A Heart of Blood and Ashes by Milla Vane
A Gathering of Dragons #1
February 4, 2019 by Berkley
This was my most anticipated read of 2020. Milla Vane, also known as Meljean Brook, is the author of one of my all time favorite romances, The Kraken King. If you haven’t had a chance to read this wonderful steampunk/fantasy romance yet, do yourself a favor and go one click because it’s simply amazing and Zenobia and Ariq are magnificent.
I will admit that I dove into this world as soon as the ARC hit my Kindle in November, which means I’ve already finished a reread in anticipation of writing this review. I imagine I will lovingly place this book on my keeper shelf and revisit it often because A Heart of Blood and Ashes was everything I had hoped it would be. Worldbuilding with depth and complexity, wonderfully fleshed out characters, and packed with brutal fight scenes and heart rending emotion. I could have read another 400 pages.
Depicted as a barbarian romance and set in a medieval like fantasy world, Ms. Vane introduces readers to Maddek, leader of the Parsathean warriors and son of their King and Queen, and to Yvenne of Nyset, heir to the throne who has been locked away and abused for the entirety of her life by a father who craves power and control. Their relationship begins when Maddek learns of his parents deaths at the hands of Yvenne’s family and vows vengeance.
This book isn’t an easy read and I predict that there won’t be a lot of three star “meh” reviews. You will either love it or dislike it and have issues with its intensity. Maddek and Yvenne begin as wary allies without trust or respect. Maddek is grieving and angry over his parents deaths and holds Yvenne accountable for luring them to her country to begin with. He doesn’t treat her well and only agrees to the idea of them marrying and producing an heir in order to gain Yvenne the throne so that he can have his revenge.
Yvenne has been shut away in a tower for her whole life and witness to so much violence on her mother that it’s hard to understand how she can still be so good at heart and intuitive. But she is, and eager to experience the world and lift her people up from the nightmare of her father’s rule. She is frail of body, but strong in spirit and wise beyond her years. Her attraction to Maddek is instantaneous, and as their interaction grows so do her feelings, but I felt her pain when he treated her terribly or made her feel small or not good enough. My heart ached for her.
This is absolutely a slow burn, gradual build romance. Maddek has to let go of his pain and suspicion and Yvenne has a lot to teach him about what it means to be a king. There is this connection between them that is obvious from the moment they meet, but in this violent, brutal world with all its political maneuverings and threats of a reemergence of an old enemy, can they find common ground and build a lasting partnership? Their story is told in alternating POVs so it’s easy to get into each of their heads and truly understand each of their motivations, wants and desires. I’m not sure if this story would have worked quite as well any other way.
I don’t want to dive too deep into all the geographical and political worldbuilding, but despite how intricate and complex it is I feel like the author did a fabulous job of introducing readers to this epic world full of mystical creatures, warriors, and goddess-touched queens.
They are surrounded by an extraordinary cast of secondary characters and I loved them all. I hope to see them in future installments. I know the second book in the series, A Touch of Stone and Snow, shifts to a different kingdom and new protagonists, but I have a feeling we will circle back around and see Maddek’s Dragon warriors again when The Destroyer returns. At least I believe so.
This book was intense and there were scenes that made my heart ache and I couldn’t help but worry and fret. At times Maddek made me angry and sad and I yearned for him to be better. Yvenne’s growth was lovely to watch and I cheered for her with every victory and accomplishment. A Heart of Blood and Ashes is epic fantasy romance at its finest and I am on the edge of my seat in anticipation for the next installment.
Final grade- A
Content Warnings- Violence, mentions of rape and torture
“Your bride has a habit of unseating us during our ambushes,” Kelir said dryly. “We come to preform legendary feats, and she opens the gates.”