Thursday, September 13, 2018

GIVEAWAY and Review for Phoenix Unbound, by Grace Draven

Title: Phoenix Unbound
Series: The Fallen Empire (1)
Author: Grace Draven
Publisher: Ace (Penguin)
Release Date: September 25,2018
Reviewing: eARC
Reason for reading: I'm on a fantasy romance binge right now, and I really enjoyed Draven's holiday novella last year, part of a limited edition collection entitled "Amid The Winter Snow."

The Short Answer

If you love a slow burn, enemies-to-lovers road romance, with mayyyybe a couple who will bring down an empire to be together, this is the fantasy romance you've been waiting for. Wanna read it for yourself? Penguin is offering a massive fantasy romance giveaway ! The only way to join is to click through. I've read every single book on this list and they are amazing! if you're not hooked on fantasy romance, you will be before you're done with that list. It's worth noting that the other five titles I would call more urban fantasy. Draven's contribution is a little different, being more in the tradition of swords-and-sorcery. Good luck! (and if you win, please come back and tell me!)

The Blurb
Every year, each village is required to send a young woman to the Empire's capital--her fate to be burned alive for the entertainment of the masses. For the last five years, one small village's tithe has been the same woman. Gilene's sacrifice protects all the other young women of her village, and her secret to staying alive lies with the magic only she possesses.

But this year is different.

Azarion, the Empire's most famous gladiator, has somehow seen through her illusion--and is set on blackmailing Gilene into using her abilities to help him escape his life of slavery. Unknown to Gilene, he also wants to reclaim the birthright of his clan.

To protect her family and village, she will abandon everything to return to the Empire--and burn once more.

The Long Answer

To be perfectly honest, I tried an earlier Draven title and wasn't into it. Radiance involved an interspecies political marriage and I just can't. However, as I mentioned above, this author combined forces with a few of my favorites last December for a holiday anthology and I loved it a lot. Combined with some buzz on this title, I was keen to get my hands on it.

And I'm so glad I did! All the sweep and grandeur of your favorite epic fantasy, and none of the misogyny, although I'll add a trigger warning for rape. (It happens, but it is not a key part of the plot and is not described graphically.)

This hero surprised me a little. Tortured and abused for ten years in an arena strongly resembling gladiatorial Rome, he escapes with a mission, with ruthlessness, and yet also with empathy and tenderness, while Gilene is locked down under a tougher shell. Arguably, she has had an easier time, surviving an annual ritual that leaves her scarred, sick, and battered. But in between, she has a family, a home, a community, and work creating dyes (is it wrong that I want to hear more about this? I'm kind of a low-key textiles nerd). The difference is, she has no future that she can imagine, other than continuing this annual hell until she is too scarred and worn out to continue. She never expects to marry, or to bear children, and her role makes her othered in the community, with few friends. She has no hope.

What pulled me in was the gradual way that Azarion showed her a possible future. With a community that would respect and honor her gift, rather than one that would literally use her up with it. But she is the only one who can survive the annual tithe... so if she leaves her village behind for love, she is condemning her neighbors and family to death. Some reviewers have found the pacing slow, with the love between Azarion and Gilene taking a good part of the book to develop. To me, that gave some credibility to the enemies-to-lovers arc, and I enjoyed the worldbuilding so much that I didn't find pacing a problem.

There are a couple of really pivotal scenes that the author did an outstanding job on. One was a battle to the death involving feats of horsemanship, swords, and an eventual beheading. The other was a scene of intense magical power, and I won't say more to avoid spoilering, but my reaction to it was WOW!! Not every author can pull off those sorts of climaxes. I was never thrown out of the story and never lost my suspension of disbelief for a second.

Gilene and Azarion's happily ever after was hard-fought and well-earned. This book appears to be the first in a new series, but I have no insights on whether future books will feature the same couple or different ones. I have some hopes: I hope to read Halani's story, and perhaps Tamura's. Halani, a woman of uncanny healing skills, travels with a merchant's caravan reminiscent of the Romany, led by an uncle of dubious morality and including her mother, who has some sort of mental or neurological delays. Tamura is the hard-riding, hard-fighting sister of Azarion, in love with the headman's wife. None of the male secondary characters jumped out at me, but I am really, really crossing my fingers for Halani. There's also a super-creepy haunted village, a wounded but surviving super-villain, and some mysterious hints about dragon blood. There's DEFINITELY a setup for future books here, and I can't wait.

