REVIEW: A Heart of Blood and Ashes by Milla Vane

Torso and upper legs of a muscular white bare-chested barbarian wearing leather and furs against a black backgroundWhy I read it:  My friend Brie recommended it to me.

CW: Extreme violence and gore, rape, torture, abuse (mostly – but not all – off page).

What it’s about: (from Goodreads) A generation past, the western realms were embroiled in endless war. Then the Destroyer came. From the blood and ashes he left behind, a tenuous alliance rose between the barbarian riders of Parsathe and the walled kingdoms of the south. That alliance is all that stands against the return of an ancient evil – until the barbarian king and queen are slain in an act of bloody betrayal.

Though forbidden by the alliance council to kill the corrupt king responsible for his parents’ murders, Maddek vows to avenge them, even if it costs him the Parsathean crown. But when he learns it was the king’s daughter who lured his parents to their deaths, the barbarian warrior is determined to make her pay.

Yet the woman Maddek captures is not what he expected. Though the last in a line of legendary warrior-queens, Yvenne is small and weak, and the sharpest weapons she wields are her mind and her tongue. Even more surprising is the marriage she proposes to unite them in their goals and to claim their thrones—because her desire for vengeance against her father burns even hotter than his own…

What worked for me (and what didn’t): When I think of words to describe my reading experience, ones like “epic”, “sweeping”  and “magnificent” come to mind. In ‘old skool’ romance this often means that the main characters spend a lot of time apart however and that’s so not my jam. A Heart of Blood and Ashes has the advantage of being epic and sweeping but Maddek and Yvenne are together for most of the book so it is way better than my experience of most old skool sagas.

Strange Love by Ann Aguirre

Alien in a black exoskeleton against a blurry sci-fi cityscape in purples and blues and redsWhy I read it:  I am a subscriber to Ann Aguirre’s newsletter. Even though I received this in serial format, I wanted to wait to read the whole thing because I’m like that. So I bought it. It seems to be Amazon only at this point.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  He’s awkward. He’s adorable. He’s alien as hell.

Zylar of Kith B’alak is a four-time loser in the annual Choosing. If he fails to find a nest guardian this time, he’ll lose his chance to have a mate for all time. Desperation drives him to try a matching service but due to a freak solar flare and a severely malfunctioning ship AI, things go way off course. This ‘human being’ is not the Tiralan match he was looking for.

She’s frazzled. She’s fierce. She’s from St. Louis.

Beryl Bowman’s mother always said she’d never get married. She should have added a rider about the husband being human. Who would have ever thought that working at the Sunshine Angel daycare center would offer such interstellar prestige? She doesn’t know what the hell’s going on, but a new life awaits on Barath Colony, where she can have any alien bachelor she wants.

They agree to join the Choosing together, but love is about to get seriously strange.

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  This was such a fun book! Zylar is a very beta hero – his chitin (he’s a kind of insectoid alien so has what I imagine to be a thick outer shell like a cockroach’s but stronger?) might be hard but inside he’s all marshmallow. He has low self-esteem because he’s not very attractive. Barathi are prized for their colours and Zylar is a dull brown and he doesn’t stand out in a crowd. He has also always been outshone by his nest-mate (aka sibling) Ryzven (who is an asshole). It is not ever made clear just why Ryzven hated Zylar so much and that is one of my few criticisms of the story.

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