Friday, November 18, 2022

#Review - Raven Unveiled by Grace Draven #Fantasy #Romance

Series: The Fallen Empire (#3)
Format: Paperback, 352 pages
Release Date: November 8, 2022
Publisher: Ace
Source: Publisher
Genre: Fantasy / Romance

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.

Raven Unveiled, by author Grace Draven, is the third installment in the authors The Fallen Empires series. The fall of Domora and the death of evil Empress Dalvila by the draga Malachus in Dragon Unleashed has left the world leaderless and in the midst of revolution. This book features Gharek of Cabast, who was once Dalvila's feared cat paw/assassin who is now a wanted man, and Siora, a shade speaker who has the ability  to see and to communicate with ghosts. The woman who was once nursemaid to Gharek's disabled daughter.

Siora has been hearing desperate pleas of the departed, as well as her own father, 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 and no one is safe. Not the departed, not the living. Siora betrayed her employer (Gharek) and the child (Estred) she had become nursemaid to. She helped save the Dragon in the previous book knowing what it would cost her and has been on the run ever since.

Gharek is prepared to hunt Siora to the end of the world and back again because she didn’t just leave him, but also left his child who mourned her leaving like a child losing a parent. He will make sure he bring Siora in front of his daughter to apologize. Gharek's plans are thwarted when he is captured by a General named Zaredis who demands that Gharek find a way into the palace he knows like the back of his hand. He wants Gharek to retrieve a powerful artifact called Windcry that the former Empress put under a powerful protection.

With the Windcry, Zaredis hopes to become the next Emperor.  Gharek and Siora are forced to team up which ends up with meeting characters from the second book in this series: Malachus, Asil, and Halani. Needless to say, the 3 are not exactly jumping for joy at meeting Gharek. 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. 

Once you read Gharek's backstory, he's not really the monster that most people think he is. His backstory also begs the question what would you do for your child? What horrible lengths would you go to to protect them? This book considers what an extreme answer to this question might look like. Meanwhile, Siora has to learn quickly that she's more than just a person who speaks and hears the departed. She's much, much more, and she will have to learn quickly so that both she and Gharek survive the dark taking over the land.

This book ends on a what happens next note. I am not sure who will be focus on any sequel to this story. This is an author who knows how to write interesting characters, twisted stories, and fantastic world building. I would encourage readers to read books in order as they were released so that you understand this world.


After two months of relentless tracking, the once feared empress's cat's-paw had finally run his prey to ground outside the haunted ruin of Midrigar. If Siora thought to hide from him here in the hopes the stories of the trapped and restless dead might scare him away, she knew him not at all.

He'd once been the lackey of a demon dressed in a beautiful woman's body and survived the employment. Nothing so insipid as a ghost would stop him from hunting down his treacherous servant.

She probably thought he meant to kill her. He'd been an assassin after all, and his fury over her betrayal had nearly consumed him once. The anger still simmered inside him, but he hunted her not to kill her but to make her apologize-on her knees if necessary-to a small child. That, more than vengeance meted out through death, was what drove him across the Empire.

The moon played coy behind tattered clouds and spilled argent light over the shattered city, casting the broken bones of its towers in stark relief against a star-salted sky. An unquiet tomb under an indifferent heaven.

Gharek growled, the sound making his horse's ears swivel back. He patted her neck, wishing he was comfortably ensconced in one of the better inns' finer rooms, with a sweet-smelling whore to keep him company. Or better yet, out of Kraelian territory altogether, safe with his daughter and the people he'd paid a fortune to see to her care while he roamed a collapsing empire in search of the beggar bitch who'd turned on him and ruined his and his daughter's lives.

Instead of a posh room shared with an accommodating woman, he rode through a woodland devoid of sound, its silence absolute, as if it dared not flutter a leaf or creak a branch for fear of attracting the attention of what might lay behind Midrigar's tumbled walls. Despite the strangeness that sent a crawling feeling over his skin, Gharek didn't waver in his tracking.

A trek through the forest was as good as any for avoiding Kraelian troops on patrol. Despite the raids from Nunari clans, the main trade route remained a busy one, serving Guild and free traders as well as battalions of Kraelian soldiers sent to fight the rebellious Nunari. He stayed off the road for those reasons and others, as much a fugitive as his quarry, as fiercely hunted by those he'd once wronged.

Gharek's search for Siora had finally proven fruitful in the last week. The right questions asked of the right people in the villages where he'd stopped had yielded reliable information. A woman, not much bigger than a child but with the knowing gaze of a crone, had offered to act as liaison between the grieving living and their beloved dead for the fee of a belsha or two. She'd managed to swindle coin out of their families before others drove her away. Shade speakers were barely tolerated even when many believed in their talent.