Around the Web
Shelf Rated
Book Twin Reviews
Books of My Heart

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Darkest Heart, by Juliette Cross - Review

Title:  Darkest Heart
Series:  Dominion 
Author:  Juliette Cross
Publisher:  Entangled: Amara
Release Date:  August 20, 2018
Reviewing:  eARC
Reason for reading:  Big love for Juliette Cross' writing in general, and this world in particular. And also, OMG will you just LOOK at that cover??!!
The Short Answer
If angels and demons are your thing, and if you love finding the flame of romance in the midst of the gritty, apocalyptic ruins of civilization as we know it, then this is the book (series) for you.

If you know Cross, you'll be ready for her trademark immersive worldbuilding, red-hot love scenes, and tortured hero; and if you don't know her, then you should. Because see above. If it's not clear, I loved this book: I rate it 4.5 stars, Top Pick!
The Blurb
Anya—a stoic, blue-winged angelic warrior—was bitten by a demon prince in battle, and now she has precious little time to find a cure for his deadly venom. But the only archangel with the power to stop the dark poison from corrupting her body and soul is missing. She’ll have to trust her guide, the outcast high demon Dommiel, who is as handsome as he is dangerous if she has any hope.
An outcast of his own kind, high demon Dommiel stays under cover while the war between angels and demons rages on. When the only person who ever showed him kindness asks for his help, he has no choice but to try to save the angel. Venturing back into the dens he has avoided for so long, Anya makes him want and feel things he never thought possible.
But Dommiel knows there is no way an angel can ever love a demon…
The Characters
The redemption arc doesn't get much more canonical than a fallen angel turning his back on demonkind in an epic battle of good and evil, and finding love in the process. In fact, Dommiel is never revealed to be that awful; although his internal narrative tells us that he thinks he has been as corrupt and depraved as the bad guys, his actions tell us otherwise. He has a code of honor that he lives by, even though he doesn't seem to know it himself. However, being kicked out of heaven is enough to give a fallen angel a bit of a complex, I guess, and then that pesky honor gets him in trouble with the demons, to the point where he doesn't really have an easy identity.

For Anya's part, seeking out the archangel Uriel provides the engine and adventure for the story, while Dommiel engages with purported reluctance... but goes far beyond his initial obligation.

I recently met a personal goal and read (well, listened to) a whole non-fiction book about how to read for layers of meaning in literature.  The very first chapter is about the quest story, and the takeaway is that the real quest is pretty much never the stated reason for the quest... in this case, finding Uriel matters, but not in the way Anya thinks it will. (I hope that's not too spoilery!)  Anya is fierce and sweet; she saves Dommiel as surely as he does her, but I have to admit that for me, Dommiel stole the show.

The World
While Darkest Heart is a continuation of the world from The Vessel trilogy and bridged by The Deepest Well, it stands alone just fine, as long as you are OK with not having a lot of context for the supernatural war that forms the backdrop of the book. The Dominion books (Deepest Well, Darkest Heart) are set in modern times, though there is a timelessness to the setting. Most modern conveniences are destroyed, and the usual focuses of post-apocalyptic fiction like establishing a food supply line and dealing with the breakdown of infrastructure are downplayed in favor of the supernatural battle raging between the two angelic factions. Plus, many of the characters in the series, including both Anya and Dommiel, are centuries or even millennia old. No one expects these characters to speak middle English or archaic Sumerian, or whatever would be historically accurate for a biblically-originated character, but Cross does a good job of eliminating obvious contemporary slang and colloquialisms , and using a gently formal diction for these characters, which adds to the feeling that the story could be taking place any time in the last few centuries.

Favorite Quote
Never before had I thought to have someone care for me like this. To crave me on a primitive, savage level. Never before had I thought to return those raw emotions. The fact that it was Dommiel, a demon, who'd cracked through my independent resolve and showed me that my perfect black-and-white world didn't exist somehow seemed poetic. He showed me that even the darkest heart yearns for the light.
Hard not to zoom in on that, given that it's the likely inspiration for the title.

Around the Blogosphere
Here's what other reviewers are saying!
Edgy Reviews
Books of my Heart
Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Feeling Fictional
Suey Library (wow, this blogger's style really made me smile -- she is all in!)


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