A Gathering of Dragons, Book #1
Heat Factor: ✋🩸🍆
Character Chemistry: Maddek wants to hate Yvenne, but he can’t
Plot: Epic fantasy revenge marriage of convenience road trip
Overall: Holy shit
So, first thing’s first. I loved this book. I am jumping onto the bandwagon with both feet. (Yes, I know I’m late to the party.)
Second thing: this book is definitely not for everyone. It is high fantasy with swords and magic and monsters. The language is sometimes stilted—and once you notice the yoda-speak, it’s hard to get past. It’s long. And it’s absolutely bonkers.
Things this book includes:
- A dumbass hero who believes that the truth must be spoken at all times. One lie equals loss of trust forever. 🤥
- Lots of fight scenes, and also straight-up murder. 🗡️🩸😵
- Only. One. Horse. 🐎
- A zombie brontasaurus. 💀🧟🦕 (Yes. You read that right.)
So if that sounds like not your cup of tea, then please move right along.
If you’re interested, but still unconvinced, let me see if I can try and convince you.
A generation ago, the Destroyer passed through the land and wreaked havoc every which way. People are still recovering from the trauma, and alliances are tentative at best. But rumors abound that the Destroyer is working his way back to the Western Realms (here’s a map!), so we’ve got to start shoring up our alliances. That’s the backdrop.
The more immediate story is that Maddek, son of the rulers of the Parsathians (people of the Burning Plains in said map) is out for revenge for the murder of his parents. The king of Syssia pulled some shenanigans, and Maddek has a chance to snatch the king’s daughter. Perfect! Except when he does, he discovers that Yvenne hates her father even more than he does. Naturally, they embark on a revenge marriage of convenience—Maddek will take his revenge out on Yvenne, but she doesn’t even care as long as that revenge also takes down her father. And then they have to go on an epic roadtrip with Maddek’s personal guard (his “dragon”) to get back to Maddek’s homeland and escape from Yvenne’s dad’s evil henchmen slash brothers.
Now, Maddek is a classic warrior hero. He’s big and beefy and swings his battle-ax around with the best of them. He may not be the brightest crayon in the box, but he has a good heart. And since we’re in fantasy-land, he lives in an egalitarian society where women are also bad-ass warriors, and he fully expects to marry one someday. Yvenne is…not a bad-ass warrior. She’s small and weak and cunning, and since the first thing she does when she meets Maddek is stab her brother in the back with his own knife, the jury’s out on how good her heart is. (Don’t worry, he deserved it.)
Maddek and Yvenne therefore have a complicated relationship. They’re attracted to each other (more on that in a hot minute), but Maddek doesn’t trust Yvenne on a really fundamental level. And so even when he has gotten over his initial enmity and has come to care for her, he still doesn’t trust her, which causes nothing but heartbreak.
What’s great about this book is that the epic fantasy plot and the romance plot and the worldbuilding are all intrinsically intertwined. For example: Yvenne and Maddek are on an epic road trip (fantasy plot) and want to bone (romance plot) but can’t because the moon goddess demands that the first time you have penetrative sex it be dedicated to her, so virgins can only bone at the full moon (worldbuilding). Since Maddek and Yvenne are really really physically attracted to each other but can’t go full penetrative sex because of Yvenne’s virginity, they therefore spend a lot of time fooling around and learning to like each other before the full moon arrives—which, in turn, means that the careless emotional hurt that comes with the boning feels earned, since we’ve been building up to that moment for a while.
As someone who has read a decent amount of high fantasy, but not tons and tons, I couldn’t help but read A Heart of Blood and Ashes as in conversation with Game of Thrones—with A Heart of Blood and Ashes coming up the real winner. Maddek has some serious Khal Drogo vibes, especially when contrasted with Yvenne’s urban upbringing. But while Vane’s vision of the world isn’t all sunshine and roses, it is a kinder, sexier, more egalitarian place than Westeros. I also must point out that Yvenne wins serious victories by using a combination of cunning and kindness, and that is the realpolitik we need right now. Honestly, I’d like all my high fantasy with more consensual sex and less sexual violence, thanks very much.
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