A Heart of Blood and Ashes by Milla Vane
A Heart of Blood and Ashes (2020) is the first book in Milla Vane’s A GATHERING OF DRAGONS, a supposedly romantic fantasy about a barbarian warlord named Maddek who is searching for a princess named Yvenne who appears to be responsible for his parents’ death. Maddek’s council has instructed him to stay out of the matter because they value the alliance between their country and the princess’s, but Maddek wants revenge, so he ignores his council.
After Maddek finds Yvenne, she willingly allows herself to be captured and she even proposes that they get married and have a baby so they can each get what they want to fulfill their ambitions and protect their respective countries. Maddek hates her for what she did to his parents, but he’s willing to listen to her reasoning. As they travel together on the very long trip back to Maddek’s country, they face a few external challenges, spend huge amounts of time thinking about how they feel about each other, and attempt to navigate their extremely rocky relationship.
A Heart of Blood and Ashes has many glowing reviews at GoodReads, so I was expecting to like it. I listened to the audiobook version produced by Tantor Audio. It’s performed well by Nicole Poole who does a great job with both female and male voices.
I cringed and gagged through 80% of the book and finally had to quit. It is hard to express in words how much I disliked this novel. It’s a bodice-ripper, and I really hate those. The flimsy plot has little purpose other than to get Maddek and Yvenne alternately fighting and drooling over each other during the long trip. They’re both all hot and bothered but not able to actually do the deed for ten days due to a contrived plot device meant to ratchet up the sexual tension which they attempt to relieve in other ways.
Maddek, a very large man of “savagery contained through sheer will,” is rough, verbally abusing Yvenne, looming over her, clenching his jaw and fists, putting his hand behind her neck, grabbing her by the hair, dragging her around, threatening to rip her tongue out, being jealous for no reason, etc. She is small and sickly, at least at first, because of poor treatment by her family. (She looks nothing like the image on Tantor’s audiobook cover.) While Yvenne is not defenseless and has her own motivations for being with Maddek, I am too much of a feminist to find his aggressive bullying behavior sexy.
The worst part, though, is the dialogue which is stilted and cringe-inducing (I know I already used the word “cringe” in this review, but it’s the best descriptor). There are so many instances of this type of twaddle:
- molten sheath of steel
- rise of hot steel
- steel hardness of his cock
- cock forged of molten steel
- steel length of his cock
- aching shaft
- aching loins
- vessel for my seed
- his seed overfilled her sheath
- silken sheath
- honeyed channel
It would be amusing to count how many times the words “steel,” “cock,” “vessel,” and “seed” were used in this book.
Here is an actual quote from Yvenne within minutes after Maddek captures her, she kills her own brother, and then is giving Maddek a hand-job:
Her fingers worked the length of his shaft and her voice worked upon the furnace of his heart. “I will be your queen warrior and I look forward to the full moon when the blood and the wetness upon your cock are not my brother’s but mine after you have thrust your sword into my virgin sheath and spilled your seed.”
What twaddle! (I know I already used that word.) It actually gets much worse than this, but I didn’t want to print more of it. It’s so bad that it’s funny.
Was there anything to like in A Heart of Blood and Ashes? Not really. There was some potentially promising political intrigue, but not enough of it. Perhaps it is explored more in the sequels, A Touch of Stone and Snow and A Dance of Smoke and Steel. I will not be finding out, though. In the words of Dr. Frasier Crane, “I’d rather clip my toenails in a Cuisinart.”