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.
It’s always a great relief when a book lives up to your expectations. Phew!
Gilene is used to burning alive for the sake of her village every year and suffering from the physical aftereffects along with the guilt of this huge burden. Her life of duty and sacrifice is thrown into jeopardy when the gladiator Azarion blackmails her to help him escape his life of imprisonment.
This book had a lot of things to like about it. It was a proper fantasy with elements of magic, faith and lots of action. But I’ll tell you what I loved most about it straight away – the main couple.
Gilene and Azarion were both strong and well-written characters. I’ve read fantasy books with forced alliances before but none had such an evenly matched pair.
Although Azarion basically abducts Gilene, and has to blackmail her at every turn to stay by his side, I never felt any apathy towards him. His motivations are clear. He’s not unnecessarily an asshole to Gilene and even harbors an underlying respect towards her.
Gilene might be forced to help Azarion, but she never at any point becomes helpless. I’ve read books where I would shake my head in frustration at heroines being too quick to surrender and not grab easy chances to escape. That wasn’t the case here. Gilene never surrendered too easily or became too bitchy. She knew when to accept defeat and when to rebel.
The relationship between Azarion and Gilene was developed beautifully. Their gradual friendship and love for each other was beautiful to read.
The author does not pull any punches in showing us the gruesome realities faced by Azarion and Gilene. There’s a rape scene right at the beginning. But there were no overtly disturbing descriptions that would turn me off. The author lets you know that the characters are facing atrocities but does not make you privy to every horrendous detail.
I also liked the elements of the supernatural powers, and how there’s this concurrent discussion about faith throughout the book. The action scenes were written really well too.
I was afraid that this book would end with a cliffhanger or not give resolution to the story. And that would be awful considering how long this book is. Almost 400 pages? But thankfully it wrapped up the story of Azarion and Gilene. Huzzah!
Here are the problems I had with the book –
There are too many new terms used for creatures, places and people that had no description provided for them. So, it was difficult for me to keep track of all of them.
We are teased with some side-stories and historical events of the world that I’d really like to know more of. Also, there’s barely any proper timeline for the events. For example, we don’t know how old Azarion and Gilene are and even how old the empire was.
Now, I’m hoping that some of these issues will be fixed in the final version and were just there in the ARC. Also, since there will be more books in the series, I’m looking forward to get a better idea about the world.
Another problem I had with the book was that the last part felt too rushed. I was hoping for more of an insight and explanations about the aftermath, after having built the whole book up towards it.
Anyways, these are all minor issues that barely took away from my enjoyment of the books. If you are a fan of fantasy and slow burn romance, then this is the book for you.
My Rating: ★★★★☆