Phoenix Unbound by Grace Draven
Adult high fantasy romance released by Penguin on September 25, 2018
A woman with power over fire and illusion and the enslaved son of a chieftain battle a corrupt empire in this powerful and deeply emotional romantic fantasy from the USA Today bestselling author of Radiance.
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.
Fans of fantasy romance rejoice! Another great book (and new series) by Grace Draven is here! I was so excited for this book I begged for an ARC! This story has great world-building and a complex romance. I enjoyed the very slow burn romance with a great payoff at the end. Azarion and Gilene are multi-faceted characters who go through a lot and grow in this story. Azarion’s mother, Saruke, and sister, Tamura, are awesome secondary characters along with traders and other clan members.
This is a complicated love story. Both Azarion and Gilene are strong people burdened by responsibility. Azarion uses Gilene and her gifts of fire and illusion to escape his 10-year enslavement (content warnings for physical and sexual abuse). Then he kidnaps her to help him return to his clan and win the clan leadership. Gilene hates Azarion for kidnapping her and not allowing her to return to her village. Azarion nevers mis-treats Gilene and he promised her he’d make sure she returned to her village after she helped him challenge his cousin who sold him into slavery so Azarion couldn’t claim clan leadership. However, over their journey to Azarion’s clan and while they’re with his clan waiting for Gilene’s magical gift of fire to return, Gilene begins to trust Azarion and Azarion grows to love Gilene. Gilene and Azarion don’t speak about their feelings for each other until Azarion wins the clan leadership and Gilene is returning to her village. Azarion lets her go after trying to convince her to stay with him. Azarion’s plans to bring down the empire come to pass (with some help) and there’s a heart-wrenching moment where he sees Gilene again (and made me doubt the HEA!). They do end up together—whew!
It felt to me like it took a long time for Azarion and Gilene to get together but if they got together any faster, it wouldn’t have landed for me given Azarion’s trauma and Gilene’s hate and distrust. As an avid romance reader, I appreciate when an author can make me question whether there will be an HEA even though I know there has to be one! This book definitely made me doubt for a minute at the end whether there would be an HEA. Which made the resolution that much more sweet and meaningful.
Grace Draven is one of those authors I horde her books to save for a “rainy day”. When I’m looking for a really nuanced story to take my time with and savor (and when I’m in the mood to focus and appreciate the writing). Phoenix Unbound definitely falls into this group. I read this book over many sessions. I took my time and wanted to read every word instead of skimming or rushing through it. The language to me is straightforward and effective. It’s incredible I can picture the terrain or whatever is being described with just a few words, not sentences or paragraphs worth of description. (I appreciate extensive descriptions, metaphors, and similes as much as the next person but I also love how this story really seemed to get the same image across but with far fewer words. Grace Draven is a true artist in my mind.)
I highly recommend this book for lovers of fantasy and fantasy romance. And read Radiance by Grace Draven if you haven’t already! It’s one of my favorite romances.
You can buy a copy here.