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…
About the Author
Under a pen name, Milla Vane is also an award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of steampunk and paranormal romance. Milla currently resides in Oregon.
Read an Excerpt
Commander!" A young Syssian soldier called out as Maddek rode toward the bridge. "Something's got the savages on the run!"
Her polished helm gleaming beneath the early-morning sun, the soldier pointed across the river. Maddek slowed his mare, gaze scanning the opposite bank. This was a grim stretch of the Lave. On either side of the swift-flowing waters, sparse grasses grew on stony ground that buckled and heaved into hills and ravines. The Farians' hunting party was camped in one of those gullies, hidden from Maddek's sight-though he knew well its location and had posted soldiers along the riverbanks, eyes covering every route out of the ravine that the savages might take when they finally attempted to cross.
Covered in the mud they painted over their translucent skin, now Farians scrambled their way out of the ravine using all of those routes-but not in concerted attack. Instead they were as gutworms wriggling free of infested dung tossed on a fire. Some carried spears and spiked clubs, but most had no weapons, as if they'd been surprised in camp and chose to run rather than arm themselves. Faintly Maddek heard their urgent hoots over the rush of the river.
"A trap jaw?" Maddek asked Kelir as the warrior rode up alongside him. If one of those giant predatory reptiles attacked the alliance army camp, Maddek would not have reprimanded any soldier for fleeing there, too.
His second captain cocked his head, dark braids brushing his shoulders. "Too quiet."
So it was. A trap jaw was silent until it rushed its prey. Then it often loosed a trumpeting roar-one that would have reached them even over the sound of the river.
A handful of savages scuttled nearer to the bridge, as if preparing to escape across the water, though this side of the river was no safer for them. Two dozen of Maddek's mounted Parsathean warriors and a handful of soldiers waited to separate the Farians' hairless heads from their hunched shoulders.
In nearly eight years of holding the Farians at the Lave, Maddek had seen savages run toward death many times. Never had he witnessed a Farian flee from anything.
"There it is!" a soldier cried out.
Coming up the stony path out of the ravine. A siva beast.
Maddek exchanged a look with Kelir as the soldiers snorted with laughter. Though as heavy as a yellow tusker and as tall as a mammoth, a siva beast was docile as a milk cow. Usually it waddled along, a plated dome of armor over its humped back and protecting the sides of its belly, using hardened beak and curved claws to rip open rotten logs and dig up roots.
Yet there were few roots and logs here. The jungle where the siva beast must have wandered from was three days' ride downstream.
A hard, bloody journey for the siva. Gaping wounds on its leathery neck and legs showed signs of attack. Gore dripped from its beak.
As did green foam. Maddek tensed. "It is poisoned."
Kelir had seen the same. "Silac venom."
Stung by one of the two-armed serpents that swam the Lave. The Farians had been right to flee. That venom first weakened the serpent's prey so it could be dragged from the riverbanks and drowned. Most animals stung by the serpent didn't escape.
And those that did, didn't truly escape. They only staggered away, until the weakness put them to sleep-and they woke as if brainless, unfeeling of pain and killing everything that moved. Eventually they starved or died of wounds. But the siva's armor protected it from an easy kill, particularly from the Farians' primitive spears and clubs, so the best chance of survival was to stay out of its sight.
The savages weren't out of sight yet. If the siva made noise, Maddek couldn't hear it from this distance. Silently it charged, tearing open a savage with curved claws as long as daggers. Its strong beak crushed another Farian's leg as the savage tried to run away.
Maddek heard those screams. He also heard a young Gogean soldier nearby, his face bloodbare as he watched the beast attack the Farians.
"So we . . . let the siva kill the savages for us?" He looked to his companions hesitantly, as if uncertain whether to be glad the beast tore their enemy apart.
Although that question hadn't been directed at Maddek, he answered it. "Then wait for it to attack our camp? It does not care if we are Farian or human. It will kill us all," he said. "There are enemies, and there are monsters. Always slay the monsters first, because enemies may one day become allies-but monsters never will."
As the Gogean soldier would have looked upon Maddek as an enemy only a generation past. Perhaps even thought him a monster.
Color stained the young soldier's cheeks as if realizing the same.
Maddek drew his sword. "Kelir?"
The warrior hefted his axe. "Ready."
To the soldiers, Maddek said, "Hold the bridge while we are across."
