Milla Vane takes the reader deeper into the realms she has created with her second in her Gathering of Dragons fantasy/romance series and I couldn't be more thrilled. This is both a tightly written, imaginatively drawn fantasy novel and a deeply angsty romance between two extremely honorable people. And the cover isn't bad either.***
The countries of the western realms have faced devastation in the past when the Destroyer and his armies laid waste to many and killed thousands a generation ago. All but the island nation of Koth. No one knows why that country was spared, but now that rumors of the Destroyer's return have begun to be more fact than fiction, the countries who once defeated him look to build an alliance ahead of his arrival so that they are better prepared to defeat the enemy. And if they are to truly beat the Destroyer, most feel that Koth needs to be brought in. But while Koth's new leader, Aerax, sees the value in such an alliance, his isolationist citizens do not. So Aerax has to bridge that gap if he has any hopes of saving his people. And to do so he's going to need the help of the one woman who has cause to never want to see him again, his childhood love, Lizzan.
When they were young Aerax was an outcast and Lizzan the daughter of a powerful family and the two became friends and then something more. Nothing could come between them; until the day something did. Their dynamic changed when Lizzan, who'd become a military leader, was disgraced and exiled after a battle gone disastrously wrong. Though everyone else shunned her, including her family, she thought that she'd be able to count on Aerax. She could not. Years later Aerax, who is now heir to the throne of Koth, is attempting to solidify his military alliance when he runs into Lizzan. To say she's down on her luck is an understatement. Lizzan wanders from town to town working as a mercenary and basically drinking herself to death. When she sees Aerax, once the love of her life, she runs away. But fate has other ideas. Lizzan is visited by the goddess Vela who tasks her with protecting Aerax on his mission - and promising her a glorious death in battle as her reward. It is only that final promise that convinces Lizzan.
The world-building here is stellar and the political machinations and plotting make this a great high fantasy novel. What gives it true emotional heft are Aerax and Lizzan whose individual sacrifices for each other and their people will draw you in and leave you feeling just a little better about humanity by book's end. Something we all can use nowadays.
***If you'd like to get a behind the scenes glimpse of how a cover like this is created, you can read all about it here.