Book Review

Dragon Unleashed by Grace Draven

Major warnings here
CW: Graphic violence and torture, mentions of rape, sexual assault, and slavery, especially in regards to a woman with a disability. The heroine is a product of rape. Her mother, who is described as having a “childlike mind” due to head trauma she suffered while younger, was abducted by slavers.

Dragon Unleashed is a lovely and tender romance between two people who often feel misunderstood by the world around them. Unfortunately, the rest of the details outside of the romance are depressing as all get out. It’s not a fun world to be in and as a result, I did frequent skimming during the chapters that didn’t focus on the hero and heroine.

Before we get into it, I do want to answer the biggest question that most readers will ask: since this is the second book in a series, can this story be read out of order? My answer is a shrug. You could definitely get away with it, though the beginning of the book overlaps with the end of the previous one, Phoenix Unbound. The Big Bad is also the same villain from Phoenix Unbound, so you won’t miss out too terribly on any backstory. The tl;dr of it is that the villain is fucking awful and that’s it. (A little rant on that later.)

Halani is a character we first met in Phoenix Unbound. She’s part of a group of travelling free traders and keeps her healing and earth magic a secret. The leader of the traders is her uncle and her mother travels with them as well. Malachus, the hero, is a dragon shifter, cursed to stay in his human form until he locates his “mother-bond,” a piece of bone from his dragon mom. He’s been tracking the mother-bond for ages in the hopes of being freed from his fleshy, human prison (hard same).

You can already see how Malachus and Halani’s fates will intertwine: he’s hunting an artifact of sorts and she’s a trader. But with that mother-bond comes GREAT RESPONSIBILITY. Who else wants that bone (literally and also figuratively because she is v. horny)? Dalvila, the villainess empress. She wants to restore her power, get eternal youth, yada yada, typical villain shit.

As I said before, the actual romance here is the absolute sweetest. Malachus is a beta dragon hero, who has this weird knack for saying the most gooey, heart-melting things to Halani. Halani’s mother, Asil, is a precious figure to her and a horrific set of circumstances has left Asil with lasting trauma and an intellectual disability.

Malachus and Halani are equally gentle with one another. Malachus is emotionally competent and understanding, noting how he “cried rivers of tears” when he lost his own mother.

Halani’s impression of Malachus’s friendship with Asil is so touching:

No one outside their caravan had ever viewed Asil the way Malachus did, and even then that view differed from theirs. Differed from hers. He was patient with Asil, kind, and most stunning of all, respectful. He recognized the child living within the woman’s body and still treated her observations with the considerations reserved for an adult. He called both mother and daughter unique. Despite her efforts to remain aloof, Halani began to think him extraordinary.

And here’s Malachus remarking on Halani’s deep affection for her mother:

What must it be liked to be loved this way? So devotedly that the person you parted with cried at your absence even before you left? He had known affection in his life, sincere if distant. This was something else, something he had no experience of. In that moment, he wished he did.


The slow gentle burn between these two is so satisfying and hard-won and just damn beautiful. It’s a courtship that serves as a reminder of why I love reading romance.

But, and of course there’s a but, I wish I enjoyed literally anything else about this book. I can handle darker themes, though I’m finding now is not the time, and I honestly wished the tone of mutual respect and the hesitancy that comes with not wanting to fuck up a really good thing was matched in the larger scale of the story.

Dalvila as the villain was awful. She was an awful person and an awful character and I hated her for the sheer one-dimensional, tortuous, hyper-sexual villainess she was. She had no morals, no redeeming qualities to make it seem like there was more to her than cutting people’s limbs off and banging. Not that there’s anything wrong with the latter, but I’ve grown tired of the hypersexual villainess in romances. If it’s a woman in the antagonist role, she tends to be extremely sexual and aggressive. I’m thinking of every “former mistress” I’ve read in a historical romance or the “puck bunnies” in sports romance. And I’m just over it.

As I read, I’ve come to realize that I have particular tastes when it comes to romance catnip for what is keeping a couple apart. Of course, I don’t want it to be too easy for them, but I also think a serial murderer/torturer who threatens the lives of children is nowhere near the happy medium I want. Having Malachus and Halani on a road trip of sorts, while Malachus tries not to get attached because he will eventually turn into a dragon and with Halani trying to keep her magic under wraps, would have worked perfectly fine for me.

I reviewed Phoenix Unbound and definitely had some thoughts about it and I think some of those definitely carry over here. I liked the romance better, but overall, the world was still too grim for me right now. On top of the quarantimes, I’ve had some personal family tragedies, and reading a book about the enduring power of love while severed limbs and horrible treatment of women are peppered throughout was a combination that did not work for me.

If you’re in the same boat, where your brain can only handle so many shitty people and shitty things, either skip this one or prepare to do a lot of skimming. Thankfully, the chapters that focus on the villainy are quite obvious. I do want to reiterate that Malachus and Halani are adorable and any time they’re interacting, it turned me into a melty puddle. Unfortunately their sweetness wasn’t enough to balance the bleakness of the story happening around them.

