Review: Phoenix Unbound by Grace Draven

Phoenix Unbound
(Fallen Empire #1)
by Grace Draven
Publisher: Ace Books
Publication date: Sept. 25, 2018
Genre: Fantasy Romance

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.



For the last handful of years, Gilene has made the journey to the Empire’s capital to be one of the many women sacrificed to the gods. If that isn’t bad enough, they are tortured during their long journey to the capital, degraded, and raped before they are finally tied up to a pyre to be burned alive. Due to Gilene’s fire magic, she’s been able to escape death by using the fire to hide herself as she makes her escape, only to have to repeat the process the following spring. However, this year is different. This year, one of the gladiator’s recognizes her and remembers her from previous years. He knows her secret and all he asks for is that she helps him escape the catacombs where he’s be enslaved for the last ten years. Except, what he doesn’t tell her is that he also needs her to come to his homeland with him in order to regain his place among his clan, and he’s not above kidnapping in order to get his way.

Gilene is a noble character. She is ostracized by those in her village because of her fire witch status. She’s always been viewed differently, and not always in a good way. However, if she doesn’t sacrifice herself each year, then someone else from her village would be taken, and unlike her, they would not survive the fire. Oh, and there’s the little tidbit about the villagers threatening Gilene’s family if she doesn’t follow through or return from the capital to take her spot again the following year. So, to say that Gilene is a little jaded and bitter would be an understatement.

Azarion has been a gladiator for a decade. He’s earned the status of Prime among the ranks and is revered by many. However, his high status comes with a price. He’s gained the attention of the Empress and in doing such has found himself with another title as one of her “bulls”. Let’s just let that sink in a minute. Not only does he have to fight over and over to the death for the others entertainment, but when it’s all said and done, he gets summoned to this vile woman’s chamber to be her play thing. Which includes beatings, rape, and her own private gladiator battle to the death. So, after this poor guy has been fighting for his life in the arena, he gets zero rest before he has to do it all over again for the Empress’s amusement. The whole this was sickening and you really felt for Azarion. Does he blackmail Gilene into helping him escape? Yes. Does he kidnap her in order to get his status back with his people? Yes. However, he’s nothing but kind to her and even pledges to bring her back to her village once he’s secured his position again.

Since this is the first book in the series, I honestly thought this would be some drawn out introductory to the world. Maybe at the end of this they escape, or maybe they even make it to his people. However, there was none of that since this is a stand-alone. There are no cliffhangers or anything that leaves you hanging. Which was something I greatly appreciated. I’m not a fan of reading a series story line. I tend to get bored of the same old long journey after a while. So, I was pleasantly surprised when the author wrapped it all up in one book. I’m actually not sure if the next book will still be about Gilene and Azarion or if it will be about other characters, but I plan to tune in and find out.

Phoenix Unbound was a solid fantasy. It had some darker elements to it with what these characters go through during their time in the capital. However, you get to watch them both heal and gain strength from each other. I’m really glad I took a chance on this book. I not only look forward to reading the next book in the series, but I plan to read the author’s other work as well.


Favorite quote…

“For Gilene, spring was the season neither of rain nor of planting, but of suffering.”




5 Thoughts on “Review: Phoenix Unbound by Grace Draven

  1. This one sounds dark but really good. I’m going to have to check it out. Great review!

  2. I’ve loved her other books so I’ll definitely be picking this one up.

    Karen @ For What It’s Worth

  3. ratmom on 12 October, 2018 at 2:41 pm said:

    That sounds different. I like series but standalones are great too.

  4. OMG. I really wanted to read this book but the empress’s ‘using’ the gladiators like that already has me spitting in rage so now I’m not sure I’m brave enough, lol.

  5. “I’m actually not sure if the next book will still be about Gilene and Azarion or if it will be about other characters, but I plan to tune in and find out.” That’s what I’m wondering too! Glad you enjoyed!

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