A Gathering of Dragons, Prequel Novella
Heat Factor: Oral sex on the table in a pub full of people.
Character Chemistry: Instalove, but it’s willed by a goddess, so we’ll go with it.
Plot: Mala is on a divine quest to “tame the Beast of Blackmoor.” She thinks that means destroying the demon that’s been ravaging the land. Imagine her surprise when she learns that that zombie-fighting hottie she saw is *actually* the Beast of Blackmoor…and he will *never* be tamed.
Overall: Quick, sexy, satisfying
Let me be upfront with you here. The world that Vane imagines in this series is not kind or gentle or pretty. There are evil warlords and demons and zombie animals who are definitely trying to eat you. Even the benevolent gods are, shall we say, not exactly kind or gentle. Take Mala’s divine quest: she knows that it will bring her pain, and that if she fails she will be shunned by all society everywhere, but she does it anyway because the potential reward (protection for her kingdom) is worth it.
So. If you’re down to read about fighting monsters and a bad-ass warrior heroine taming a loner warrior hero by refusing to step down from her goals and also being nothing but kind to him, just know…things might get ugly.
I don’t want to say too much because it’s easy to get into spoiler territory with a novella, but I will say that this was one of the more believable iterations of the fated mates trope that I’ve read. (Well. Believable with an asterisk, because we are still talking about fated mates here.) Kavik, aka the titular Beast of Blackmoor, offended the goddess years ago, so she warns him that the woman in red will be his undoing. And then he starts dreaming of Mala. He dreams of her for years, such that he feels he knows her intimately—until she appears, wearing a red cloak. Obviously, the goddess means for them to be together; but she also means to test them in excruciating ways first. So their fate is obvious, to them and to the reader. What’s not obvious is how they’re going to get there.
Note: I read this after I read A Heart of Blood and Ashes (Book 1 in the series; this is the prequel novella). While they take place in the same world, and therefore the worldbuilding is richer if you read both, I don’t think reading one is necessary to understand the other, as they take place roughly simultaneously with completely different casts of characters. (The characters introduced here do appear in Book 2.) This might be a good way to dip your toes in the water of Vane’s land of barbarian romances without committing to reading a long epic fantasy novel.
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