Book review: Phoenix Unbound by Grace Draven

51gOcfERQoL._SY346_I really wanted to give this novel five stars … as I’m a huge Grace Draven fan. Radiance and Master of Crows remain two of my favorite books!

However, although there were things I absolutely loved about this novel, it fell short of the mark in a couple of areas. That said, it’s a really good read and well worth the (long) wait for!

Firstly, here’s what I loved about it:

The start is great. Draven drops you straight into the drama. A gladiator planning his escape, and a young woman who makes a yearly journey that takes a terrible toll on her. Azarion is the gladius prime, and also the empress’s pet. But he’s the only one who sees through Gilene’s yearly illusion when she joins the other ‘Flowers of Spring’ who must burn. He blackmails her into helping him escape and then abducts her.

I loved the scenes where they take refuge in a haunted city, after just escaping the capital. The city is eerily depicted and the scene where they have to run for their lives from a horrifying creature is really well done.

I liked the shades of LOTR with the barrows—complete with a barrow wight—where our hero and heroine take shelter on the ride to his homeland. I also liked the influence of Game of Thrones in the Savatar (Azarion’s people). Their customs and gods reminded me of the Dothraki a bit.

I loved the ending—really high action and edge of your seat stuff. Gilene finally takes action … and it was worth waiting for!

Now, here’s what I thought it lacked (and I only note these things because I liked the book so much but wanted to love it!):

Gilene is a bit too passive for my liking. For most of the story she’s a captive, and it’s only at the end we see her show some true spine. For the rest of the novel she seems at the whim of others. She complains a lot at the beginning, and it was a relief when she finally changed her attitude toward the hero.

Gilene was also a bit two-dimensional. Out of the two main characters I had more sympathy and understanding for Azarion. We find out about the ordeal of his life as the empress’s plaything but I never really ‘felt’ the hardship of Gilene’s upbringing. She’s described as sour and angry at the start of the story, but she comes across (to me at least) as a little cold.

The love story lacked the sizzle and emotional intensity of Grace Draven’s earlier works. Now, this is something that she excels in so it surprised me. I enjoyed the romance but it didn’t wow me the way Radiance and Master of Crows did.

Even these gripes withstanding, I still really enjoyed the book. Grace Draven is a masterful writer who knows how to bring a richly detailed fantasy world to life. I look forward to more in this world!

Four solid stars ****

Check out the novel on Amazon.com

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