This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Genres: Fantasy Romance
Published by Ace
Released on September 25, 2018
A lavishly painted fantasy world, a gritty plot, and compelling characters are only the the beginning of why this book pulled me in at page one, had my heart and guts clenching, and played on all my emotions. I’ve been meaning to pick up one of this author’s books so a new series release was the perfect opportunity.
Phoenix Unbound introduces a world that centers around an old vast empire. It resembles the decadence and decay of the waning years of the Roman Empire enslaving and suppressing all before it. Lavish pageantry beside brutal entertainments in the coliseum-style pit. In the center is a gladiator slave who sees his opportunity to get free, return to his home, and get his revenge against the one who betrayed him. To gain his freedom, he threatens a fire witch from a small village to help him gaining her reluctant assistance. Gilene has used her magical abilities to be able to present herself each year as the village’s tribute for the human sacrifice to the gods. She is bitter and has no hope, but faces her fate with courage. This hostile, wary pair have an adventure that rocks an empire.
The world is a dark place for anyone not in the elite aristocratic class and I ached with hurt for those caught up as slaves or the poor class in the system. Rape, pillage, human sacrifice, brutality was all the norm (no, rape is not detailed out, but this is not a light and easy story). Even though, Azarion’s early actions might seem brutish, the author wrote it all in such a way that I was cheering for both him and Gilene even while they were opposed to each other. Both their situations were desperate.
The road trip style adventure of the first half lent to a nice slow build to the character and relationship development. There were some intense action moments and I loved how the magical element played a role. The second half of the book took on a whole different style adventure when a new people group were introduced that had a Mongolian nomadic culture that was a brilliant contrast to the Empire.
There was a great build to the final big climax and an emotional and slowly ebbing denouement that was perfect. I sobbed twice in the last quarter of this book and sat clutching it with a teary-eyed smile in the end.
In summary, I was left sated, but also hungry for me. I want more of this series and will be hitting Draven’s backlist hard. Those who love gritty adventurous fantasy romance should definitely snag this one.
I rec’d this book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.
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