A Heart of Blood and Ashes A Heart of Blood and Ashes on February 4, 2020
Pages: 560
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four-stars

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…

I wasn’t too sure I would like this book after I read a bunch of the reviews, so I went in a little wary. Every single review talks about how brutal this world and book are. I mean, it’s a Barbarian Romance, so it is, but I spent the whole day reading it, and I was floored. I never wanted to put it down!

It’s considered Barbarian Fantasy Romance. Imagine a world where humans have fallen after an endless war, but have surged back. They are about Medieval? A little farther in? as far as technology and caste system. Dinosaurs exist, but not called that. There are humans and savages. The savages are not human, but humanoid I guess. I do not think this is Earth. This interview with Milla Vane on AAR tells a lot more about the world and worldbuilding (about halfway down) than her website does.

The amount of world building in this five hundred something page book is so extensive that I’m shocked that none of it is devoted to telling us about that. With that hefty of a page count, I think there could have been a few pages devoted to what happened in the past.

Maddek is a warrior from a people who are amazingly huge, big, and strong warriors. His people understand strength and battle. But to be a leader, he needs to understand more than just winning. He needs to understand the politics he hates so much. He needs to learn about why that side of leading is important. His parents have been killed, and the council has declared it their own fault. He knows what they say are lies and he wants revenge, but cannot directly kill the king responsible without it being a declaration of war.

Yvenne is a weak and sickly girl who has been hidden from the world. Her father the king has never let anyone know he had a daughter. Their kingdom is matriarchal, and the queens have all been warrior queens. All except for Yvenne. Her father and brothers have taken over and their plan is to marry her off to a king who they will control, so when Yvenne marries, she’ll still be under their control. But she sends a message to Maddek’s parents hoping they’ll marry her to their son, who can help her take her kingdom back…but her father has his parents killed. All Maddek knows is it’s her fault his parents were killed, and he won’t allow her to speak her side. He’s threatens her with ripping out her tongue, and he means it.

This is where I (like most readers) had a problem with Maddek. He was so convinced Yvenne was lying that he not only wouldn’t allow her to speak her side, but he wouldn’t allow her to speak of his mother at all in any way. What I did like is that it forced Yvenne to get creative and to use her brain. She’s smart, she’s tough, and she is absolutely an amazing heroine.

I am very excited for the next book, which is funny since I’m really not a Fantasy fan (I read a lot of Fantasy as a teen and I think Romance is just where my heart lies). But dark books don’t usually work for me, barbarians don’t usually work for me, Fantasy doesn’t usually work for me…and yet with Milla Vane’s deft hand, this book worked for me!

***ARC courtesy of Berkley Publishing

four-stars