He'd set off for Wellspring Holt, a bustling trader's town that had so far managed to escape the worst of the raids. Siora would find it easier to hide there than in the smaller towns and villages. Hiring a tracker might prove a faster method for finding her, but Gharek preferred working alone, especially since he had his own secrets to keep. As the empress's cat's-paw, experience had taught him that his skills weren't suited for teamwork. The mad empress might be draga spittle splattered on Domora's battlements now, but it didn't change the way he hunted quarry-always alone.

While he'd altered his appearance with a new beard and shorter hair to avoid being recognized, he wasn't taking any chances by keeping company with anyone for any length of time. Bounties for the cat's-paw, alive or dead, were generous, and those hoping to claim such rewards numerous.

He'd crossed a sea of fields-some plowed and seeded, waiting for harvest, others left fallow-and came upon a stone circle in the middle of a pasture. No sheep or cattle grazed nearby, and Gharek's mare balked when he tried to steer her closer. He gave in to her protest and rode past the monument erected to some long-forgotten deity. These ancient places held on to their power long after their supplicants had turned to dust. Whatever lingered here, his mare wanted nothing to do with it.

If anything hid within the circle, he'd have seen it already, but nothing disturbed the wild flowers growing there, and he disregarded it, turning his attention toward a ramshackle barn nearby. The horse offered no resistance when they stopped in front of the structure. Gharek tied her to one of the few posts still standing from the remnants of a fence and went inside, his instincts practically making his veins hum with the certainty his target had stopped there or was still there.

Sunlight had cascaded through holes in the roof, illuminating a half dozen empty stalls. Mice fled in every direction on a chorus of tiny squeals when he entered, their feet leaving patterns in the powdery dust coating every surface.

But it wasn't their tracks that held his attention. He'd crouched to examine a set of much larger prints-human, those of a woman or child with flat feet who walked lightly. The shoe tread pattern was unique and Gharek instantly recognized Siora's distinctive footprints. Nothing else in the barn so far gave him a clue to her presence, and the prints might well belong to someone else, but his gut had yet to fail him. This was Siora's marker.

The prints tracked in two directions, and he'd followed the pair leading farther into the barn's depths to what was once a provender room. He paused in the doorway, letting his eyes adjust to the greater darkness there. Patterns on the floor's disturbed dirt told him she'd slept here, at least for a short time, likely taking what shelter she could find during the night away from other predators, besides himself, that hunted during the small hours.

He'd pivoted, noting the walls with their cracked plaster and bowed framing, the slope of the roof on the verge of collapse. A stiff wind would bring the place down in a rotting heap. Best not to linger and end up entombed beneath the wreckage.

The sight of one of the room's walls as he turned to leave had made him recoil.

As Dalvila's erstwhile cat's-paw, he'd witnessed levels of depravity and cruelty that defied description and decayed a part of his soul every time. The empress had more than earned her reputation as a mad and murderous ruler. Her subjects didn't know the half of it. Gharek remembered every person he'd dispatched on her orders, though unlike her, he meted out death in a manner efficient and quick. Time had made every memory sharper, made his spirit ever more numb to his actions, but even he sat up some nights and brought in the dawn with a flagon or two of wine, afraid to close his eyes and subject himself to the nightmares of remembrance and the empress's monstrous indulgences upon her victims.

He'd sometimes wondered if she was even human and had decided that in the end it didn't matter. She was vile, and he served her will, thus making him as vile as her. He was as beyond redemption as she was, holding on to his last scrap of humanity for his daughter's sake. Estred would never know the depths to which he had plunged in order to keep her safe and cared for. If she did, she'd hate him. Rightfully so.

People didn't turn the labor of their creativity toward provender rooms where the only witnesses to works of art were field mice and farmhands, and yet laid across one wall was a display of horror in shades of black and rust executed by a gleeful hand. Gharek had studied the repulsive mural. If Dalvila had seen it, she would have commissioned the artist to paint something similar on one of her bedchamber's walls or maybe the ceiling, a visual feast to look upon while she raped her latest plaything. The work half revealed in the room's shadow displayed pleasure in torture, a lust for another's fear. A multitude of faces crushed together, their mouths stretched wide in silent screams, their eyes bulging with terror as they stared at some horror he couldn't see. Why such an abomination was displayed on a derelict barn's wall was a mystery, one he had no desire to solve.

He hadn't gone closer for a better look, and the longer he had stared at the grotesque images, the more certain he became it wasn't paint that rendered them on the wall.

While he hadn't run from the room, his strides were long ones, and he'd released a grateful breath when he was outside once more under the sweltering blaze of a summer sun with the song of insects serenading him.

