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

Some of my favorite Epic Fantasy reads

I love writing … but I’m also an avid Epic Fantasy reader too. I’ve recently started reading more Fantasy Romance – as I’ve made a shift to that genre as an author – but still have a passion for the classics!

Aside from The Lord of the Rings, and The Song of Fire and Ice series – true epic fantasy classics that need no introduction – here are a few other good reads from the last couple of years, that I’d recommend.

Name of the WIndThe Kingkiller Chronicle (Patrick Rothfuss)
The Name of the Wind (Book #1)
The Wise Man’s Fear (Book #2)

Truly ‘epic’ fantasy, the Kingkiller Chronicle series is a great read for anyone who loves traditional epic fantasy. Both books are ‘door-stoppers’ – immersing the reader in a richly drawn world. It’s the story of a talented young man, with a great destiny. I must admit I preferred the first book, to the second. That said, it’s a gripping series that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys epic fantasy.

Read my reviews for these books on Goodreads to find out my thoughts on this series:
The Name of the Wind
The Wise Man’s Fear

Emperor of thornsThe Broken Empire Series (Mark Lawrence)
Prince of Thorns (Book #1)
King of Thorns (Book #2)
Emperor of Thorns (Book #3)

This epic fantasy is a compelling, ‘dark’ series that’s a little different from others in the genre. The main character is an ‘anti-hero’ – a damaged, violent and immoral young man named Jorg. I don’t usually go in for dark fantasy, but this series is so well-written and beautifully crafted that I would highly recommend this series as well.

Although I didn’t review the first two books (I did rate each of them 5 stars), you can read my review for Book #3 on Goodreads:
Emperor of Thorns

Prince of foolsThe Red Queen’s War (Mark Lawrence)
The Prince of Fools
The Liar’s Key
The Wheel of Osheim

In many ways, I enjoyed Mark Lawrence’s second series – set in the same world as the Broken Empire series – even the first. It follows a feckless, playboy prince on an incredible adventure.

Read my reviews on Goodreads
Prince of Fools
The Liar’s Key
The Wheel of Osheim

Blood songRaven’s Shadow (Anthony Ryan)
Blood Song (Book #1)
Tower Lord (Book #2)

Traditional epic fantasy adventure that’s fast-moving and beautifully written. It’s the story of a young man, abandoned by his father in a harsh order, where he must become a great warrior – or die trying. I enjoyed both novels in the series so far, although the story hasn’t taken the direction I’d expected…

Read my reviews on Goodreads, for more details about these books:
Blood Song
Tower Lord

I could go on… Being a voracious reader, I have chewed my through many more books than these! However, if you love epic fantasy, and are looking for some good books to get lost in, why not give one of the above a try?