Shannon: Phoenix Unbound, the prequel to Dragon Unleashed was my first experience with Grace Draven’s writing, and I was beyond impressed by the novel. This, the second book in the series, is set in the same world, but has little noticeable carry-over from the first book. I think readers could easily start with Dragon Unleashed without feeling overly confused. What do you think?
Dabney: Completely agree. If you’d read Phoenix Unbound, you’d have a deeper understanding of some of the references but, as a story, Dragon Unleashed works just fine as a stand alone novel.
Shannon: And what an epic novel I found it to be! Draven’s world building is completely immersive and her characters practically leapt off the page for me. There’s so much depth in what she’s created here, and in some ways, I feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface of this world and these people, and yet, at the same time, Helani and Malachus feel like old and familiar friends. It’s an unusual dichotomy, but one I often look for when reading fantasy romance. What were your overall impressions of Dragon Unleashed?
Dabney: I thoroughly enjoyed reading it… but not quite as much as I did Phoenix Unbound. But given that I adored Phoenix Unbound, that’s not much of a criticism.
This is a quieter story and the leads felt much much older and, in ways I really liked, wiser. Helani and Malachus are both deliberative about the choices they make and I enjoyed watching them slowly figure out a way towards not only their own HEA but building a better world for all. Helani’s powers aren’t superpower showy and I liked that. Both of them have almost a meditative quality to the way they interact with the world. Dragon Unleashed unfurls slowly but I very much enjoyed the journey.
Shannon: Those are great points. I suppose some readers might find the pacing a bit too slow for them, but I really enjoyed watching the story unfold in a way that didn’t feel like too much action crammed into one book.
Shannon: Since you brought up Helani and her magical abilities, I’d like to touch on her character a bit more. She’s kind and compassionate, but she’s also strong and resourceful. At first, I worried she’d feel too good to be true, but the author made sure to give her some struggles that made her feel relatable. I loved her relationship with her mother as well as her willingness to openly care for those around her. What did you think of Helani as a person?
Dabney: She is very self-sacrificing BUT she is true to herself and, by the story’s end, I believed in her choices. I loved her relationship with her mother–it’s interesting to have the parent/child roles so reversed. Dragon Unleashed, despite its title, is really Helani’s story which is one of self-discovery and fulfillment. If you like novels where strong women figure out how to be their true selves and save the world, you’ll love this effort by Draven.
Shannon: Absolutely! Helani’s inner journey is the backbone of this tale.
Shannon: Moving on to Malachus now, dragons aren’t always my favorite mythological creatures to read about, but I ended up enjoying getting to know Malachus and the way dragon mythology is handled in this world. He could be a little self-righteous at times, but I loved his ability to learn from his mistakes rather than simply stagnating. He had a kind spirit that really spoke to me in certain parts of the book. He won’t be everyone’s ideal hero, but I found him quite intriguing. What about you?
Dabney: And see I dig dragons! I loved the dragon mythology and Malachus’ history. His self-righteousness seemed so valid to me–he has no choice but to be single minded about his goals. It was lovely to see that for all his strength, pain, and focus on his outcomes, he isn’t an annoying alpha. His embrace of Helani and his commitment to supporting her was lovely.
Shannon: The one facet of Malachus’ story that didn’t quite work for me had to do with the mother bond. It took me quite a while to really understand the connection between the actual bond and the artefact that housed it. For all Draven’s attention to detail in other aspects of the novel, this particular part lacked clarity. Was there anything you found difficult to relate to or understand?
Dabney: I found the implementation of Helani’s magic a bit hard to follow. I think both the mother bond magic and her earth magic are harder to comprehend how they actually work than I’d have liked. One thing I loved about Phoenix Unbound was how visceral the magic wielded by Gilene was. Here, the magic is harder to parse.
Shannon: As far as a final grade, I’d give this an A-. It was close to perfect, but a bit more description of the magic system would have been helpful. What is your final grade?
Dabney: This is closer to a B for me. I enjoyed it but would have liked a bit more depth and a tad more action.