Release Day Review: A Touch of Stone and Snow by Milla Vane

A Touch of Stone and Snow (A Gathering of Dragons Book 2) by Milla Vane
High fantasy romance released by Berkley on July 21, 2020

A Touch of Stone and Snow by Milla Vane book coverMilla Vane returns to a world of kings, magic, and passion in her exhilarating A Gathering of Dragons series, as a great alliance forms to stand against an evil warlord intent on their destruction.
Danger lurks in the western realms. The Destroyer’s imminent return has sent the realms into turmoil as desperate citizens seek refuge—but there’s no safety to be found when demons and wraiths crawl out from the shadows. Even Koth, a northern island kingdom left untouched by the Destroyer a generation past, is besieged by terrors spawned from corrupt magics.
When Lizzan leads the Kothan army against these terrors, only to see her soldiers massacred and to emerge as the only survivor, she is called a coward and a deserter. Shunned from her home, Lizzan now wanders in solitude as a mercenary for hire, until she encounters a group of warriors seeking new alliances with the northern kingdoms—a group that includes Aerax, the bastard prince of Koth, and the man who sent her into exile.
Though they were childhood friends, Aerax cannot allow himself to be close to the only woman who might thwart his treacherous plan to save their island realm. But when a goddess’s demand binds them together, Lizzan and Aerax must find a way to overcome their painful pasts. Or there will be no future for the western realms…

A quick note before diving into this review: one of the main characters is an alcoholic, and Vane does not hide this.

I really enjoyed this book, and think it does a great job of following up on the action in the first book of this series. That said, you don’t need to have read the first book to be able to understand what is happening, since this is set in a different part of the world from the first book, but the relations and events explained in the previous novel and novella will be helpful here. This book is also a glorious, gritty epic fantasy romance, with fantastical creatures–even the nonmagical kind, battles, and quests. The romance in this book is a second-chance kind of a romance, with a decent splash of I-hate-you-but-still-have-feelings-dammit! Thrown in. And before I forget, there is an intelligent big cat in this book, and I always enjoy a good animal appearance. When we first meet Lizzan, she is going through a very rough patch and not dealing with it in a super healthy manner, so we get to see her work her way through that as the book progresses. Aerax is not over Lizzan at all when we meet him, and we get to see him fall more deeply in love with her. However, this is not an easy romance.

Lizzan is a mercenary who is working to drink, more or less, when we meet her. She has had to leave her home and family after a terrible event, and she thinks Aerax has left her behind emotionally because he stayed in their home kingdom. When Aerax learns she is protecting travelers on the roads, he thinks this makes perfect sense, because she has always wanted to be a soldier and protect others. Lizzan doesn’t want anything to do with Aerax and tries her best to avoid him, but in the end, she can’t. It is not exactly a quest,but a goddess is involved. And slowly, we see Lizzan reconcile with the terrible event that led to her leaving her home, and learning how to love Aerax again. She also learns things about herself, her family and her world that shift how she understands much of how the world is supposed to work. For while she was always compassionate, she was not burn-the -world-down rebellious at the beginning–she is a soldier and was raised in a loving family. She is absolutely willing to throw herself between danger and whoever she is protecting, even if that means she is going to die; this is very upsetting to Aerax.

I don’t think Aerax ever stops loving Lizzan. However, he isn’t entirely truthful with Lizzan, and this affects their relationship. He loves her and wants to be near her but firmly believes that Lizzan will not forgive him for keeping big secrets from her. Aerax is moody and has a bit of a chip on his shoulder because of the way he grew up. And while Lizzan hesitates at burning the world down, Aerax is totally willing to go there. He doesn’t lack in compassion so much as in patience and a willingness to give bad systems the benefit of the doubt. Aerax is technically on a diplomatic mission, and while it is true that he is not diplomatic in language, it is his truths that earn him the alliances he is looking for. We get to see him lose some of that brittleness throughout the book as he realizes that Lizzan can accept his flaws.

The thing to understand about this world is that none of the secrets are small, and they all affect the world at large in one way or another. Also, this world is epic in both its level of violence and love. I feel like I’ve been looking for a series like this for years, because of how balanced the fantasy and romance elements feel here.
It definitely is not suffering the middle book problem, so stop reading this review and go read the book.

Grade: A-

You can buy a copy here. (And there’s an excerpt on the book page too.)

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