Series: Fallen Empire #3
Published by Ace on November 8, 2022
Genres: Paranormal/Urban Fantasy
I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
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A woman with the gift to speak to the dead—and the assassin pursuing her—may be the only chance a crumbling empire has of holding back true evil, in this electrifying fantasy romance from the USA Today bestselling author of Radiance.
Siora has been on the run for longer than she cares to remember, from her past and her gift. Born with the ability to see and speak to ghosts, she has heard their desperate pleas as an otherworldly predator stalks the dead amid the fertile killing fields of the collapsing Krael Empire. The creature’s power and reach are growing with every soul it consumes, but Siora is preoccupied with her own troubles: namely an assassin who has sworn an oath of vengeance against her.
Gharek of Cabast was once the right-hand man of the reviled empress but is now a wanted fugitive. Although his reasons for hunting Siora are viscerally personal, what Gharek can’t anticipate is that when he finally does find her, she will hold the key to saving his world, or what’s left of it. To make good on old debts and protect the vulnerable dead from a malevolent force, Gharek and Siora will both need to make an ally out of an enemy—and trust that will be enough to save each other.
I love Grace Draven.
We are back in the Krael Empire which is now both shattered and rejoicing in the death of the vile Empress. Several factions like the Savatar and the Nunari are reclaiming their lands, while the Aristocrats and the Generals all make a play for the empty throne.
This story focuses on Gharek and Siora who we have met in prior stories, both with large parts in Book 2.
Gharek acted as the Empress’s vile cat’s-paw. He was the most feared man in the Kingdom after Herself. In Dragon Unleashed, we got a peek behind the curtain into what drives a man to perform such vile acts, most of which were bringing whoever offended the Empress to her to be tortured. We learned that Gharek has a daughter who was born without arms and he has become the most feared man in the land to protect his child and keep her safe from the mobs who would kill her for her imperfection.
He originally meets Siora when she was just a begger on the street who threw herself between young Estred and disgusting rock-throwing mob. Gharek brought her into his house and made Siora Estred’s nursemaid and caretaker.
In Dragon Unleashed, Gharek was ordered by the Empress to capture the dragon so she could bathe in his blood and re-grow her missing arm. Upon hearing this, Gharek was determined to find the hiding Dragon but not to turn him over to the Empress, but he wanted some a bit of the Dragon’s blood to heal his own daughter. In his desperation to fix his daughter, Gharek acted even more vile than usual, which was saying quite a bit. Siora felt Gharek went too far when he kidnapped Asil, an old woman with the mind of a child, and Siora went against Gharek and helped her back to her people.
In Raven Unveiled, Gharek feels betrayed by Siora and has sworn to track her down and kill her for that betrayal but more importantly, he wants to drag her back home and make her apologize for making his daughter cry when Siora ran away without saying goodbye.
We can tell from his rantings, that Gharek had become fond of Siora himself. She wasn’t afraid of him even though his whole household, and the Empire at large, feared him. She would speak her mind and even smiled at him a time or two, and she truly cared for his daughter, Estred. Siora was gaining Gharek’s respect, and her betrayal hurt him as much as her leaving suddenly did to his daughter.
But not everyone was a fan of the Empress’s cat’s-paw and plenty of people were hunting for Gharek for payback now that the Empress was dead, and Gharek’s power and protection is dried up. As soon as Gharek catches up with Siora, one of the battling General’s catches them both, and turns the tables on Gharek but using his daughter as a pawn to force Gharek’s help sneaking into the old palace. Gharek knows that he is as good as dead, but maybe risking his life can save Siora and Estred.
And it is not just the feuding Lords and Generals that they have to worry about. Something powerful is rising in the haunted city of Midrigar, and is devouring the souls of the dead. As it devours and grows stronger, it has started to draw the living towards its cursed gates, beginning with Gharek. It might not matter who sits on the throne when they may not be a living soul left in the lands.
I love when an author can take a villain and truly make him into a hero. Gharek was absolutely a bad guy. He did vile things for the Empress and brought people to her, some who never commited a crime, even knowing the Empress would torture and kill them for her own entertainment. Then we learned why Gharek did everything he did–to protect his child. Gharek knew that he would the only thing keeping his daughter from being killed by the masses, simply because the bright and witty child was born without arms. But we also learned that he was in as much danger from the Empress as anyone else. She knew about his child and would ask about her as a reminder to Gharek that he need to do his vile job or risk his daughter or his own life, which would again leave his daughter vulnerable to the mobs who would attack her for her differences. Ok, he wasn’t the best hero as his actions were selfish but what parent wouldn’t contemplate horrific choices to protect their child. Also, Siora was working to push him into being a man his daughter would be proud of.
No matter what happens in this story, a HEA for Gharek, Siora and Estred is quite questionable since anyone who would recognize him as the cat’s-paw will try to kill him or capture him for payment to someone else who wants to kill him. There is no where in this Krael Empire that will offer them safety to live out their days in quiet peace.
We have crossed paths with Siora in Phoenix Unbound as well. She was in the 1st book as one of the Flowers of Spring. She was in the pit with Gilene at the end of the story. Siora is a shade speaker that can hear spirits and was speaking with the spirit of her father who had died in those same pits a decade before.