He took a dozen Parsathean riders with him. Their hooves thundered across the stone bridge. Immediately the siva found new focus, growling wetly as it charged Maddek and his warriors.
Had Maddek known he would be facing a beast maddened by silac venom, he'd not have ridden his favorite mare to the river this morn. Yet there was reason she was his favorite. Though tall and muscular as all Parsathean steeds were, she was also nimble as an antelope. With the barest signal from Maddek, she dodged the siva's swiping claw. As soon as they were past the beast, the siva's attention shifted to Kelir and the warriors behind him. Maddek's mare swiftly pivoted and sprang forward with a powerful thrust of her hindquarters.
The siva's soft belly was too low to the ground to offer a real target-any warrior low enough and close enough to cut it open might be crushed when the beast fell dead. Yet Maddek had seen that every time the beast struck with its foaming beak, first it reared back its head.
Sword in hand, Maddek launched from his saddle. The siva's neck muscles bunched as it prepared to snap at Kelir. A grunt tore from Maddek's chest as he swung at the beast's exposed throat, laying it open with one powerful slice of sharpened steel. Blood jetted from the fatal gash. Narrowly Maddek avoided a blow from flailing claws, rolling out of the way across the hardened ground and coming to a quick stop in a crouch-face to face with a Farian that hid from the beast behind a nearby boulder.
Muscles coiled, bloodied sword in his hand, Maddek made no move. The Farian held a bone blade in its long-fingered grip, yet the savage also remained motionless, near enough that Maddek could feel the hissing breath that issued from between its pointed teeth.
Mud covered its pale face. The savage's large ears shifted subtly-no doubt tracking his warriors' movements by their sound. All had fallen quiet behind Maddek. Waiting for his signal.
A signal would not come. He'd given an order that as long as the savages remained on this side of the river, the alliance soldiers and Parsathean warriors were not to kill them except in defense of their own lives. Maddek cared not if the Farians overran the territory south of the Lave, from the Bone Fields to the Salt Sea. He would leave them in peace. Yet if they crossed the Lave, they would die.
Many did die. But this one hadn't lifted its blade toward Maddek, so it would not.
Slowly Maddek backed away, gaze never leaving the crouching savage. His mare nickered softly behind him. Eyes still on the Farian, he swung up into his saddle.
Kelir laughed at him as they rode toward the bridge. "Now you wait for that savage to attack our camp?"
Poking at him with the same words Maddek had said to the young soldier. Maddek grinned, for despite Kelir's teasing, he knew that the warrior would have made the same choice. Perhaps the savage would cross the river with intention of raping and killing every human it encountered. But Maddek would not kill even a Farian for what it had not yet done.
If the savage crossed the river, however-then Maddek would tear its head from its shoulders.
His attention was caught by the mounted figure watching them from the opposite end of the bridge. Enox, his first captain-who ought to have been at camp, sleeping in her furs after a night spent along the river.
Silver beads glinted in her dark braids as she cast him a dour look. "A thousand warriors you have at your command. Could you have not sent them to kill that beast instead of taking it upon your own head?"
Never would Maddek send warriors into a battle he was not also willing to fight. Nor would Enox. If Maddek had not been upon the Lave this morning, it would have been she who led that charge and felled the maddened siva. "Warriors accompanied me across the bridge," he pointed out. "It is no fault of mine if my mount was fleeter than theirs."
Her snort echoed Kelir's. Yet she had not come to reprimand him, Maddek knew.
Drawing his mare alongside hers, he asked, "What brings you?"
"Dagoneh has arrived with a company of Tolehi soldiers," she said, reining her horse back toward camp. "And a message for you from the alliance council."
Maddek frowned and urged his mare to keep pace. "What message?"
"He would not give it to me, but is waiting to speak with you."
Unease slithered through his gut. Not many years ago, he'd delivered a message from the alliance council, too.
Maddek had assumed command at the Lave eight years past. In the six years following, not once had Maddek journeyed home to the Burning Plains, until his parents had requested from the council a three-year leave, so that they might find him a bride and see him married. In his absence, Iova of Rugus had assumed command of the alliance army. Before even three seasons had passed, however, the alliance council bade Maddek to return to the river with a message for Iova-the Rugusian king was dead-and to resume command while that realm's affairs were sorted. Iova was to have returned when all was settled. Yet despite the passing of a winter, she had not.
Now the alliance council sent another message, and Dagoneh would not tell Enox what it was? That could not bode well.
