Review: Phoenix Unbound by Grace Draven
Series: Fallen Empire #1
Published by Ace Books on September 25, 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Romance
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.
I really don’t read all that many books labeled Romance, but will admit, sometimes, it is just what I want. I was offered this book right as I was in one of those moods where I was craving a bit (or maybe even a lot) of romance. So, despite having a backlog of other books to review, I couldn’t resist and accepted. And of course, I dove in right away,
The story, while quite different from The Hunger Games, does have a bit of the same feel since each town is expected to deliver one of their women each year to be be part of a mass sacrifice in the arena. This is the Empire’s way of trying to gain favor from the gods. Gilene has amazing talents, however, instead of giving her any sort of benefit, she is expected to use them only as a way for her town to circumvent the required sacrifice. For her it is more of a curse than a gift, something that puts her in a horrible position and exposes her to the pain and suffering that is a result of the Empire’s ways over and over.
The other main character is Azarion, who has been enslaved by the Empire for 10 years, fighting as a gladiator in the Pits. He is fierce and determined, and the fact he has survived so long is amazing. When Gilene and Azarion first meet, it is not romantic. Azarion uses Gilene for his own gain, mainly because he can think of no other way. After being imprisoned for so long, you can’t help but understand where he is coming from, but at the same time, you feel for Gilene. When their romance first started to shine, I couldn’t help but wonder if Gilene was starting to suffer from Stockholm syndrome just because of the way he had used her. However, as the book progressed, and I got to know Azarion, I just can’t help but root for the couple.
I want to preface this paragraph with a disclosure that I did read an ARC copy. Some of my issues here may well be cleaned up by the final edit, but I am little afraid some it may be just the author’s style. I initially was slightly apprehensive, partially because I found some of the word choices slowed the flow of the book a bit. It’s not that I had a problem with any of the words, they just somehow felt slightly out of place, or the phrasing seemed some what awkward. The easiest way to explain is that this is very much a quick enjoyable popcorn read. Part of what makes a great popcorn read is that the words just flow and the pace stays strong. When you come across a larger, less common word in the middle of it, it just seems to break that spell a bit if for no other reason to wonder why the author didn’t go for a more common word choice given the overall style and pace of the book. But, either that was a problem only in the very early parts of the book, or I adjusted to the writing style, or maybe the story just overpowered any of my thoughts about nitpicking word choices, because I got over it and quit noticing individual words or sentences and just focused on the story being told.
Overall, I am very glad I gave this one a shot. It was the perfect book and tone for my mood, and was a very satisfying read. I am definitely looking forward to continuing the series.