I love Grace Draven and really enjoy the worlds she creates. We did not finish this story with a happy Kingdom rejoicing in peace so I hope that means we have more stories to read from the Fallen Kingdom.
Take my hand, daughter, so the cat’s-paw can see me. Skavol held out his hand, and for the first time in her memory, Siora touched her father’s ghost.
Next to her, Gharek startled, his body twitching in surprise at the sudden appearance of an apparition in front of them.
Skavol’s touch was as cold as Kalun’s had been but his beloved presence blunted the razor’s edge of her panic for a moment.
You don’t have much time before it reaches this stall. I can distract it. The moment you see your chance, don’t hesitate. His phantasmic features hollowed with their own terror. I won’t have my daughter suffer the same fate as the Maesor traders did at the hands of that thing.
His revelation regarding the disappearance of so many once more sharpened the edge of her panic, made it jagged, but she only nodded. Thank you, Papa. Be careful.
Gharek couldn’t hear their conversation and Siora didn’t dare speak and risk being heard, but he understood both her and Skavol’s hand gestures, nodding once. When Skavol let go her her hand, he faded from Gharek’s sight but not hers. She held Gharek’s arm in preparation of giving the signal for when to run. Her father walked through the stall’s fabric wall as if it wasn’t there and for a moment the creature continued its inexorable approach to their hiding place.
It suddenly spun on its thin, skeletal legs, making a triumphant chittering sound so reminiscent of what she’d heard in the abandoned barn’s provender room that every last hair on Siora’s body stood straight up. She spotted her father’s shade flitting quicksilver through the labyrinth of streets. The faceless predator spotted him too and bolted toward him in a ground-eating stride.
Gharek didn’t wait for her signal. Instead, he shackled her wrist in a bone-cracking grip and nearly lifted her off her feet as he burst out of the stall at a dead run. The gate wasn’t far but seemed a continent away. Terror gave her a deer’s swiftness and she easily kept up with him as they fled for the gate, an enraged, inhuman cry behind them splitting the quiet.
Gharek’s sudden epithet and his order that followed put wings on her heels. “Fuck! There’s two of them! Run!”
The chittering screeches had changed to howls, once set directly behind them and another to their left. Oh, gods, oh, gods. The chant clanged in her head, a half-crafted prayer raised from despair, fueled by fear and the primal urge to survive.
She and Gharek leapt through the gate. The strange vertigo didn’t plague her this time, but a new even greater threat faced them. Entering a gate to the Maesor at one place didn’t always mean you exited in the same spot. The street they hurtled onto bore no resemblance to one in Domora, nor did the blasted ruins around it.
Their sprint slowed to a jog, and the tightening of Gharek’s already hard grip on her wrist told her he was as confused as she was, but only for a moment.
“Gods damn it,” he said, not in fury but in despair, and the hopelessness in his voice sent her stomach plummeting to her feet. “We’re in Midrigar.”
As if saying the cursed city’s name out loud conjured more of the repulsive, faceless hunters, a series of feral calls sounded all around them, some closer, some distant, a blood-hungry sound of anticipation as cold as the silvery moonlight plating the remains of the city’s towers.
Gharek didn’t need to tell her again to run, and this time they raced for another gate, one not created by sorcery but by human hands long dead and then destroyed by an army and its battle mages.
She stumbled when Gharek suddenly gasped and his pace slowed, though he strained to reach the gate. Siora recognized his expression. He’d worn it as Midrigar or whatever was imprisoned inside it cast a sorcerous net over him. She felt it as well, though not as strong, an insistent tugging on her spine and limbs as if some viperous vine tried to coil around her body.
She fought off the sensation, and now it was she who clamped an unyielding grip on Gharek and dragged him with her, fighting his weight and the bewitchment of a malice whose whisper in the mind coiled into her ears and slithered along her backbone.
“Come, meat. I hunger.”
Triumphant howling bore down on them, and from the corner of her eye she spotted a pale, faceless hunter sprinting toward them.
Gharek tried to twist out of her grip. “Let go, you stupid girl, and run!” he ordered in a voice slurred as if the ability to speak took monumental effort.
“No!” She pulled even harder and with a renewed burst of strength, hauled them both through the shattered gate to the other side of the walls.
She slammed hard into an immovable barrier, crushed between it and Gharek, who did the same. They both fell, Siora onto him before she rolled away onto her back. She didn’t stay that way, levering herself up on her elbows and squinting as the glow of a raised lamp blinded her for a moment. The enraged screaming of the faceless hunters still cut the night but they remained trapped behind the walls and drew no closer. The eerie pull on her spine lingered, annoying, skin-crawling but no longer so insistent or with the strength of a command as it was for Gharek. Even now he tried to crawl back to the gate but was held down by someone’s knee in his back and someone else’s grip on his legs.
She blinked until her eyes adjusted to the greater light. Several silhouettes surrounded her and Gharek, their regard focused hard on them. A face came into clear view, lit by the lamp. A familiar face, a human one that hid so much more, and one she never thought she’d see again.