Audiobook review: A Heart of Blood and Ashes
Author: Milla Vane
Narrator: Nicole Poole
Audio Speed: 1.25x
Series: Gathering of Dragons #1
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Sources: Tantor Audio (audiobook); Berkley (print)
A Heart of Blood and Ashes is a sweeping fantasy filled with passion, adventure, and romance. The story centers on the alliance and unlikely romance between Yvenne, rightful heir to the Syssian throne, and Maddek, High Commander of the Army of the Great Alliance and son of the slain King and Queen of Parsathe. When Maddek learns of the Syssian treachery that killed his parents and is forbidden to touch King Zhalen or his sons, he goes after Zhalen’s recently discovered daughter, Yvenne. But instead of killing her, Maddek is marginally convinced of her worth as a bride and future mother to his children. Their pairing is uneasy, and their journey is filled with heart-wrenching ups and downs, but ultimately is a romance of legend.
The story is shared in the alternating POVs of Maddek and Yvenne, so the reader is privy to both characters’ thoughts and feelings. Both have suffered a great deal, but where Yvenne is open and willing to trust, Maddek is quick to doubt and react. Yvenne was imprisoned and tortured by her corrupt father and brothers. She lived her life locked in a tower, caring for her poisoned and fragile mother. She only knew of the outside world through her mother, who had the goddess gift of sight beyond sight. Hoping to escape, Yvenne sent a letter to Maddek’s parents, looking for a potential match. But King Zhalen found out and ultimately killed the visiting king and queen. Maddek does not and will not trust Yvenne, seeing her as only a tool for vengeance.
As the pair spend time together, Maddek finds himself conflicted. He’s attracted to Yvenne, but feels he can never trust her, and reminds himself of this often. He looks at her through the eyes of an angry warrior; she is a fortress to be conquered. He is harsh in word to her and then beats himself up over it. He is tormented by his conflicting emotions. But after each skirmish between the pair, they grow. The lessons as they learn to trust one other are painful at times. My heart hurt for both. But each time they make it through the pain, they are closer and stronger. This makes the story richer, fuller.
While I’ve focused my review on Maddek and Yvenne, this story is much larger than their romance. A Heart of Blood and Ashes is epic in scope. Milla Vane builds a world filled with wondrous creatures, dangerous magicks, gods and goddesses, and so many different and amazing characters and peoples. The Great Alliance is between six realms, and they are only part of the larger Western Realm, which is in imminent danger due to the pending return of the Destroyer.
Narration: Story is told in chapters from either Maddek or Yvenne’s third person POV. Ms. Poole uses the same neutral female narrator during both POVs, altering the dialogue accordingly for each character. Ms. Poole successfully varies her voices quite a bit. Her males are deep. She portrays a young girl with authenticity. And while the narrator tends to be emotionless, the characters are not. Ms. Poole infuses pain and suffering, joy and wonder into the story as called for. My only small complaint is that there are several repetitive phrases, which were made more noticeable in the audiobook format, that started to weigh down the story. This is more an issue with the writing style than the narration.
A Heart of Blood and Ashes is a passionate fantasy with top-notch world building and character development. There are bloody battles and exciting adventures; sexy romance and heart-wrenching emotions. I couldn’t put this one down and can’t wait for more!
Review copies provided by Tantor Audio (audiobook); Berkley (print)
About the Book:
A generation past, the western realms were embroiled in endless war. Then the Destroyer came. From the blood and ashes he left behind, a tenuous alliance rose between the barbarian riders of Parsathe and the walled kingdoms of the south. That alliance is all that stands against the return of an ancient evil—until the barbarian king and queen are slain in an act of bloody betrayal.
Though forbidden by the alliance council to kill the corrupt king responsible for his parents’ murders, Maddek vows to avenge them, even if it costs him the Parsathean crown. But when he learns it was the king’s daughter who lured his parents to their deaths, the barbarian warrior is determined to make her pay.
Yet the woman Maddek captures is not what he expected. Though the last in a line of legendary warrior-queens, Yvenne is small and weak, and the sharpest weapons she wields are her mind and her tongue. Even more surprising is the marriage she proposes to unite them in their goals and to claim their thrones—because her desire for vengeance against her father burns even hotter than his own…
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