hawke’s still willing even though he has no idea who Poppy is, and three, he’s clearly more experienced than she is, so there’s a bit of a power imbalance, but that may be able to be overlooked as he seems to be respectful of her.
Let’s skip ahead to their next steamy encounter:
“Hawke?” I whispered, my heart crashing like thunder. “Kiss me. Please.”
Hawke had gone so still against me that I wasn’t sure if he even took a breath. My request had shocked him—shocked me.
I think I might’ve stopped breathing.
“Gods,” he breathed, and one hand returned to my cheek. “You don’t have to ask me twice, Princess, and you never have to beg.”
Before I had a chance to respond, his lips brushed over mine. I gasped at the soft contact, and I swore I could feel his lips curve against mine in a smile. I wished I could see it because it seemed like a full grin, the kind that lifted both sides of his mouth and made both dimples appear, but then he moved his mouth along mine, painstakingly slow as if he were mapping out the curve of my lips with his. I held completely still, my heart feeling like a trapped butterfly as he retraced the path he’d just made. Tiny shivers hit every part of my body. I trembled as my hands curled into the front of his tunic, no doubt wrinkling the fine material.
This touch was barely a kiss, but gods, the gentleness, the sweetness of it shook me, rattled me to the core.
Then Hawke tilted his head, increasing the pressure, deepening the kiss. Suddenly, everything changed. This kiss—its rawness—left me breathless. Resulted in both of us gasping when we parted, our chests rising and falling quickly. I couldn’t see his eyes in the dark, but I could feel his penetrating stare.
I wasn’t thinking about what I was in those seconds. I wasn’t thinking about what was forbidden and what was right. I wasn’t thinking at all, truth be told, and I didn’t know who moved first. Hawke? Me? Both of us at the very same moment? Our lips touched again, and this time, there was no hesitation. There was just want, so much of it, and a hundred other powerful, forbidden things that pounded through me. His lips scorched mine, heated my blood, and set fire to my senses. His hands moved to my shoulders, sliding down my arms. Hawke shuddered, and a sound emerged from the back of his throat, sort of like a half-growl, half-moan. It sent little shivers of pleasure and panic darting through me as he parted my lips. The hunger behind our kiss should’ve scared me—and maybe it did a little because it felt like too much and not nearly enough all at the same time. I moaned as his hands drifted down my sides. It felt like my body was sparking, igniting—
He gripped my waist, lifting me and settling me again so my knees fell to either side of his hips with me pressed against him. His breeches and my gown served as no real barrier. I could feel him, and I shuddered as a sharp, pulsing ache throbbed through me. His answering moan, another deep, rough sound, shattered whatever hesitancy I had. I placed my hands on his chest, marveling at the way his body jerked as I slid them up over his shoulders and then around his neck. I did then what I wished I’d done at the Red Pearl. I sank my fingers into his hair, and the strands were as soft as I’d thought they would be. No other part of him felt that way. He was all hard heat against me.
Hawke’s arms moved around me, pulling me so tightly against him that there was barely any space between us. He kissed me again, kept kissing me, and I knew this was more than a kiss. It went beyond that, beyond how he felt and how he made me feel.
His words had touched the deepest part of me, and it was thrilling. I felt alive, like I was finally waking up.
And I never wanted it to stop.
Not with the rush of sensations flowing through me. I knew in the back of my mind that I’d lost control of my gift. My shields were wide open, and there was no way to tell if what I felt belonged to him or me or both of us.
Instinct took over, guiding my body—my hips to push and roll—and he shuddered again, catching my bottom lip between his. He grabbed fistfuls of the skirt of my gown, lifting until his hands touched my calves. A tremor went through me like lightning.
“Remember,” he said against my lips as his palms glided up to the curve of my knees. “Anything you don’t like, say the word, and I’ll stop.”
I nodded, seeking his mouth in the darkness. When I found him, I wondered how I’d made it this long without kissing him again.
I wondered how I could go on without doing it more.
That thought threatened to dampen the heat, but his hands were moving again, skimming over my skin and sending a rush of heated blood to every part of my body. I shifted forward until our hips were melded together. I moved. We moved. And I thought I whispered his name before I kissed him again, slipping my tongue between his lips, against his teeth—
Hawke jerked his head back, panting as he rested his forehead against mine. “Poppy,” he said in a way that made my name sound like both a prayer and a curse.
“Yes?” My fingers opened and closed around the silky softness of his hair.
“That was the fifth time I’ve said your name, in case you’re still keeping track.”
I grinned. “I am.”
“Good.” He slipped his hands out from under my gown, and one of them found its way to my cheek. He traced the edge of my mask, surprising me yet again with his sight. “I don’t think I was being honest a few moments ago.”
“About what?” I loosened my grip on his hair, lowering my hands to his shoulders.
“About stopping,” he admitted quietly, drawing his fingers down my cheek and over my jaw. “I would stop, but I don’t think you would stop me.”
“I’m not exactly understanding what you’re saying.” I let my eyes close. Despite being confused by his words and the fact that we weren’t kissing, I liked the intimacy of how close we were, how his head rested against mine.
He drew the tips of his fingers down the side of my neck. “Do you want me to be blunt?”
“I always want you to be honest.”
My senses were still open. I knew that because I felt a foreign sensation coming through the connection, but it was too brief for me to figure out what it was.
And then he kissed my temple, and I thought about the odd, ashy feeling that had coated my throat. “I was seconds from taking you to the ground and becoming a very, very bad guard.”
