A dragon shapeshifter and a healer with power over the earth fight a corrupt empire in this thrilling and deeply emotional romantic fantasy from the USA Today bestselling author of Radiance.
Magic is outlawed in the Krael Empire and punishable by death. Born with the gift of earth magic, the free trader Halani keeps her dangerous secret closely guarded. When her uncle buys a mysterious artifact, a piece of bone belonging to a long-dead draga, Halani knows it’s far more than what it seems.
Dragas haven’t been seen for more than a century, and most believe them extinct. They’re wrong. Dragas still walk among the denizens of the Empire, disguised as humans. Malachus is a draga living on borrowed time. The magic that has protected him will soon turn on him–unless he finds a key part of his heritage. He has tracked it to a group of free traders, among them a grave-robbing earth witch who fascinates him as much as she frustrates him with her many secrets.
Unbeknownst to both, the Empire’s twisted empress searches for a draga of her own, to capture and kill as a trophy. As Malachus the hunter becomes the hunted, Halani must risk herself and all she loves to save him from the Empire’s machinations and his own lethal birthright.
Check out my review on GoodReads over here!
3.5 STARS for a beautiful love story between a healer with Earth magic and a dragon that can bring lightning to his foes.
I was SO HYPED for this book, because I absolutely devoured the previous book of the series PHOENIX BOUND and adored it. While DRAGON UNLEASHED follows a different couple and storyline, it starts right off after the end of book 1. And let me say first: the energy is VERY different. PHOENIX BOUND is brutal and vicious, with a lot of action and violence. DRAGON UNLEASHED is about a healer, and thus has calmer moments, traveling, and dialogue, rather than straight-out battles. I would warn readers to be aware of that before starting DRAGON UNLEASHED, and with expectations that it’ll be like book 1. Different characters = different ways to outline the story. While I’m enjoying this world and lore, DRAGON UNLEASHED follows the same meandering pace that book 1 had, where the middle section dragged for quite some time without an actual progression in plot. I’m all about character interactions and development, but that seemed a bit stagnant as well. And while I love every page immersed in this world, I couldn’t help but feel my attention slip in the middle. Other than that, I enjoyed the rest of the book mightily and thought it was a solid sequel. Book 1 was definitely a bit more impactful for me, but DRAGON UNLEASHED was on the quieter and calmer side, and still as lovely and wonderful.
We begin with a hunt.
Malachus is a Draga (dragon-shapeshifter) that traveled from another nation to Krael to find his mother’s heritage: a bone. While following the lead of the two thieves, he ends up killing them… but left half-dead himself, and without his bone. Halani finds him and nurses him back to help, despite the threat that her uncle poses in letting a stranger into her nomadic trading camp. I loved seeing the interactions of Halani’s free trader family and their loyalty towards each other (sans Halani’s uncle). While Malachus is healing, Halani’s greedy uncle is off to try to sell Malachus’s bone to mysterious people with nefarious plans. Their paths are slowly about to meet, as an evil empress also sets out to hunt for Malachus and his bone. And while the path is a slow one, the final climax is explosive and dynamic, making it well worth the wait.
“‘I don’t measure my days by when I may or may not find a husband. I will be happy in other things. Life is more than just a marriage. I am more than a woman waiting to become a man’s wife.'”
Halani is a healer with hidden Earth magic that is just trying to get by. She has a fiercely loyal parent who’s neurodiverse (it isn’t explicitly mentioned in the book, but seems like it could be similar to autism) and who she loves. I personally was really touched by their relationship, as both mother and daughter would fight to protect the other. I’ve read several of Draven’s books that have disabled characters, and I think she writes them as wonderful additions to the story that really shine. Halani herself isn’t really expecting much to her free-trader life other than helping out the community, but that changes when she saves Malachus. Instead, she finds herself intrigued by this wandering warrior and wondering if there was more to fight for, as well as more to sacrifice, as she starts a slow-burn romance with him.
“‘You are a gift, Malachus,’ she whispered.
‘And you’re a blessing, Halani of the Lightning.'”
Malachus was a really endearing character, who honestly just wanted his bone back. He’s always had a negative perspective on humans, especially given his family history. But Halani’s quiet resilience and compassion in helping people has him rethinking that viewpoint. He finds himself falling in love with her as she tends to his wounds, despite being a total stranger, and also becoming friends with her mother as well. I enjoyed seeing Malachus’s development from a human-hating Draga to someone who was touched by another person’s compassion and sought to deliver the same kindness to others. He has a tragic backstory, but starts healing in this book as he spends more time with Halani.
Both characters, and the excellent expansion of the setting, made this book a great fantasy romance read. The villainess was fiercely evil (albeit a bit one-dimensional), and several secondary characters added to the fun in the story. I really recommend this series for fans of fantasies that lean more heavily towards romances, and if you’re a fan of the author’s previous works. It’s a quieter romance, for sure, but the slow-burn will also pull at your heartstrings as Malachus and Halani work together to find themselves and help defeat evil in a kingdom with more magic than it seems.
Thank you Ace and Netgalley for the review copy!