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

Grace Draven’s new Fantasy Romance is coming

We’ll have to wait till September 2018 for it—but Penguin Random House have finally released the details about Grace Draven’s new romantic fantasy: PHOENIX UNBOUND.

It’s looks epic! Here’s the cover:

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Here’s what the novel is about …

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.

Preorder on Amazon!


As you might have guessed, I’ve already preordered my copy! I’m a huge Grace Draven fan—frankly there aren’t enough fantasy authors like her out there. Here’s why I feel her books are better than many other fantasy romance novels I’ve read.

  1. Her writing is beautiful: she has a lyrical almost fairy-tale style, and creates a magical sense of place.
  2. Her books are truly character-driven: even if an epic fantasy novel has great characters, few of them are really ‘character-driven’. By its nature, fantasy tends to be plot driven, as forces outside our characters control throw them into adventures. However, Grace Draven manages to rein in the scope and approaches fantasy through the way romance authors approach storytelling. Her novels have epic qualities but what matters most is the internal journey of the characters.
  3. Her books are emotional: she really knows how to create deeply emotional stories that hook readers in. We really care about what happens to her characters.
  4. Her books are about great love: yes, they’re steamy, but Grace Draven’s books focus on the developing romance between two characters, and a deep and enduring love. She uses classic romance tropes in her works but subverts them beautifully, giving us a unique story.

Have you found another author that writes in a similar vein to Grace Draven—please let me know if you have. I love this type of fantasy, so I’d be keen to read their books too! 🙂