REVIEW: Raven Unveiled by Grace Draven
Note: Some spoilers for Dragon Unleashed follow.
Dear Grace Draven,
Raven Unveiled is the third book in your Fallen Empire series. It features Siora, a shade-speaker (she can communicate with ghosts) who had a brief role in Phoenix Unbound and a bigger one in Dragon Unleashed, and Gharek of Cabast, the erstwhile “cats-paw” of evil Empress Dalvila.
It was perhaps a brave choice to cast Gharek as the hero. He’s not a good man. In Dragon Unleashed readers learned that he did his dirty work for Dalvila in order to keep his daughter, Estred, safe. Estred was born without arms and in the Krael Empire disabled people are not treated well. It made him somewhat relatable and showed his softer side but it does nothing to wipe away the bad things he has done in service to the empress.
One of those things was to kidnap Asil, the mother of the heroine (Halani) from Dragon Unleashed, in order to bargain with the Draga, Malachus, for his blood (aka his death). (Gharek incorrectly believed Malachus’s blood would enable Estred to grow arms.) Siora, who at that time had become Estred’s nurse, betrays Gharek by leading Malachus to Asil. Siora fled. Gharek vowed revenge.
Raven Unveiled opens with Gharek on the trail of Siora, determined not to kill her, but to take her back to Estred to make her apology. Already, Gharek’s character is being softened a bit here.
(Also, am I the only one who keeps getting Gharek mixed up with Ghastek from the Kate Daniel’s series?? No? Carry on.)
Near cursed Midrigar, Siora and Gharek encounter one another and Siora saves him from a malevolent force which is dragging him into its maw in the city. From there, Gharek saves her from attack in a city and then they are both captured by a general intent on taking over the Kraelian Empire. To do that, he wants a fabled magical artifact which is housed in a warded room in the palace in Domora – the Windcry. Gharek and Siora bargain with the General Zaredis to go to Domora and confirm the location of the Windcry and information about how to break the wards so the general can steal the artifact and use it to take the city. Zaredis arranges to fetch Estred and hold her hostage for Gharek’s good behaviour and return.
In the meantime, it becomes apparent that the evil in Midrigar is growing. Ghosts are being drawn in an “eaten” by whatever it is and its reach is increasing. Siora’s father is a ghost and in times of need he appears to Siora and warns her. Zaredis has a dead twin brother who is also a ghost and the general does not wish his brother to be eaten either.
While the quest Gharek and Siora go on is about getting the Windcry for Zaredis, the real danger comes from the Ghost-Eater in Midrigar. Siora may be more powerful than she knows and may be the key to saving the kingdom.
Siora is extremely compassionate. She sees the good in people and thinks there is something worthy in Gharek. Even Gharek doesn’t think that so it’s a little difficult to understand why Siora does. Perhaps it’s because she has witnessed Gharek with Estred and she has a soft spot for the love between fathers and daughters due to her own history. I admit I found it something of a challenge to see Gharek as hero and to put aside his prior actions. I did not warm to him in the same way as I did the other heroes of the series. By the end, I was warming but that’s not quite the same.
For that reason the romance didn’t quite gel for me. Siora clearly has feelings for him early on and Gharek has a fascination for her which develops into affection, attraction and love but the story takes place in only a few short weeks and there was a lot of heavy lifting needed relationship-wise. And I kept coming up against Gharek’s past. I’ve read and very much enjoyed other books where previous villains end up as heroes in their own stories (Iron & Magic by Ilona Andrews springs to mind – then again, for reasons I always had an inexplicable soft spot for Hugh…) so it’s hard to explain why I found Gharek so difficult to accept in the hero role here. Maybe it’s just that you did such a good job in the earlier books of painting him villain?
That said, there were some critical moments right near the end where Gharek, inspired by Siora’s confidence his ability to be better, makes good choices and ones that put him at great risk. I guess this is a morality chain story? Where Gharek’s morality is deeply connected to Siora. If not for her, I think Gharek would revert.
The first half of the book worked less well for me. I found myself putting it down and doing other things instead of read. The Windcry was a bit of a McGuffin and I was less interested in it than in what was happening in Midrigar. I enjoyed the back half of the book better, when the tension and risk mounted from the fantasy side of the plot and when the romance side had started “baking”. (In the end I still thought it was a bit undercooked though.)
I was unfeasibly irritated by the amount of times “cat’s-paw” appeared in the text (a search tells me that number is 100) . That is probably unfair but it grated on me like fingernails down a blackboard. Alternative words such as “henchman” were rarely used. I’m not sure if it bothered me for itself or if my reaction was more of a symptom of a certain lack of engagement at the start – in any event, my response to it continued through the entire novel.
I would have liked more time spent on Siora’s magic; that all felt a bit quick and when she is “unveiled” (Siora means “raven”) it was in circumstances that left me with more questions than answers.
The momentum of the story carried me along for the second half but I wasn’t quite convinced Siora belonged with Gharek even at the end.