Release date: 8 Nov 2022
Synopsis: A woman with the gift to speak to the dead—and the assassin pursuing her—may be the only chance a crumbling empire has of holding back true evil, in this electrifying fantasy romance from the USA Today bestselling author of Radiance.
Siora has been on the run for longer than she cares to remember, from her past and her gift. Born with the ability to see and speak to ghosts, she has heard their desperate pleas as an otherworldly predator stalks the dead amid the fertile killing fields of the collapsing Krael Empire. The creature’s power and reach are growing with every soul it consumes, but Siora is preoccupied with her own troubles: namely an assassin who has sworn an oath of vengeance against her.
Gharek of Cabast was once the right-hand man of the reviled empress but is now a wanted fugitive. Although his reasons for hunting Siora are viscerally personal, what Gharek can’t anticipate is that when he finally does find her, she will hold the key to saving his world, or what’s left of it. To make good on old debts and protect the vulnerable dead from a malevolent force, Gharek and Siora will both need to make an ally out of an enemy—and trust that will be enough to save each other.
I discovered Grace Draven’s indie books, particularly Radiance and Eidolon and all of the short stories in the Wraith Kings world as well, in the past couple of years. Draven’s writing so lulled me into the world and hypnotized me with its descriptive, thematic prose I thought without hesitation that the Phoenix Unbound series would be the same in terms of style if not content. I was not correct. While the Phoenix Unbound series sweeps across a new world and entrances me with its prose, it feels more than a little flat compared to Draven’s indie writing. The plots have pacing issues, usually bogging down in the middle with a stagnant setting so the characters have time to bond, and romance in them does not read as organically as I’ve come to expect from Draven’s writing. If a reader has picked these books up and read them as initial samplings of Draven’s writing and found them to be lacking, please head over to a bookseller and pick up an indie from this author. The writing is top notch.
The books in this series are each technically standalones in the same universe, a trend that’s been out for a while in the indie world but which I have not necessarily seen so often in the traditionally published annals. Each book in the PU series follows a different character, and Raven Unveiled follows Siora and Gharek, two characters who feature previously in Dragon Unleashed as relatively minor but not necessarily unimportant parts of the plot. As it is, one could not start with any of the books in the PU universe as some writers ensure so that readers have the freedom to pick up any book in the world/series without spoilers. This series features the couples from the previous books after they’ve gone through their narrative cycle and do contain spoilers.
I’d say the biggest drawback for me was the pacing. The plot got bogged down in a couple of parts and just stalled. Oddly, so much backstory and conflict happens in the book that I don’t feel this should have been a problem. I feel the characters were so much at odds with one another at the start of the book that their coming together may have caused the issue. It was not an easy pairing, and the hardness of heart of the one character clashed too much with the stubborn refusal to wrong anyone of the other that it made the romance awkward and the plot stagnant.
The world building in the series, and particularly in this book, felt lacking as well. Characters drop in from out of the blue to fill space, such as the many generals previously unheard of in the first two books who pursue Gharek after an event in Dragon Unleashed; and the sinister, malevolent force that threatens the undead doesn’t really come with any back story. Additionally, the conflict resolution with said force occurs in a blip. I had to go back and reread a couple of times to understand exactly what happened to resolve the conflict, and I’m still not sure I fully understand how the resolution worked itself out.
Overall, sadly, I think the book for me was only a 3/5. It just lacks that Draven muchness.