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…
This book. This book is fucking amazing. It was, honestly, a perfect read for me.
2019 was the year of re-reads for me. But 2020 looks to be the year of amazing new books – if they follow in the path of A Heart of Blood and Ashes.
I’ve read books by Meljean Brook, and I’ve LOVED them – especially her Iron Seas series – so I was excited when I first heard she has a new barbarian romance series coming out under her pen-name, Milla Vane. So much so that I pre-ordered the book.
The cherry on top was when we got it for review from Berkley. And so started the impromptu buddy-read between Navessa, Sarah, and I. We’ve spent the last couple of days texting amongst ourselves our thoughts, feelings, and favorite quotes.
I began reading in fantasy when I was just a child. I migrated to romance for the relationships and depth of characters that so many other genres lack. Finding an amazing fantasy story together with a heart-stopping romance? It’s the best of the best. There are so few fantasy-romance books out there. And fewer still that do it so exceptionally well.
A Heart of Blood and Ashes is definitely on the high-fantasy end of the spectrum. There’s a vaguely medieval setting, complete with barbarians, gods and goddesses, sorcerers, magic, monsters, revenants, and deeply political machinations. It gets dark. This isn’t an easy world, with easily defeated enemies and challenges. But the journey through this world, with these characters is so very worth it.
Milla Vane has done the world-building perfectly. It’s so subtly done that you are never stuck in information dumps on places or peoples. I viewed the world through (newly free) Yvenne’s eyes, and through Maddek’s widening sight. We learned of people and places as we traveled with them. We camped with them in the open, were stuck behind walls, rode through cities. We met people at inns, in fields, and through memories. Every moment moved the story forward, moved Yvenne and Maddek.
Yvenne and Maddek’s love story is strong, and fraught with hope. It’s also hot as hell. Their chemistry fairly burned off the pages. And more than once I had to stop and breathe.
It starts with blood and vengeance, and misunderstanding. I usually hate the hell out of misunderstandings in a romance book, but it works really, really well here. There’s good reason, on both Yvenne and Maddek’s parts to act and believe as they do.
When Maddek receives word that his parents are dead, with no other explanation, it’s immediately obvious that no one is going to like the how of their deaths. Least of all Maddek, who immediately vows vengeance on Zhalen. How to get that vengeance? By taking his only living daughter, Yvenne, and destroying her.
Except Yvenne isn’t what he expects either. When Maddek thinks to capture her, kill her, and toss her over her home city’s walls, she surprises him. And us. Yvenne has more reason than anyone to hate her father, and she seeks her own vengeance upon him. Yvenne is one of the best female characters I’ve read in a long, long time.
She’s a strong woman, without the physical strength that so many “strong” women get. She’s frail, has a permanent knee injury, and struggles with physical tasks. But she is also vicious, manipulative, honest, so very intelligent with a head for politics. Yvenne sees to the truth of a matter and isn’t afraid to say what needs to be said; she also knows when to hold her tongue.
I love her. She’s extraordinary, magnificent, and absolutely formidable.
So begins an unlikely betrothal and race. Yvenne and Maddek’s journey is fraught with danger. Not simply from outside, not only from pursuers, but from each other. And those hurts are the ones that sting the most. Never did I stop rooting for Yvenne and Maddek. I always hoped they would come together, in love and trust.
It’s a hard road to get there. Maddek makes many mistakes. I wanted to strangle him more than once. However, he is constantly growing and learning, AND he APOLOGIZES when he’s wrong. Not just at the end, but right away. In the moment. He works to change the behavior that he had to apologize for. He’s not perfect. He stumbles. He makes some mistakes more than once. But he never stops working at having the heart of a king – of being worthy of his to-be queen. This alone makes me adore him. If I hadn’t already I certainly would have by the end, with his speech of words he’d left unspoken for too long to Yvenne.
There were many other things here to love – the easy banter between characters; the relationship between Maddek and his Dragon; the inclusivity and diversity; the way love was simply love, without qualifiers or explanations; far too many things to go into them all in one review.
A Heart of Blood and Ashes, I already know just 6 days into the year, will be my favorite book this year. If everything else I read is only half as good as this, I’m going to have an amazing year of books.