Air caught in my throat as a pulse of warm heat went straight through me. I didn’t know a lot, but I knew enough to know what he meant. “Really?”
“Really,” he answered seriously.
I should’ve felt relief that he’d stopped, and I did. But I also didn’t. What I felt was a confusing mess. But I knew one thing for sure.
“I don’t think I would’ve stopped you,” I whispered. I would’ve let him take me to the ground, and I would’ve welcomed what he did, consequences be damned.
In this intense kissing scene, Hawke does a great job communicating with Poppy and letting her know she could tell him no. He even controls himself from going too far, but from the sounds of it, Poppy would not have minded.
In a heartbeat, I was on the bed, and he was above me, the rough hair of his legs abrasive against mine in the most surprising, pleasant way. But the feel of him against my hip caused a nervous swallow, and also brought a reminder of a very real consequence that could come from this.
“Protected?” His thoughts obviously following the same path as mine. “I take the monthly aid.”
He was talking about the herb that rendered both males and females temporarily infertile. It could be drunk or chewed, and I heard that it tasted like sour milk.
Kudos to Armentrout for remembering contraception!
“Because I want you to touch me,” he said. “I want you to see what you do to me when you touch me.”
A shiver danced over my skin. “How…how do you want me to touch you?”
“Any way you want, Princess. You can’t do it wrong,” he whispered hoarsely.
Uncurling my fingers from the sheet, I lifted a hand, touching his cheek. His gaze remained latched to mine as I drew my fingers along the curve of his jaw, over his soft lips, and then down his throat. I was still feeling too much for my gift to be remotely functional as I glided the tips of my fingers over his chest. His breaths pushed it against my hand, and I kept exploring, soaking in the feel of the taut, coiled muscles of his lower stomach, and the dusting of hair below his navel and then lower. My fingers brushed silky hardness, and his entire body jerked. I hesitated.
“Please. Don’t stop,” he rasped, jaw clenched as his fingers stilled on my breast. “Dear gods, do not stop.”
I focused on his face as I touched him. There were so many tiny reactions throughout his entire body. His jaw popped, and his lips parted slightly. The lines of his face became sharper, and the tendons in his neck stretched as I curled my hand around him. He kicked his head back, and his large, powerful body trembled. I noted how rapidly his breathing had become as I slid my hand down to where our bodies were almost joined. He gave a full-body shudder then, and I was awed by how much my touch affected him. I tightened my grip, becoming more confident.
“Gods,” he growled.
“Is this okay?”
“Anything you do is more than okay.” His voice had deepened even more. “But especially that. Totally that.”
I am absolutely stunned. The book itself may not be good in other areas, but Armentrout does an amazing job writing communication and consent during sexual encounters. Both participants are comfortable enough to ask the other one what they want, and when unsure, are not afraid to ask.
WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD
This whole scene (and everything that happened beforehand) gets soured later when Poppy finds out Hawke is not who she thinks he is.
Hawke basically withholds who he truly he is from Poppy (lies) and when she finds out she is devastated. Poppy is betrayed and because of that consent becomes questionable. It’s questionable because if she had known who he truly was, she most likely would not have consented.
For example: If a man tells a woman he loves her, and she agrees to have sex with him because she loves him and thinks he loves her, but then later he tells her he doesn’t love her and that he was just saying he did to have sex with her, then was sex truly agreed upon?
Technically, in my example, the woman consented to sex, but she agreed because she loved him and she thought he loved her. She most likely would not have had sex with him had he told her he did not love her, so the question is, does that negate the consent?
It’s clear the relationship in From Blood and Ash is unethical and unhealthy because Hawke was “lying”* the whole time, but as for consent, it falls into a gray area. At the moment sexual activity was happening between Hawke and Poppy, it appeared to be agreed upon, but when Poppy finds out his relationship with her was all part of some plot to make her his hostage, she feels disgusted. It makes all those sexual moments questionable. Did she truly consent?
I’m curious to hear what my readers think. Do you think if a person lies about who they are to get sex, it negates the consent? What if the partner doesn’t find out? Is it still consent if the person lies, but then never sees their partner again? Is the consent only negated if the person finds out the other was lying?
For now let’s skip ahead to their next sexual encounter, where Poppy knows the truth about Hawke, and they have somewhat made up:
“I don’t need you to say my name,” he said, his eyes half closed. “I just need you to do that again, but if you don’t start moving, you might actually kill me.
A startled giggle burst from me. “I…I don’t know what to do.”
Something about his features softened even though stark need shone through the thin slits of his eyes. “Just move.” His hands went to my hips. He lifted me up a few inches and brought me back down. A deep sound radiated from him. “Like that. You can’t do anything wrong. How have you not learned that yet?”
I wasn’t sure what he meant by that, but I mirrored his movement, moving up and down as snow fell across his shirt. My palm slipped, angling me forward. A spot deep in me was touched, sending out bolts of intense pleasure in waves. “Like that?” I breathed.
His hands tightened on my hips. “Just like that.”
I love the dialogue that happens here, this is great communication, especially for someone’s first time or when trying a new position and they may not know what they are supposed to do or what the other person would like them to do.
What about consent? Poppy and Hawke know who each other are now and both are willing participants, so consent is definitely present. But the question remains, what about their previous encounters? Was there consent?
* I put “lying” in quotes because it can be debated as to whether or not Hawke lied about who he is because he technically used a name he is called by and he never really lied to her face, he just wasn’t telling her everything about himself (withholding information) and well it’s debatable if “not telling” is the same as “lying.” So I’ll let the reader decide.