Book Review: Dragon Unleashed by Grace Draven
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Romance
Series: Book 2 of Fallen Empire
Publisher: Ace Books (June 9, 2020)
Length: 384 pages
It’s official, Grace Draven is now my go-to author for fantasy romance. I adored Phoenix Unbound, the first book in the Fallen Empire sequence, namely because she treated the story and the characters with as much care and importance as the romance. Now she returns to the world with a second novel, Dragon Unleashed, which follows a new set of protagonists and thus can be read as a standalone.
Opening once more on the Krael Empire where magic is outlawed by the cruel tyrant Empress Dalvila, this novel shines a light on the draconic lore of the world. While most believe that the draga have long gone extinct, the truth is that the few who have survived still live secretly among humankind in disguise. Malachus is one of these dragons, who uses a magical artifact called a mother-bond to maintain his human form. Without its magic, he would be forced to revert to his true self, revealed to the world without protection.
When the story begins though, Malachus has just had his mother-bond stolen, and is in the middle of tracking the thieves who have taken it when he chances upon a caravan of free traders. Among them is a young woman named Halani, a healer who possesses the gift of magic. Her uncle is also the leader of their group, who purchases the mother-bond, unaware of the true power the artifact holds. When Malachus catches up to the original thieves thinking they still have what belongs to him, a skirmish ensues, leaving him grievously injured. It is Halani who ends up treating his wounds and nursing him back to health, and during his long convalescence, the two inevitably grow closer, inadvertently giving away some of their secrets. Malachus can’t help being drawn to the healer, despite being disapproving of some her less-than-ethical free trader ways, while Halani herself suspects there is something more to her enigmatic patient, but never in a million years would have guessed his true nature.
Meanwhile, the reason for Malachus’ furtiveness soon becomes clear as it is revealed that Empress Dalvila is on the hunt for a draga for herself. Her network of spies have been hard at work seeking information on the mother-bond, which she plans to use as bait, and unbeknownst to Malachus or Halani, they are already a target for Dalvila’s agents.
While Dragon Unleashed technically reads as a standalone and new readers can jump right in without worrying they will be missing out on pertinent information from the first book, I would still highly recommend starting with Phoenix Unbound for several reasons. First is that you will get a more detailed exploration into the background and history of the Krael Empire and why those possessing magic, like Halani, must remain hidden for fear of persecution and death. Second, the main couple from the first book, Gilene and Azarion, feature as side characters in this one, and I was able to appreciate reading about them a lot more knowing how much they’ve been through to get where they are. And third and most important of all, Phoenix Unbound was simply and excellent book that shouldn’t be missed, especially considering the romance in it was even more swoon-worthy than this one.
That said, Dragon Unleashed was no slouch either. While their romance might not have been as intense as Gilene and Azarion’s, I felt Halani and Malachus’s story was overall filled with more action, intrigue, and fascination. I can also understand why some readers might find their relationship too slow to develop, but I personally enjoyed how the author took her time. After all, Malachus teaching Halani to read was sexier than anything I could imagine! Plus, the differences between our two protagonists only served to make the journey of their courtship even more compelling, particularly in light of their disparate backgrounds and ideologies. In fact, I think the novel was strongest when it was focusing on our main characters, as well as the comings and goings around the free trader camp, which in addition to the appearances by Gilene and Azarion also included Halani’s charmingly sweet but mentally disabled mother Asil as well as the wretched and greedy uncle Hamod. In contrast, when the story flipped back to the capital, where Dalvila’s machinations are seen through the eyes of a top henchman, the interest there was simply not as strong, so that might be my only major criticism of the plot and pacing.
Still, whatever you may think of the lead-up to the conclusion, the book’s climax and its final scenes were incredible. I thought the ending also underscored Grace Draven’s talent as a romance writer whose stories aren’t just about the romantic aspects, because everything I’ve read by her so far has featured strong plot and character elements as well. However, given the way this one wrapped up, it did make me wonder if we might see another volume in this series, since things did end with something of an air of finality to them. If not, it’ll be sad to say goodbye to this world, but I will still be eagerly looking forward to the author’s next project.
More on The BiblioSantum:
Review of Phoenix Unbound (Book 1)