Grace Draven has come to be one of my favorite authors since I discovered her book Radiance in 2015. While that will remain as my favorite of her books, Raven Unveiled is another strong offering from the author. While it’s technically a standalone, I would definitely recommend reading the other books in the Fallen Empire series first, not only because they are great books but because they also develop the backstory for this one very well.
To set the scene – the evil empress of the Krael Empire was killed at the end of Dragon Unleashed, leaving a power vacuum in the land (literally and figuratively). The change in power has turned many of the empress’ old favorites into wanted men, as the people of the country rebel against their old tyrants. On top of this, there is a mysterious creature consuming the souls of the dead around the empire – something not everyone is aware of, but which can be sensed by a change in the air and a sense of wrongness.
Siora and Gharek of Cabast find themselves right in the middle of all of this uproar, tied together almost by fate. Before the fall of the empire, Gharek was the cat’s paw (right-hand man) of the empress, frequently called out to hunt down rebels or anyone who’d run afoul of her. He was (and is) hated by almost everyone, having made many enemies over the course of his career – but is slightly redeemed in the reader’s eyes by the knowledge of why he worked for the empress all those years. Gharek’s young daughter Estred is the best thing in his life – sweet, innocent, and a beacon of light in a difficult world. Unfortunately she is also disabled, having been born without arms, which is what drove Gharek to tie himself to the empress in an effort to protect her. With the empress gone, Gharek and Estred are both vulnerable as they look for a way to escape Krael and the dangerous unrest which is brewing across the empire.
Siora is all too familiar with Gharek’s circumstances, as she once worked for him as a nurse to Estred. During this time Siora and Estred developed a close bond, and there was a hint of unexpressed interest between the two of them – all of which was ruined in Gharek’s eyes when Siora helped the titular dragon at the end of Dragon Unleashed. Gharek saw this as a betrayal of him and Estred, and cast Siora out. When Raven Unveiled opens, Siora is on the run from both Gharek and anyone who knows she was once affiliated with him. Added to this is her growing concern over the souls of the dead – Siora has the ability to see and speak to ghosts, and is one of the only people to be aware of the unknown monster who is ravaging the land.
That ability comes in handy when she and Gharek are captured by General Zaredis, one of the remaining commanders in the Kraelian army and a strong candidate for the throne now that the empress is gone. Zaredis is eager to take vengeance on Gharek for his role in the death of Zaredis’ brother, until Siora speaks up and reveals herself as a shade-speaker. She helps Zaredis speak to his brother, and tells him about the soul-eating monster. This prompts Zaredis to negotiate with Siora and Gharek – in exchange for not killing them or Estred, he wants the pair to help him in his bid for the throne, and to rid the country of the monster.
Underneath the complex fantasy plot, this is essentially an enemies-to-lovers adventure story. Gharek and Siora start out with a lot of bitterness and resentment over past actions lying between them, and Gharek has to work through the complex moral quandary he created for himself with years as the empress’ cat’s-paw. Seeing Gharek’s true regret over his actions, and what is essentially a reckoning at the hands of Zaredis, helps Siora and the reader take mercy on him and move on from that history. Gharek is a little slower to let go of his own feelings of hurt and betrayal, but ultimately learns to forgive Siora as he forgives himself. Realizing there is no use fighting it, Gharek and Siora accept their feelings for each other and work towards finding a future together.
Raven Unveiled is certainly not a light read, with Gharek’s dark past and so much discussion about ghosts and death. But it is compelling – the plot moves quickly, and both characters manage to work through their difficult pasts. It will definitely be a satisfying read for fans of Draven, and provides a nice resolution to her Fallen Empire series.