Friday, October 5, 2018

Book Review: Phoenix Unbound

Title: Phoenix Unbound (The Fallen Empire #1)
Author: Grace Draven
Genre: Adult | Fantasy | Romance | Magic
Publisher: Ace Books
Publication Date: September 25, 2018
Source: Publisher
Format: Audiobook


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 (goodreads).




I need more of this in my life. 
Plot: Wow. Where do I even begin? A few months ago, I was complaining on twitter about how we needed more NA adult fantasy (a la ACOTAR series) and Phoenix Unbound answered my prayers. Although Phoenix Unbound is listed as a series, I believe the next books will be companion novels so you'll feel satisfied as you turn the last page. 

In a memorable world, Draven introduced a historic conflict and wrapped everything up without me ever feeling that things moved either too quickly or too slowly. It was easy to gather the terror that the Empire spread across the lands and the magic was interwoven flawlessly. By the end of the novel, I felt a sense of completeness with just enough questions left unanswered to have me anxiously anticipating the next book. 

Characters: Phoenix Unbound is a true hate-to-love romance that made my heart soar. Gilene was a fire witch whose responsibility in life was to be assaulted annually by lust-driven gladiators and then sacrificed at the pyre with other sacrifices. As a fire witch who could perform illusions, Gilene was able to escape the fires, return to her village, then change her appearance to do it all again. Gilene's ability saved the other girls in her village from her terrible fate, but also left her physically and emotionally scarred. Azarian was enslaved by the Empire to become a gladiator and expected to serve (in more ways than one) which led him to become jaded and manipulative. 

Azarian and Gilene met under less than fortunate circumstances with immediate distrust of each other and a very precarious truce. While the romance is a selling point, it's Gilene and Azarian's personal growth that stole the show. Both characters had much to learn about the world and needed each other to grow. The romance was everything I wanted but I still wasn't prepared for the emotional impact of their love and challenges. If you're someone who needs kissing in their fantasy books then Phoenix Unbound delivers. 

Worldbuilding: It's a talent to develop a world and conflict in one book and Draven did that with ease. The world of Phoenix Unbound highlighted different regions that were abused by the might Empire and a religious system that gave the story more depth. I loved everything about this world and I can't wait to learn more about the Empire. 

Narrator Performance: Katharine McEwan did a wonderful job as the narrator. While listening, I had to look up her list of audiobooks because I had to see what other titles she narrated (there are a lot, and for good reason). I didn't find McEwan's narration distracting and enjoyed how she captured everyone's voice. Normally I prefer to read fantasy novels, but this is the rare exception when the audio is a must. 

Short N Sweet: Phoenix Unbound is the start to my new favorite series. 


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