This review can also be found at Carole's Random Life in Books.
I thought that this book was excellent. I had not read any of Grace Draven's work before picking this book up but I had heard a lot of really good things. Since the premise of this book appealed to me, I decided to give it a try which ended up being a very good decision. I made the mistake of starting this book just before I planned to go to sleep. I had planned to read just one chapter but the first chapter of this book blew me away and I didn't want to stop after just one chapter. It has been a long time since I picked up a book with such a strong opening. I had a great time reading this amazing story.
Gilene and Azarion have both been through a lot. Gilene has been sent by her village to the capital as a sacrifice to be burned alive. She has a few special powers and has survived this event for the past five years but not without a terrible cost. Azarion is the best gladiator in the capital. He was sold into slavery ten years prior and it is really a miracle that he has been able to survive not only the fighting but the empress's whims.
I liked both of these characters. Gilene accepted her role and did her best to continue to protect her village. Azarion has not given up hope of returning to his homeland and he sees that Gilene may be the key to making it happen. I completely understood his desperation and his willingness to force Gilene to aide him with his plan.
This was a really exciting story that explored several unique and interesting settings. The horror of the Empire was incredibly vivid and emotional. It pained me to think of the needless sacrifice so many women were forced to make for the amusement of others. The book takes the reader on a journey of the lands surrounding the capital where each was a little different but still touched by the empire's power. Azarion's homeland was such a nice contrast to the capital and I really enjoyed learning about his village.
There were plenty of action scenes to keep the pages turning. Azarion and Gilene find themselves in trouble at various points of the story and there were times that I found myself holding my breath because I was worried about how things would turn out. It was fun to watch them learn to start trusting and counting on each other. I thought that the romance that built between them felt very authentic. I really enjoyed the extra abilities of both Azarion and Gilene and thought it added an interesting element to the story.
I would recommend this book to others. I thought that this book blended fantasy and romance in a spectacular manner that had me wanting things to work out for the characters more than anything. I can't wait to read more books in this series!
I received a digital review copy of this book from Berkley Publishing Group - Ace via Net Galley and First to Read.
I thought that this was really good. Gilene and Azarion were both great characters and I loved that we got to see then in a number of really interesting and varied settings. There was plenty of action and suspenseful moments in addition to a few that melted my heart. This one is definitely worth picking up.