It’s a lovely romance set in a fascinating world, and I’m so glad I picked it up ... Since I’m not normally a fan of romances that center around abduction, I fully expected to have trouble with Azarion’s treatment of Gilene, but Ms. Draven does a fabulous job making him into a fully relatable hero. I definitely did not agree with his actions, but I was able to understand why he went to such extreme lengths to get what he wanted, and I ended up liking him quite a bit ... The world Gilene and Azarion inhabit is very rich and complex, but Ms. Draven was able to make me feel completely at home there, and to explain how the world works without resorting to massive info-dumps ... Phoenix Unbound is the first book I’ve read by Grace Draven, but it certainly won’t be my last.
There is a lot to be explored with the idea of ritual sacrifice of young women for the pleasure of the masses. But instead Draven plunges headlong into your typical romantic fantasy, with a compelling enemy-to-lover arc. This is comforting escapism at its best.
The detail when creating new worlds and cultures is what draws me to her [Draven's] stories time and time again, and Phoenix Unbound is no different. Each place Azarion and Gilene travel to is distinct and I wanted to know more and more about the world in which they live. But there’s definitely an unevenness to Azarion and Gilene’s journey ... I started skimming at times. I was also somewhat disappointed at how quickly and easily Azarion was able to take down the Empire ... This is the first in a series, but I don’t know if I’ll continue. The romance thread is pretty resolved by the end; Azarion and Gilene are happy and have professed their love. There are some political and magical plots unresolved, but I suppose I don’t care enough about them to where I felt any cliffhanger anxiety. As a fantasy romance, the book is more of the former and takes quite some time to get to the latter. And despite the great detail and care taken in creating this world and its characters, reading Phoenix Unbound was an exercise in patience.
Daring adventures, solid worldbuilding, and a sizzling romance make this first book in the Fallen Empire series a winner. Fans of fantasy and romance will be eagerly anticipating the next title in Azarion and Gilene's story. Highly recommended.
The pacing and a certain consistency of character allow the abduction to unfold without being ultimately coercive. The tyrannical Empire is not groundbreaking, but the story is well told and the characters engaging, and the ways in which they impact their world suitably epic.
Draven...creates an irresistible new world full of action and cataclysmic upheaval in this fantasy romance ... Draven adeptly shifts perspectives at just the right moments to masterfully build emotionally complex characters. Readers will be pulled in by the inner turmoil that besets this formidable pair of survivors, who are frequently at odds with each other, and themselves ... Draven’s outdone herself with this magnetic heroine and a magical world readers will be eager to return to.