Series: The Fallen Empire #2
Published by Ace on June 9, 2020
I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
This post contains affiliate links you can use to purchase the book. If you buy the book using that link, I will receive a small commission from the sale.
A dragon shapeshifter and a healer with power over the earth fight a corrupt empire in this thrilling and deeply emotional romantic fantasy from the USA Today bestselling author of Radiance.
Magic is outlawed in the Krael Empire and punishable by death. Born with the gift of earth magic, the free trader Halani keeps her dangerous secret closely guarded. When her uncle buys a mysterious artifact, a piece of bone belonging to a long-dead draga, Halani knows it's far more than what it seems.
Dragas haven't been seen for more than a century, and most believe them extinct. They're wrong. Dragas still walk among the denizens of the Empire, disguised as humans. Malachus is a draga living on borrowed time. The magic that has protected him will soon turn on him--unless he finds a key part of his heritage. He has tracked it to a group of free traders, among them a grave-robbing earth witch who fascinates him as much as she frustrates him with her many secrets.
Unbeknownst to both, the Empire's twisted empress searches for a draga of her own, to capture and kill as a trophy. As Malachus the hunter becomes the hunted, Halani must risk herself and all she loves to save him from the Empire's machinations and his own lethal birthright.
We need more draga in the world. Dragon Unleashed has great characters and world building. I am looking forward to more.
I decided I needed a quick re-read of Phoenix Unbound before starting Dragon Unleashed. I am glad that I did because I enjoyed it more with the second read. It also ended exactly were Book 2 begins in the market so the story felt more complete reading them back to back like that.
Dragon Unleashed features Halani, a healer with earth magic, who is a member of the free traders who unknowingly had helped Azarian and Gilene in their escape from the Empire and who had healed Gilene.
While at the market, Halani’s uncle was offered an artifact that was definitely dangerous. Halani could feel the magic pulsing off of it. She warned her uncle not to purchase it since it would bring them nothing but danger or else why would two strangers try to pawn something to valuable off so cheap. Of course, being a man in love with profit, he doesn’t listen and purchasing it brings all kinds of danger down on their heads just like Halani predicted.
Halani almost trips over three bodies in the meadow, including the two men who sold them the artifact, only to find the man with three large arrows in his body was still alive. Halani recognized him as the man who was so kind to her mother earlier in the day. Halani’s mother had an accident as a child and now acts very childlike making their mother/daughter bond a reversed role. While Halani doesn’t hold much hope of saving him, she can’t reward this man’s kindness by walking away and leaving him to die. But this it the second time that Halani has brought an unknown stranger into their keep and her uncle threatens to throw her out if she doesn’t get rid of the man who is definitely a danger to them.
Halani convinces her uncle to leave ahead of the rest of the caravan to go to the city and sell his artifact. This gives Halani a little more time to heal Malachus and get him on his feet before she needs to send him on his way.
What Halani doesn’t know is that she really has brought something dangerous into their caravans. Malachus is a draga hunting for his mother-bond so he can finally change forms. Yes, the mother-bond which Halani’s uncle has just left with to sell in the underground magic market in the city.
Malachus has never known human kindness like he has been offered from Halani and her mother, Asil. He has only known human greed, selfishness and hate. Just the fact that she decided to heal him rather than rob him is something amazing to him, and the longer he is with Halani, the more he wishes he could stay just a little longer but the draga inside is desperate to come out and he is so close to finding the mother-bond. He can feel it calling to him. But when he finds out that Halani had what he was seeking and sold if off, will he ever be able to forgive her?
I enjoyed this story of Malachus and Halani and sweet Asil, because her mother is an important bond between them. In fact, all of the free traders were very welcoming to Malachus, except the uncle, which Malachus finds surprising since he is decades older than he looks and has had decade upon decade of only seeing the worst in humans. The fact that draga are longer lived than humans and we have a draga/human bond growing was never discussed. I guess the fact that Malachus would stay young while Halani grew old is irrelevant for our HEA.
Halani the storyteller of the groups once again tells the tale of the Golden Maiden used to trap the evil and greedy dragon (whose skeleton hung in the bedroom of the Empress) which you can imagine doesn’t go over well with the draga who has his own understanding of what happened that day.