Yet Kelir's mind had taken a happier route. "Perhaps they have finally found you a bride."
His parents. Though Maddek had returned to the Lave, a bride for him they'd still intended to find-one who might strengthen ties between Parsathe and the five realms that made up the alliance. A royal daughter, or a noblewoman.
Very likely a woman like Iova, who was not only a fine soldier but also aunt to the dead Rugusian king. If Iova had been younger, or if she'd had a daughter, Maddek suspected that he would already be married.
For all that it would be a marriage designed to strengthen the alliance, however, never would his parents choose a bride unsuited to him. Though finding a warrior among the noble houses might prove too difficult a task, no doubt she would be honest, never lying or speaking with sly tongue, for she would become Maddek's closest advisor. If from Toleh, then she would be educated by the monks, with a mind both clever and fair. And as befitted a woman who might one day be a Parsathean queen-and if she wished to gain his mother's approval-she would be tall and strong and a skilled rider, and possess a heart that burned with fire.
Such a woman Maddek would be eager to meet-and take to his bed. For he'd been celibate after assuming command at the Lave eight years past, mindful of his parents' warning that when the High Commander of the Army of the Great Alliance asked someone to share his furs, there was not much difference between an invitation and an order. And during his short return to the Burning Plains, he'd taken no lovers. Not when his parents were already seeking a bride. Touching anyone else seemed a betrayal of the vows Maddek would make to that woman, and it mattered not that he hadn't yet met her.
A fine thing it would be, to finally fuck something softer than his fist.
So it was with anticipation that he rode into camp, where Parsathean tents made of mammoth hides and tusks housed the alliance army. Dagoneh had brought with him a hundred soldiers . . . as if expecting Maddek to leave with a large number of Parsatheans.
As Maddek would, if there was to be a wedding.
Yet there was to be no wedding. He entered the commander's tent with Kelir and Enox at his sides, and one glance at the Tolehi man's face told Maddek that he was not to receive news about a bride.
Dagoneh still wore his armor, yet had removed his helm, revealing his shaven head. Uncertainly he looked to Enox and Kelir before returning his solemn gaze to Maddek's. "Perhaps we might speak privately, Commander?"
As if fists had clenched around his lungs, Maddek told him tightly, "There is nothing you can say that they cannot hear."
Yet what Dagoneh did say, Maddek seemed not to hear. Not through the roaring in his ears.
Yet Enox must have also heard what Maddek could not accept. Fiercely she advanced on the captain, as if the sheer threat of her approach might force him to retrieve what he'd said and shove it back into his mouth.
"That cannot be truth," Enox spat. "It cannot."
"It is." Grave and steady was Dagoneh's reply. "Ran Ashev and Ran Marek have returned to Mother Temra's embrace."
Ran Ashev and Ran Marek. The Parsatheans called them their queen and king.
Maddek called them Mother and Father.
All fierceness leaving her, Enox fell to her knees on a keening wail. With her fists she pounded the ground as if she might reshape the world, as Mother Temra had. As if she might shake her queen and king free of that goddess's eternal grip.
A harsh sobbing breath came from beside Maddek before Kelir threw back his head. The warrior's howl of grief sounded as if torn from a bloodied throat.
Maddek's own howl swelled in his chest, yet it seemed there was no release for it, the grief too deep, a cavernous hollow that had suddenly opened within him.
"How?" So empty was his voice, he knew not how Dagoneh heard it.
