Thursday, December 6, 2018

Phoenix Unbound (Fallen Empire, #1) by Grace Draven

Synopsis (via Goodreads): 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.

"When the struggle only pleased the torturer and made the torture worse, you stopped fighting and learned to endure. To endure was to survive."
I received an ARC from NetGalley and First to Read in exchange for an honest review. My thoughts and opinions are my own. Any quotes I use are from an unpublished copy and may not reflect the finished product. 

Phoenix Unbound was a lot darker than I was expecting, full of brutality, sacrifices, and death. Grace Draven spared no one, and Gilene and Azarion both suffered the Empire's cruelty. Gilene as a Flower of Spring, meant to burn at the stake for the Empire's enjoyment (disguised as a sacrifice to the gods), and Azarion as a gladiator and plaything for Herself. They were both repeatedly raped and used for the amusement of others. "As one of those unfortunate blooms, Gilene would whore for her village tonight and burn for it tomorrow."

Despite Azarion's circumstances, I disliked him at the beginning. He was in a horrible situation and used Gilene to get out of it. I can understand his desire for freedom and vengeance, but hated how he forced Gilene to help him achieve them. She went from being used by the empire, to being used by Azarion. She risked her life (and the lives of others) to save him, and he repaid her with betrayal and more captivity. However, he did grow on me over time. He had very good reasons for doing what he did, but I wish he had gone about them differently. Although, I'm not sure it would have worked any other way. I felt really conflicted about this! He did treat Gilene with respect and always made sure she was safe (for his sake as well as hers), but he also threatened her so she wouldn't reveal their secrets as they traveled. He promised her his protection and a way home afterwards, but it was obvious he would do whatever was necessary to achieve his goals, even kill innocent people.

Azarion and Gilene never had many options, but I think they both made the best of their circumstances. She eventually came to understand him, and the two even became friends. They were able to be in each other's company without worrying what the other would do, and it was nice to see them working together instead of against each other. They made a great team when they wanted to! I enjoyed their conversations and their banter.

I think leaving with Azarion really helped Gilene in the end. She learned a lot about herself and her abilities, and it made her see things a little more clearly. She found love and acceptance, friendship and family, and was happy for probably the first time in her life. I wish she had made a different decision towards the end, but know her choice was necessary for the continuation of the story.

I thought this book had a wonderful hate-to-love romance, and one that was very authentic. At first Gilene never stopped trying to escape, and their shared fight for survival was believable and realistic. They needed each other to survive, but they were also wary of the other's intentions. It took a significant amount of time before they started to actually trust one another, and their goals were similarly aligned. I really enjoyed watching their relationship change over time, and I'm really happy with where things ended.

Phoenix Unbound was hard to read at times, but I think Draven showed a side of humanity that we don't see very often. There are people that enjoy the pain of others, and it's scary to think about what the world would look like if they were in charge. I hate that it took me so long to get through this one, because I really enjoyed it. I think the author created a beautifully dark world that shows what it's like for people to find hope and fight for it with everything they have.

I'm really looking forward to the next book in this series!

 

21 comments:

  1. I have this one in my review pile. I have heard great things about it, but now I am a tiny bit worried. I am not a huge fan of overly dark and violent books. I hope I get through it.

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    1. There is a lot of violence and cruelty, but I don't think it was overly dark. I think the author wanted to portray a world that wasn't easy to live in, and give the people something to fight for. I hope you enjoy this one as much as I did!

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  2. Well that sounds interesting. While it does sound like a hard world I kinda like those kinds of stories.

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    1. They live in an extremely difficult world. The Empire controls almost everything, even trade caravans, so people have limited options. Every town/village is forced to sacrifice a woman every spring to be burned at the stake. Mothers, daughters, sisters, wives -- it was terrible. Others are sold into slavery and forced to be gladiators. They fight men as well as starving animals, and some are tortured in even more brutal ways.

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  3. I really had a good time with thi sone and I'm curious for more

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    1. I want to know more about the undead city and whatever it was that attacked them while they were there! I hope those ghosts are freed in a future book, because it sounds like they're suffering even in death. Also, why couldn't that creature leave the city? Was it like that one that couldn't leave the tomb?

