Review: Island of Secrets and Sacrifice

Of all the Sacrificed Hearts books I've reviewed so far, Island of Secrets and Sacrifice by Deborah Grace White was the one I was looking forward to reading the most. She is the author of my favorite mermaid series, The Vazula Chronicles, and this book had a similar premise only without the mermaids. It takes place in the same world as the Singer Tales, one of my favorite fairy tale anthologies, and has a relatable protagonist and charming love story with undertones of "Beauty and the Beast." Suffice to say, this book had a lot of thought put into its setting, plot, and characters, and it shines through its strong worldbuilding, relatable themes, and compelling yet easy to follow narrative.

Ember is a stubborn redhead who was raised in a dystopian society cut off from the rest of the world. She has a strong desire to be free from the confines of her island and learn the secrets of the outside world as well as the truth behind the maidens who are sacrificed from her home every five years to a mysterious monster. Her wish is granted when she is unexpectedly chosen as a last-minute sacrifice and rushed off the island. After narrowly escaping a murder attempt, she encounters the monster that she believes had facilitated the sacrifices. However, the more she learns about Haiden, the less everything she thinks she knows makes sense. Even though he looks like a monster and is regularly visited by maidens attempting to break his curse, the timeline doesn't line up, nor do his human-like appendages align with the beastly visage she sees, which is described similarly to an augmented reality (AR) skin.

Haiden is a difficult person for anyone to get close to due to his gruff and standoffish demeanor. I thought I would have trouble rooting for him with Ember, but he grew on me. He does everything in his power to brush her off just like he does with all the other maidens who visit him thinking they can be the "beauty" that transforms the "beast" back into a prince and live happily ever after. Ember's lack of knowledge about his curse makes her different from the others, but he still feels disinclined to help her until he learns just how desperate her situation really is after barely escaping the island with her life and having no means for survival outside of his humble little shack. None of his usual attempts to push away work on her, and he is forced to begrudgingly accept her into his life, uncovering all the lies that she was told by the leaders of her community in the process.

The magic system in this book was refined and believable since it in this book had already been developed in the Singer Tales series. It helps to have previous knowledge of the Deborah Grace White's other series, but this book works well as a standalone as Ember stands in for readers who are unfamiliar with the singer lore when Haiden teaches her how to harness her powers. Although not a direct retelling of "Beauty and the Beast," the climax of this story is very similar, which makes it a satisfying ending for most fairy tale fans, whom the Sacrificed Hearts series was written to appeal to. Ember was such a relatable character for many reasons beyond just having curly red hair (which is always a plus). She is brutally honest to a fault and curious enough to fight for the truth behind the hypocrisy of her society or die trying. I also have to give props to her for seeing Haiden's true nature beyond his gruff exterior.

In Island of Secrets and Sacrifice, Deborah Grace White weaves an enchanting tale of self-discovery, love, and the power of truth. Ember's journey from a sheltered islander to a strong, independent heroine is inspiring, and her relationship with Haiden is a beautiful exploration of looking beyond appearances and finding the beauty within. With its rich worldbuilding, relatable characters, and engaging plot, this book is a must-read for fans of fairy tale retellings and fantasy romance. White's writing is masterful, and her ability to craft a story that is both familiar and fresh is a testament to her skill as a storyteller. If you prefer audiobooks, you're in luck! This book along with the rest of the Sacrificed Hearts series are all coming to Audible beginning with Mountains of Dragons and Sacrifice. Stay tuned for my reviews of the final two books.

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