Yet the captain must have. With grim regret, the other man shook his head. "I have no answers for you. My message and orders from the council were so bare, I suspect they were sent to Toleh in great haste."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In this epic fantasy adventure tale, several kingdoms of the Western Realms are united in an alliance despite their previously adversarial stances because a great common enemy called the Destroyer caused them to put aside differences. Their foe was pushed back but not totally defeated so the alliance stands. When supreme commander of the armies, Maddek, learns royal his parents have been murdered by a corrupt king, he is forbidden revenge by the alliance council. The evil King’s daughter, Yvenne, had been held captive her whole life. Yvenne’s only hope at freedom was Maddek’s parents arranging a marriage between them until they fell at her father’s treachery. Maddek is nearly consumed with his grief, rage, and deep need for vengeance. After taking Yvenne captive, Maddek forms an uneasy alliance with her as they have the same goals: to destroy her father and most of her equally detestable brothers. He does not fully trust this enemy’s daughter nor does Maddek believe his mother chose such a small, seemingly weak slip of a women to be a queen and Barbarian’s bride. The majority of this story takes place on a long journey where plans are made to overthrow their enemies. Yvenne has much to learn about life outside of her tower prison as well as the physical skills of a would be warrior queen. After spending her life totally confined, the world is a new and glorious place but also filled with many dangers. The blood of a goddess runs in Yvenne’s veins so she has talents and skills than are needed to achieve their objectives. For Maddek and Yvenne personally and logistically, clashes are fought on more than one front because signs indicate the Destroyer is coming back and he has spies and allies to help. Yvenne and Maddek have a tenuous relationship. Is she telling the truth about his parents, or is Yvenne another great deceiver? They spend a considerable time in a relationship fraught because of his distrust and her frustration with her Barbarian’s stubborn refusal to believe Yvenne’s sincerity. The tension is also of the physical kind because Maddek’s growing attraction to his would-be bride leaves him quite conflicted. Not surprisingly, Maddek and Yvenne’s connection is rather complicated with all that is going on between them on more than one battlefield of the heart and soul. Ms. Vane has done a remarkable job with this impressive tale which is first in a series called A Gathering of Dragons. To clarify, Dragon refers to the guards who accompany and serve to protect Maddek, not the fire breathing kind. Though this is a lengthy story, it is well paced and will keep readers’ attention. At times the angst in Maddek and Yvenne’s relationship is high and events in the story are filled with trials and danger; however, those are the elements that will keep readers glued to the pages wondering what will happen next. Fans of Ms. Vane will be well pleased while new readers will be glad they found such a well told tale.
Maddek, a warrior prince has just lost his mother and father who were also king and queen and vows to find the reason why they were slain. Yvenne, a king's daughter is also mourning her mother, but proposes a marriage to this warrior to achieve a shared goal. But can Maddek trust her when he realizes that she may have been part of the king and queens murder? To say that I loved A Heart of Blood and Ashes, would be an understatement. I immediately fell in love with both Maddek and Yvenne. Maddek who was so strong and had the strength of his dragon (the immediate warriors that he trusts to surround him) and Yvenne who was the opposite - so very alone, weak and yet she was so sharp and had her wits about her. These two were immediately a perfect pair even though it may have taken some time for them to come around to one another. One of the reasons I really enjoyed this book was the camaraderie between Maddek and his dragon, but also the beliefs that Yvenne has in her people. Even though there are great secrets being discussed in the throne room, the belief that their people are good is what fuels a great king and queen. The attraction between Maddek and Yvenne was sizzling from the first moment these two met each other. I was definitely not expecting so much heat between these two and Milla Vane surprised me in the best of ways. Maddek and Yvenne are so primal and their attraction to one another doesn't fool anyone. But it's what's beyond just the physical attraction that had me rooting for these two. Once their relationship is established, I loved the intimacy between Yvenne and Maddek. Alongside his dragon I was rooting for Maddek to make Yvenne his queen. If you're looking for an adventurous fantasy romance then look no further and pick up A Heart of Blood and Ashes. You will be suspended into fantastic world where you will feel the passion as well as the adventure taking place around you. I am so looking forward to the next book in the series! I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.