Had Siora seen the wall when she camped in the barn? A true shade speaker might not fear ghosts, but there was more to that hideous mural than a callous mockery of the dead. Surely even she would be horrified at the sight.

He'd ridden away, following more of Siora's tracks while doing his best to shrug off the feeling of being watched that skittered down his back on spider legs. No wonder the fields surrounding the barn were abandoned and the building left to decay.

Experience and weeks of fruitless searching had taught him that to rush toward Siora's latest hiding place did him no good and often worked against him. It was uncanny how she'd managed to outsmart and outmaneuver him without ever truly outrunning him.

Were she a wealthy noblewoman with numerous connections and friends, he'd assume she made use of a vast network of helpers who would render aid either in the service of friendship or for profit. But this was a beggar without a belsha to her name beyond what she might scrape together for a meal. She was also a shade speaker, a fact she'd failed to mention when he suffered a moment's weakness and offered her a place in his household as thanks for saving Estred from a stone-throwing mob. He'd paid a heavy price for that foolish kindness.

He'd tracked her through the day and into evening, not toward Wellspring Holt, but here to an eerie expanse of woodland whose perimeters stretched for leagues in a gentle curve that hugged the trade route and clung to the remains of Midrigar. The forest offered a possible hiding place for brigands and fugitives. And shade speakers on the run.

Moonlight lit the treetops but most of the woodland slumbered in full dark. It was slow going as his horse picked her way through the underbrush. Gharek held a small lamp aloft to illuminate the path ahead. He didn't worry that the fragile light might be seen in the distance and alert someone. His mount's hooves crushing sticks and brittle deadfall would accomplish the task long before the light did.

The music of insects and bird calls had been loud just before he crossed the tree line, a cacophony of whistles, rustles, and chirps. Those sounds died away the closer he rode to the ruins of the dead city until the silence itself held its breath and only the gloom shrouding the trees breathed. His amiable mare stopped suddenly then pranced backward, tossing her head and snorting. Gharek tapped his heels against her sides to coax her forward. She'd have none of it, fighting the bit in her mouth as she pivoted on her hooves to trot back the way they'd come.

Gharek reined her to a halt, considering whether it was wise to continue his scouting in another direction or make camp nearby and wait until morning to resume his hunt. He'd lose time with camping but trying to find anyone in this darkness while riding a spooked horse was an exercise in futility. Besides, he could make up the time in daylight. Siora was on foot, he on horseback. He'd cover far more ground in less time than she would, and the chance she'd outrun him if he spotted her was nonexistent.

He guided the mare to retrace her steps, and this time she readily obeyed the command, eager to put distance between them and the city that squatted like a pustule on the landscape. But she'd taken no more than a pair of steps when something wrapped icy fingers around Gharek's spine and wrenched him backward. He flew off the saddle as if lassoed from behind and landed on his back. The ground beneath him vibrated from the beat of his mare's hooves as she bolted past him into the labyrinth of trees.

He lay there for a moment, stunned and winded. The ice shard wedged against his backbone remained, though whatever had ripped him from horseback didn't press him into the dirt. A few more breaths and he lurched to his feet, unsettled by his unusual clumsiness, alarmed by the violence of an invisible force that had so thoroughly unhorsed him. There'd been no trip rope to clothesline him, nor had he been riding fast when he fell. The lamp he held had fallen when he did, lost somewhere in the underbrush when its flickering light had guttered. Darkness hung thick enough to scoop with a spoon.

His muttered curses sounded loud to his ears as he peered into the sepulchral black, hoping he might spot the mare standing nearby or at least find a partially cleared path that led back to open pasture. He took a step only to suffer a hard clamp on his backbone, as if the icicle there had suddenly transformed into a shackle locked around his middle. Invisible tethers seized his arms and legs and he was jerked to one side and then the other as if by a drunken puppeteer with their hands on the strings.

Gharek staggered, struggling to keep his feet, struggling to free himself from the bonds that held him in an unbreakable grip that both dragged and yanked him in the direction of Midrigar's walls. He careened through the dark, along a jagged path that propelled him into tree trunks before spinning him away to tear through the underbrush. He tried planting his feet in the dirt to no avail, his boots carving skid marks as he was pulled along like a cur on a leash. His palms left bloody smears on the bark of those trees he tried to grip for purchase and was wrenched away with little effort.

The iciness slithering down his spine spread in creeper tendrils throughout his body, wrapping around his lungs and heart, his liver, even his tongue so that his curses and snarls slowly ebbed away and his struggles waned. Speaking was an impossibility, breathing a challenge, and he was reduced to nothing more than a grunting, shambling mute driven inexorably toward an ancient city of the damned and a fate he could not know but feared with every part of his soul.

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