A fantasy romance by Grave Draven delivers! My review of Phoenix Unbound!

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A fantasy romance by Grave Draven delivers! My review of Phoenix Unbound!Phoenix Unbound (Fallen Empire, #1) by Grace Draven
Series: Fallen Empire #1
Published by Ace Books on September 25th 2018
Genres: Fantasy

A woman with power over fire and illusion and an 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. And unknown to Gilene, he also wants to reclaim the birthright of his clan.

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

This was my first Grace Draven & I’m kicking myself for not reading her sooner because this one was really good. It’s a little bit darker than some of the fantasy romance I’ve read mainly because this book was set in a bleak, miserable world where oppression is the norm.

Gilene has the gift of fire and illusion while Azarion was a gladiator longing for his freedom. Her abilities were his way out of slavery. But it comes at a high cost especially for Gilene who is bound to be the savior of her people. It’s a burden she carries with equal courage and resentment. As a reader, I understood her feelings toward her people and the things she has to endure to keep them safe. Poor Gilene. Everyone around her sees her as nothing but a prize because of her ability including Azarion. But the more they spent together, the more Gilene gained agency and confidence in her abilities. She began to see herself the way Azarion sees her, a powerful and revered Agacin.

I enjoyed how their relationship developed. From antagonistic to allies and then lovers. Despite being set in a bleak and dark world, there were moments of levity in the book. It’s not all misery. I especially loved Azarion’s tribe. His mother and especially his sister were my favorites. I love that the author showed a different kind of society that inhabit the land. They were not all cruel and depraved.

Be warned, this book is really dark so TW for rape & torture. Despite the dark themes, there are moments of levity and hope. And Grace Draven’s writing is just beautiful. Her world-building is amazing & she made me want explore more of the world she created. I want to know more about the agacins. These powerful women who are revered and respected in their tribes. I’m also curious about how Gilene got her powers. There were so many mysteries and story threads that Draven left dangling that I wanted more of. Hopefully, we will get more books from this universe in the future.

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