Maddek is a tough character. You can sympathize completely with his pain, grief, and rage. His parents have been murdered and the leaders of the alliance they have sworn to help aren't interested in true justice. Lies have been told, and the alliance would rather have temporary peace at the cost of good leaders and turn a blind eye to the corruption Zanathe is spreading throughout the land because it doesn't effect them at the moment. It isn't a surprise that he wants revenge and may do some reckless things to get it. He decides to go after Zanathe's daughter Yvenne- who he believes had something to do with his parents' deaths. Here's where he starts losing me. There's no evidence Yvenne had anything to do with the murders. But Maddek would be happy to kill her and then go after Zanathe and his sons even if that means his own people are attacked by the alliance. Everyone expects him to be the next Parsathe king, but he isn't thinking of his people- only his hatred. He's fully prepared to use Yvenne as a tool of revenge, whether that means killing her or having children with her that will usurp Zanathe on the throne. Maddek refuses to listen to Yvenne about his parents, and ignores evidence of her own suffering under her father to better fit his ideas. He sees her as weak and lashes out at her every chance he gets- then gets mad at her for not wanting to talk to him and tell him personal things. Yvenne is patient and cunning, but also has a joy in seeing the world that makes her seem younger than she is, and it is delightful to see someone who has suffered her whole life not give in to rage and hatred, but allow joy and hope to live alongside those darker emotions. She's not all sweetness and light, but has a bloodthirsty practicality to her that I really enjoyed. She's fully prepared to fall in love with Maddek because she's heard about how honorable and strong he is, their goals align and she believes they should be able to work together. But that isn't a side of himself that Maddek shows her. It's painful to watch her start to connect with Maddek only to be slapped back down as he tells her she's only a vessel for revenge. Even after he snaps at her to remind himself to not fall in love with her, she doesn't know that. But every time her hope is crushed, or disaster happens, Yvenne gets up. And we learn what she tries to teach Maddek- you only really know a person after they've been defeated and if they get up again. A Heart of Blood and Ashes was a hard book to get into, but when Yvenne entered the scene I started to get into it more. Maddek might have been a sympathetic character in terms of his pain and grief, but I didn't like him as a person- especially in the beginning. The narrative switches between Maddek and Yvenne so we get to learn their inner thoughts and drives, and Maddek doesn't change for most of the book. By the end, he does become more the kind of main character we can appreciate and there is a great scene as the army storms the castle to rescue Yvenne where we can cheer Maddek as finally really understanding things- and recognizing Yvenne as a strong person all her own. A good ending made the long and slightly plodding pace of most of the book worth it for me, but I'm not sure I'd pick up the next book in the series based on this one I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
Another strong entry from Ms. Vane, with complex characters, deft plotting, and a richly imagined world with a consistent underlying mythology and intriguing dieties. Seems to sit squarely at the unlikely crossroads of Robert E. Howard and an x-rated Jane Austen (think Conan the Barbarian meets Elizabeth Bennett, with lots of passionate sex), but all the more entertaining for it. Read the book in less than a day, and am already looking forward to the next one.
REVIEW PROVIDED BY: Kelly NUMBER OF HEARTS: 5 Maddek is out for vengeance and nothing will stand in his way. That is until he meets an unlikely ally. One that will test everything the Maddek knows and feels. Nothing will ever be the same for Maddek. Yvenne has been looked away for all her life. But now she is free and she is determined to take what is rightfully hers. In order to do that she will need the help of a very reluctant ally that would rather her dead. What a great first book in Milla Vane’s new A Gathering of Dragons series. I really enjoyed reading this book. Milla does a great job building a world full of very strange creatures, magic and the people that live in this world. I really enjoyed the case of the characters too. I am already looking forward to the next installment in this series. If you are looking for a great read that is filled with stubborn warriors, strategic queens, lies, betrayals, magic, hope and romance you need to add this book to your need to read list! Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley & Berkley Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review. This review is my own opinion and not a paid review.
Maddek is the alliance council's military commander, and his parents were the rulers, or Rans, of his homeland, Parsathe. But, they were recently murdered, and falsely accused of treachery, by the corrupt king of a fellow alliance nation. He swears he will seek vengeance, but the council forbids him to harm the king, or his sons, two of whom sit on the council. Now he must head home to Parsathe, while plotting his revenge. He learns that the king has a previously unknown daughter, and that she is the one who wrote to his parents, luring them to their deaths. He plans to kill her in retaliation, but he's shocked by her actions, and her proposal, when he finds her. Yvenne is a desperate woman, with nowhere else to turn. Mistreated, abused, and locked away by her father, the king, for her entire life, she has sent word to the warrior son of the murdered Rans of Parsathe. Her message is that she is the one who wrote to them, asking them to come. She has shared the details of her caravan with him, with hopes that he will show up to abduct and then marry her. She doesn't expect that he'll just want to kill her instead. Though she is thin and frail, her brain is her biggest asset, so she thinks fast and talks him into her plan, taking her to wife instead, in order for them both to get the revenge on her family that they crave. Maddek and Yvenne had a strong pull towards each other from the very beginning, but there were just SO VERY MANY obstacles to them truly being together. Of course they were betrothed, with plans to marry, but it didn't seem there could ever be any real love or trust between them. While Yvenne constantly tried to make inroads with him, Maddek was continually terrible to her. He threatens her from the beginning that if she speaks of his mother, that he'll rip out her tongue. And he is deadly serious about it. Even once he starts feeling more for her, and believing her about other things, he still won't let her speak of his mother. It led to a couple of sad, scary encounters between them, and I was constantly worried what might happen. I'm not used to feeling that way about my heroes, but after what he'd been through, and with the information he had, you almost couldn't blame him for his wariness. Maddek's Dragon, or his 6-person personal guard, were delightful, and I loved getting to know them, as Yvenne did, on their journey. They seemed to come to trust and care for her long before Maddek was able to. I enjoyed all the group's interactions, especially all their constant ribbing of each other, as if they were all siblings. I also loved how male and female warriors were treated equally in Parsathe, and both were equally valuable to the Ran. This story was quite dark at times. There was violence, and bloody skirmishes. The hero and heroine have a couple of physical encounters that are scary and violent, including their first meeting, before they actually manage to fall in love. But the world building was so unique. I think the reason it all worked for me is because it's Fantasy, and not a contemporary. I would not have accepted as easily many of the hero's flaws and actions if this had been a modern story. The story felt like an old school romance in many ways, with all the mistrust, and miscommunications between the main characters, which led to angst and heartbreak. All these elements worked together to keep me hooked and really pulling for Maddek and Yvenne to get their revenge & their HEA.