This book is available from:
  • Available at Amazon
  • Order this book from apple books

  • Order this book from Barnes & Noble
  • Order this book from Kobo

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.
We also may use affiliate links in our posts, as well. Thanks!

Dragon Unleashed by Grace Draven

View Book Info Page

Add Your Comment →

  1. 1
    Kit says:

    Is it just me? Or am I getting Baron Harkkonen vibes from the villian? I don’t want to get into arguments about Dune though for fear of opening up a can of worms. Safe to say that Dune probably hasn’t aged well at all.

    I’ll give this book a skip, despite a promising romance plot.

  2. 2
    Axik says:

    I already gave the first book in the series a skip because the world sounded absolutely horrific. Was sorry to do that because I have adored some of GD-s previous work.

    We are all ranting and raving about male authors using sexual and physical violence against women as plot devices or character growth motivations or just regular accepted facts of the worlds they create. Yet we seem to be much more forgiving when the women authors do that.

    Also, the hyper-sexual one-dimensional female villain is one of my pet peeves.

  3. 3
    LisaA says:

    I almost gave up on the first book. I wasn’t prepared for the violence and the sexual assaults. Thank you for this review, I’m definitely going to pass on this one for now, despite the dragon.

  4. 4
    Jennifer says:

    I’ve only dabbled in Grace Dravens books (and enjoyed them) but I feel like the too evil caricature for the villain is a pretty prominent feature.

  5. 5
    DonnaMarie says:

    Okay, can we just step aside from the love in a hopeless place stuff for a minute and just marvel at how staggeringly beautiful that cover is? I mean, look at it. LOOK AT IT!!!!!

    I liked this much more than the rest of you. I like dark fantasy. I like dark fantasy villians irredeemably bad. I find it makes their crunchy end extra satisfying. And if I envisioned her as a fat orange man who shared some of her character traits? Well that’s on me.

    I figure the nursemaid is going to figure largely in the resolution of the power void left at the end of the book, and I’m looking forward to it.

  6. 6
    SB Sarah says:

    @DonnaMarie: This: “I find it makes their crunchy end extra satisfying” was the laugh I needed today. That’s funny and often so true. This is too dark for me to read, but yes, a crunchy end to terrible villains is VERY satisfying!

  7. 7
    Egged says:

    Thanks for the content warnings. My hold at the library just became available and I cancelled the hold, can’t deal with that right now

  8. 8
    Escapeologist says:

    That is a beautiful cover, though I feel it should feature a river of blood or something, to signal the content warnings for squeamish folks like me.
    On closer jnspection, the dragon’s eye is kinda creepy and those flower vines look like they are trapping the pretty lady.

  9. 9
    JTReader says:

    I’m usually pretty squeamish, but Grace Draven’s world building and characters are so awesome that my mind tends to skip over the dark and depressing bits and focus on the good parts.

  10. 10
    EC Spurlock says:

    @Kit #1, pun intended I hope.

  11. 11
    Kit says:

    Actually I forgot there were giant worms in Dune! Probably because there’s a heatwave over here in the UK and I associate giant worms with Tremors.

    My advice, out of the two movies with giant worms in them pick Tremors, it’s great mindless fun, whereas Dune, let’s just say you will never get those hours back (haven’t watched it but thankfully, isn’t Sting meant to be in it?).

    Off topic again but heatwave!

  12. 12
    Pam says:

    I loved Radiance and Entreat Me and even mostly liked Book 1 of this series, but cancelled my preorder of book 2. I just didn’t want to revisit the world. I wish GD would focus on writing fantasy romance without torture, etc.

  13. 13
    Emma says:

    I couldn’t finish the first book, and I couldn’t finish this book either, because of the horribly sexist trope you’ve already mentioned of the hypersexual, sadistic woman in power. It’s like writers want to have a Cersei Lannister without understanding why she was a truly well-written, interesting villain. Draven (and quite a few other authors, from the sound of it) may not have known that her villain is yet another copy of a millenia-old trope (Olympias, Livia, Wu Zetian, Isabella “She-Wolf of France,” etc.), but she should have. At the very least, her editor or someone else in her circle should have pointed it out.

  14. 14
    Susanna says:

    Hoo boy, that brings back memories: I went to see the movie Dune without ever having read the books. I was one confused camper.

  15. 15
    kitkat9000 says:

    @Susanna: I’d read the books prior to watching the movie and sat there saying, “That wasn’t in the book”, “That wasn’t in the book either”, “That’s not how that part was written” and “WTF’ing” other parts. It improved once I stopped comparing it to the books. Admittedly, reading the books first clarified certain aspects of it but can’t say it’s definitely required. I can say that the movie suffers terribly from that comparison, though.

  16. 16
    Msb says:

    @ Amanda,
    Sorry for the hard time you’re going through. I think you’re right not to add any more darkness to it.

Add Your Comment

Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

↑ Back to Top