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…
Check out my review on GoodReads over here!
A HEART OF BLOOD AND ASHES was super fun, witty, and action-packed! I honestly stayed away from this book because of the cover, but I ended up really enjoying this “dark barbarian romantic fantasy.” And honestly… that’s a pretty good way to describe it. But rather than the bodice ripping energy I thought it was gonna be (extra points for rape-y scenes and possessive Alpha assholes that act arrogantly (that alliteration though), as well as a heroine who gets walked on by everybody), this book turned out to be the complete opposite. It was sexy and progressive, all while retaining the brutal fantasy world that it takes place in. If you start reading, you literally can’t stop. Each scene is a new adventure that you just want to savor. What can I say? The characters, setting, romance, and storyline in A HEART OF BLOOD AND ASHES were all a hit for me!
“You are much more handsome when you scowl.”
He laughed again. “Am I?”
“You are,” she said primly. “You should refrain from smiling, especially after we are married.”
“That will be no hardship. After we marry, I’ll have little reason to smile.”
“I will make sure of it. It is so much more pleasant to look upon your face when you are unhappy, I shall endeavor to make your life a misery.” She eyed the grin that broadened in response to that. “Already you deliberately displease me.”
The banter = perfection??
This definitely isn’t a light hearted book. There’s a lot of cruelty going on (TW’s on bottom) and the world is very immersive. The story starts out with a loaded action scene, and then our hero Maddek hearing that his parents (and the king and queen of his nation) are dead. With that, he rides to see this council that has united most of the land together and tries to figure out what happened to his parents… and how he can avenge them.
There’s the typical fantasy elements going on: fictional creatures, an evil known as the Destroyer threatening lives, gods and goddesses, and usurpers of thrones. At first it was a but difficult for me to get into the swing of things (unfamiliar names, unexplained histories, urgh) but I forged on, and it was well worth the wait. Just be patient with the beginning because it seems like a lot, but once the intro is over, the book really never stops with its action and pace. And that brings me to my favorite part of the book: the characters.
So Maddek is your typical proud son, on a quest to avenge his dead parents who were wrongly accused. (Is avenging hero the new thing nowadays? I’ve read about three of those guys throughout multiple romance genres… but I must say, Maddek is the most well-written.) He’s strong, handsome, confident, and fearless… however, he’s not a king. And he soon realizes this when he meets our heroine, Yvenne. And y’all… she captured the story for me. While Maddek thinks Yvenne is the reason for his parents’ downfall, she convinces him that he’s gonna need her a lot more than he thinks. She’s the daughter of the king that killed his father, but she wants to see her father dead as well. Abused and isolated, Yvenne has been trapped in a tower since birth as a secret. She’s frail and physically weak, but that has nothing to do with her mental strength. She looks out for her people, is willing to learn new things, and actively strives to become stronger all the time. She also is the selfless type to speak up for herself, other people, and justice. She’s not a perfect character, but her personality is shaped by her tortured childhood and willingness to right wrongs. I loved her fearsome energy and brutal justice. Her lessons in becoming a king were a perfect foil to Maddek’s lessons for her to become a warrior-queen.
At first, Maddek is judgmental and rude to Yvenne, thinking her the enemy, but her fierce personality starts rubbing off on him as he starts appreciating her beyond the physical features. There are a lot of great things about their slow burn relationship, pace being one of them. The biggest to me is CONSISTENCY. The author does a tremendous job in standing firm on what one character said to the other since meeting. It’s never wishy washy with these characters, and communication is key. There’s mistrust at first, but trust is rightfully owned. Quotes taken from the past are used as evidence in future events, and stepping stones to grow the relationship. Dialogue is frank and honest (maybe a bit brutal at times), while love scenes are sexy and dominating (on both sides). The characters’ interactions were golden, and I can’t praise them enough.
“You must stop thinking as a warrior, Maddek, and instead think as a king. But if you will only be a warrior, then I remind you of the first warrior’s lesson you taught me: make use of what you have.”
Like cold iron he became. Utterly rigid, Maddek held her in a hard and silent embrace. “What do I have?”
“You have me, Maddek—Zhalen’s daughter, as cunning and as vicious as my brother. But that is not all I am. So if you will not be a king this day, then at least be a warrior who makes use of what he has and follows the lead of a queen.”
For a long moment Maddek didn’t reply, his body as taut as when Vela had whispered into his ear.
Then he rasped, “What is the queen’s command?”
Y’all, Yvenne is just so badass and awesome. Sis got me gasping throughout the whole book.
More commendable characters: Maddek’s loyal squad of Dragon who protects him (love them all!), the loving parent relationships that are featured, awesome secondary characters who all have their own personalities, and just in general the fantastical energy that everyone gives off.
Surprisingly progressive statements of the book: hinted POC’s abound, casual mention of same sex relationships and interactions (loved this one reference of these two Queens who stayed true to each other and how they were able to still get pregnant), no rape culture, VERY consensual sex scenes (we all know those 21st century fantasy romances that toe the line… smh), just in general the EQUALITY of both leads *kisses fingers*, Yvenne has a physical disability (crippled knee) so she can’t run, no toxic masculinity… which is like, shouldn’t a book in this day and age be required to have some of these things? Apparently not.
What can I say? Super empowering heroine + hero that knows when he’s wrong + delightful and swoony banter + slow burn romance + enthralling fantasy setting + nonstop action + wonderful array of secondary characters = this one’s a keeper for me. Definitely worth picking up if you like books like the Kingmaker Chronicles by Amanda Bouchet, the Fallen Empire series by Grace Draven, or the Weathermages of Mystrel series by CL Wilson. Or anything close to fantasy romance, hehe.
mention of cannibalism and rape, torture, isolation, pretty gory scenes/lots of action and violence, body mutilation, emotional and verbal abuse, sexy times (more extensive list on the author’s website over here)