This story was years in the making. Meljean Brook-Milla Vane has been talking about her barbarians for years and it shows in this 534 page book! It is violent, steamy, brutal, strategic, scheming and full of larger than life characters. It is an epic fantasy romance saga in a prehistoric like world. Maddek is the Commander of the Alliance Army, a Parsathean warrior and prince, defending the Alliance's border. The story opens when he's called back to Alliance headquarters to learn his parents, the King and Queen of Parsathe have been executed by the Alliance Syssian Regent King Zhalen. At this point Maddek sees red and seeks vengeance as he knows the charges were false. His father would never assault a woman and his mother would not kill a prince of Syssia. He is now King presumptive of the Raiders of the Parsathean Plains. On his trip home where all the tribes are assembling for the vote, he gets intelligence that the last heir of Nyset of Syssia, daughter of Zhalen is caravanning to her betrothed king of Tolehi. Maddek receives a message that it was her who drew her parents to Syssia in an effort to make a marriage alliance to strengthen the Alliance. He sees a way to avenge his parents. Yvenne is the last heir of Nyset, the greatest queen of Syssia. She has been locked away in a tower by her father since her birth with her mother the poisoned queen and her younger brother Tyzen she helped raise. She was born premature making her small in stature and appear weak. Because of her father's cruel discipline she has a crippled knee. She was raised by her mother who was blessed with the Moon Goddess Vela's gift of sight. Before she died her mother taught Yvenne all about the realms, people and the world so Yvenne could become a wise Queen of Syssia as was her birthright. Syssia is a matriarchal society. Yvenne is not blessed with Vela's sight as her mother was but she knows Vela sees through her moonstone eyes. She has become a master strategist and wise in other's tactics & motivations thanks to her mother's sight. She just needs a warrior king to help her extract her vengeance on her father and gain the throne. And so an unlikely alliance is made between these two people, each with strengths very different from the other. I was fascinated how Milla wove these strong personalities together in this book so they eventually came to trust each other and make a complete whole to rule together to strengthen the Alliance. The Destroyer is coming and the Alliance must be strong and united to defeat him and his magic. I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced readers copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
After the Destroyer came and decimated the Western realms, its people had no choice but to form a tentative alliance against him. Now, decades later and growing a bit complacent, some of the Kingdoms have begun garnering for more power within the alliance. Maddek, who has been away defending their boundaries against invasion, returns at the news of his parents’ deaths. Framed as an execution for wrongdoings, Maddek knows this to be a lie and that his parents were really murdered. Unfortunately, the alliance prevents Maddek from being able to openly retaliate, so he does the next best thing. Maddek decides to take to wife the daughter of the King responsible for his parents’ deaths. Using her as a tool to gain power to the traitor’s Kingdom. Turns out, Yvenne is okay with this because she wants to see the downfall of her tyrant father just as much, if not more, than Maddek, but she also isn’t going to sit meekly by while Maddek’s plans take fruition. Challenging each other every step of the way, they’ll both need to discover what it takes to rule a Kingdom or die trying. A Heart of Blood and Ashes marks the return of Milla Vane (aka Meljean Brook). There was no way I was not going to read this book. Many might remember the short story in the Night Shift anthology. If not, or if you haven’t read it yet, it’s not a problem. A Heart of Blood and Ashes takes on a whole new set of characters, although it is set in the same world. This is a long, almost circuitous story that builds upon the world and mythology with each pass of the circle. Adding new information as we go. I enjoyed every word. It’s, at times, brutal, violent, tense, sexy, tangled and myriad other descriptors. Mainly focusing on Maddek and Yvenne two opposites coming together with the same goal: to usurp her father King to thwart off the trouble he’s causing with his bid for more power and—more simply—revenge. I liked that in order to accomplish their goals they each much adopt the other’s strengths. Yvenne, a woman kept locked away for most of her life, must gain physical strength. She already possesses strength of mind and character, but