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  4. This sounds awesome!! I'm definitely going to have to check it out!

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    1. The author grabs your attention at the beginning and doesn't let go! I had a feeling Azarion would eventually be the love interest, but I had really mixed feelings about him for awhile. I like that Gilene didn't automatically swoon over him, and that the two of them didn't immediately form a connection. It took time, trust, and friendship before any other feelings developed. I hope you like it!

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  5. This sounds way darker and more disturbing than I thought. I'm sort of glad I passed on it. I know I'd have a hard time liking or trusting Arazion's actions. Even though he was abused, too, he sounds kind of awful. Wonderful review, Lindsi! Hope the rest of the series isn't so brutal and that you enjoy it.

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    1. It was hard to hate Azarion, because I understood his actions. I would do whatever was necessary to return home to my family, and that's exactly what he did. He needed Gilene to escape, and he needed her powers to regain something that was stolen from him. They were both abused by the Empire, and they were both just trying to survive. I think the author showed us what a desperate world would look like, and how desperation effects the actions of people.

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    2. Also, as a reader we can trust his actions, because we're occasionally inside of his head. We know he wouldn't hurt Gilene, and we also know that he's trustworthy. Gilene learns a little about what happened to him during his 10 years of enslavement, but we experience some of it with him. Fighting in the arena wasn't nearly as bad as surviving in the bedroom with Herself. Davila -- I think that's her name. She was sadistic and cruel. No one should suffer what Azarion or Gilene had to go through. It's hard to fault their actions when they've lived the lives they have.

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  6. Oooh this is the first I've heard of this, but it does sound really good! I'm not sure how I feel about all the darkness, but I definitely think I could handle it if the story makes it worth it. Great review!

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    1. The story is definitely worth the darkness! The world-building is fantastic, and I think the author does a good job of showing the darker side of humanity. The characters were wonderfully fleshed out, and I really enjoyed watching them develop over the course of the book. They went from hate and distrust, to friendship and understanding, and then eventually love. It was believable and authentic, which is always good. You should definitely check it out!

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  7. This sounds like something that I would be interested in! Great review, Lindsi!

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    1. If you have a chance to read it, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! The world-building and characters are amazing! :)

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  8. I loved this, even though it was tough to read at times. I can't wait for book 2!

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    1. Same! I hope they explore the ghost city some more. I want to know what that monster was, and why the dead were unable to pass on. Do you think the second book will be from Gilene and Azarion's perspectives, or will we be introduced to someone else?

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  9. This one is firmly implanted on my TBR list! I really liked your review, Lindsi! It reflected a lot of what I've heard so far - and made other bits clearer - and I'm glad I'm prepared before starting it.

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    1. It's a really great book! I'm glad I was able to clear some things up for you. There are some dark aspects to the story, but I don't think they overwhelm everything else. There were some really great moments between Azarion, Gilene, and his family. There were also some heartbreaking moments between Gilene and hers. I wanted to smack some people! I hope you enjoy this one! :)

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  10. I bought this book a while ago since I liked another book I read by Draven. I hope it's not darker than I like to read though. I sometimes have to stop reading a book when it's too dark...so we'll see when I finally get around to reading it!

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    1. Did you enjoy the other book you read? This was my first one by the author! I thought her world-building was fantastic! I think she showed a darker side of humanity that we don't often see in YA books. Azarion and Gilene were both raped and abused (repeatedly), though the author doesn't describe those with excessive detail. We know it happened, and we know how it ultimately impacted and shaped the characters. Their pasts show us why they were able to overcome obstacles and achieve the things they did. I think the dark background of the story makes a revolution more believable. The people need a reason to stand up and fight back, though I think they waited too long in this case. When the Empire started sacrificing women every spring, I think the people should have done something then.

      Let me know what you think when you're able to read it!

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“Stuff and nonsense. Nonsense and stuff and much of a muchness and nonsense all over again. We are all mad here, don't you know?”
― Marissa Meyer, Heartless