I did find the whole mother-bond being a bit convoluted a premise. Draga stay hidden in a human form to keep them safe. The mother dragon puts some magic in a piece of herself, in this case a piece of her claw, and when the child is old enough to protect themselves, they use the mother-bond to release their inner dragon. Obviously Malachus’s quest for the mother-bond is the basis of our story but it seemed a little too complicated to have mom keep yanking off pieces of herself, casting them with magic and having to remember where she keeps each one and look — this one got stolen. You would think dragon shifting would be like puberty. You hit that specific age where you can protect yourself and boom — draga hormones kick in and you get zits and tail.
This story also differs from Phoenix Unbound as there is a third POV for our story. The Empress has heard that there is a draga searching for its mother-bond and wants a new draga skeleton for her summer palace. She tasks Gharek to find the artifact and the draga. I am not sure how we are supposed to feel about Gharek since he obviously has no problem hurting people to do the Empresses bidding but we find that he does these things to protect his young daughter who was born with a birth defect which would get her stoned by the masses if he wasn’t there to protect her. He even is willing to double cross the Empress if he can find the draga and get him to use draga magic to heal his kid. Bad guy? Good guy? Not so bad guy? We do have a character make a reappearance from the first book and although she wasn’t given a name in the first story, but how many people can speak with the dead? I am not sure if Gharek will make a reappearance in the third book but I am not 100 percent able to hate him.
I am definitely enjoying Grace Draven’s storytelling which is what lead me to pick up Radiance and Eidolon and I am going to check out more of her stories as soon as I can.
“Why would I put you at risk? This is a hard world, made better for you being part of it.”
She was already afraid she’d lost half her heart to this man, and his words threatened to take the other half as well. “I don’t understand how you don’t have a swarm of hummingbirds and butterflies constantly circling you. I swear, nectar drifts off your tongue.” She traced the faint ridges of ribs under his skin, making him twitch from the ticklish sensation. “How many women have you seduced with such sweet words?”
He snorted. “None that I’m aware of. I was terrible at courtship. The brotherhood taught their fosterlings how to read, write, fight, and survive in the wilderness. The ways of courting, though, I learned that on my own through trial and error. A lot of error.”
“Truly? I find that difficult to believe. You’re well-spoken, intelligent, with a strong frame and handsome face.” Thoughtful and humorous, too, possessed of confidence but lacking in arrogance. Those were the things that truly endeared him to her. That he was pleasing to the eye didn’t hurt, but Halani had never been in danger of falling for a pretty face.
“Speaking of nectar of the tongue,” he said. “Trust me, if I’m ever in the position to counsel a boy just reaching his first beard, I have a wealth of information to share on what not to do when trying to charm or court a woman.”
“Oh, come now, it couldn’t have been that bad. And we all fail at courting at least once.”
“But I failed spectacularly and often.”
The storyteller inside her perked up, sniffing out a good tale in his words. “I want to hear this.”
He groaned as if in agony. “You would dine on my humiliation?”
“While I have my doubts it’s as bad as you say, I promise not to gloat over your supposed botch-ups.”
He soon had her laughing helplessly and cringing in sympathetic embarrassment. “I warned you,” he said after one awful recounting of his attempt at wooing a nobleman’s sister.
Halani wiped away tears of mirth, her sides aching. “I’m sorry. I know I shouldn’t laugh. It sounds awful, but you tell it in such a way…”
“I’m pleased to make you laugh.”
He was doing much more than making her laugh, though she’d never say that to him–or herself–out loud.
They circumnavigated the caravan line, ending up back at her wagon just as one of the women hailed her from another wagon for help in passing out lunch to the drivers. Unconcerned by the interested looks she and Malachus received from the others, Halani offered him a wide smile as she dismounted from the half-snoozing Falcon. “Thank you for inviting me to join you in racing the wind on this fleet-footed steed,” she teased.
Malachus leaned out of the saddle, close enough that if she stood on tiptoe, she could kiss his smiling mouth. “Now that you know of my courtship debacles, my dignity is in your hands and at your mercy, Halani of the Lightning.”
There it was again, a moniker he’d attached to her name that only made sense to him. “Will you ever tell me why you call me that?”
He winked. “Maybe.”
“If you do, I promise your dignity will remain intact.”
“Ah, spoken like a true free trader. A bargain is struck. I promise to tell you before I leave.”
The reminder that he’d soon leave them made her smile falter. His did the same. “No dark thoughts, Halani,” he said softly before straightening once more. “I’ll see you later tonight for supper and a reading lesson.”