she needs to learn to utilize her body’s capabilities however they present themselves. Probably most importantly, though, Maddek needs to learn how to really lead, how to rule, and one thing that Yvenne has done in all her years locked away is observe and learn. She knows what the people want, what they need, so she teaches Maddek about caring for a Kingdom with equal parts ruthlessness and compassion. The story goes round-and-round reinforcing these edicts, building upon them and in the process, building upon the relationship between Maddek and Yvenne. Even though they are allies of a sort doesn’t mean they are not also enemies….at least at the beginning. Slowly they let their respective guards down and realize that they can have so much more than an alliance, they can be partners they can love each other, they can build something sold. It’s beautifully developed with such care, and a suspension of vulnerability on both their parts. If you can’t tell, I loved this book. I want to spend a week just reading in this world, I want the next book NOW! While Maddek and Yvenne’s personal conflict is contained within Blood and Ashes, the return of the Destroyer is on the horizon and I think it’s fair to say that overarching storyline will impact how the series proceeds. And, luckily, it seems like we won’t have long to wait for the second book
A Heart of Blood and Ashes by Milla Vane is the 1st book in her A Gathering of Dragons series. I was not sure what to expect when I started this fantasy novel that was 560 pages, but as I read a few chapters in, I became totally engrossed into this fabulous story that kept me unable to put the book down. Milla Vane is a new author to me, and I am happy to say that I will most certainly be reading the future books in this series. We meet Maddek, our hero, at the start, when he learns that his mother and father (King and Queen of Parsathe) have been murdered by a King from another realm, who are part of an alliance protecting them from The Destroyer. Maddek confronts the Alliance Council, determined to enact vengeance against the corrupt King and his sons; he is ordered not to attack someone in their alliances. Maddek takes his army and heads for Syssian, only to find the corrupt Kings daughter being taken away. Since the daughter was the one who invited his parents to visit, and thereby were killed, Maddek plans to enact his revenge against the daughter. Yvenne, our heroine, is the King’s daughter, and to his surprise, she kills her brother in front of him, and offers herself to help him defeat her evil father, and other nasty brothers. Yvenne was not what Maddek expected, as she was nothing like a warrior queen was supposed to be, being small and weak, having suffered most of her young life. But Yvenne was horribly treated by her family, having lost fingers, damaged knees and imprisoned most of her life; she was though very intelligent, with knowledge that would make her a fine Queen. She proposes marriage to help Maddek become King of both lands, which he accepts. The problem is Maddek hates her, thinking that she lured his parents to their deaths. No matter how much she explains that she became close to his mother, and tried to help her, Maddek treated her with distain and threatens to shut her up. I will say that for a 1/3 of the book, I was not a fan of Maddek, as he was nasty to Yvenne, even though all his soldiers began to love her. I did love Yvenne, as she made such a wonderful heroine, making up for her disabilities, working hard to use a knife and arrows, as well as strengthen her body. She slowly earned the respect from the men and women on Maddek’s team, as she was able to use her ‘sight’ to warn them of the enemy coming close to attacking. Maddek in a short time, slowly began to fall for Yvette and help train her, but it did take some time. The chemistry between them was sizzling. What follows is a fabulous, exciting, entertaining adventure filled with danger, magic, betrayals, as well as fantastic secondary characters created by Vane. I loved the Parsathian men and woman, and how they opened up to Yvenne, as well as their loyalty to Maddek. A Heart of Blood and Ashes is a big novel, but it is so worth it. To tell too much more would become spoilers, and you really need to read this from start to finish. A Heart of Blood and Ashes is fantasy at its best, with intense nonstop violent action, excitement, fantastic characters and a wonderful romance. I will also say I loved loved the ending, which had an epilogue. So many fantasy books end with a cliffhanger, but A Heart of Blood and Ashes had a satisfying conclusion, even though the story will continue in the next book. Thank you Milla Vane for this wonderful conclusion, and I cannot wait for the next book in this series.