Saturday, July 16, 2016

Audiobook Review: The Golden Dynasty by Kristen Ashley

Series:     Fantasyland #2
Pub. Date:June 21, 2016
Publisher:Audible Studios
Narrator:Tillie Hooper
Length:17 hrs 1 min

The Golden Dynasty has been one of my favorite Kristen Ashley books for years now, and I can't even tell you how many times I have read it.  Though this is the first time in audio - and Tillie Hooper (again) did a fabulous job with the narration. She is one of my favorite narrators and always does a great job.

So this book has a real Game of Thrones feel to it. You could definitely cast Jason Momoa and Emilia Clarke into the role of this book... using their same looks from GoT.  And like GoT, this is a darker fantasy with a more harsh  brutal world and elements than the last book, Wildest Dreams.

Unlike Finnie in Wildest Dreams who purposely went to a parallel world, our heroine Circe wakes up without a clue to where she is or how she got there. She finds herself corralled with a bunch of women who are about to be forced into the Korwahk Wife Hunt. The Korwahks are a barbarian race and its tradition for their warriors to hunt down and claim their wives in the most savage sense (more on this later). During the hunt, Circe is claimed by Dax Lahn, the king of the ferocious Korwahk. Stranded in this strange land, where she doesn't speak the language and doesn't know the customs, Circe is believed to be the foretold Rahna Dahksahna (Golden Queen) who will aid the Dax to start a dynasty. Circe is one of the KA heroines who I respect the most. Throughout most of her ordeal, she was poised, strong and never gave up. She became respected by her people and was not afraid to act when she saw something happening that wasn't copacetic. I loved that she spoke up for herself, particularly when she gives Lahn a speech about her dad and what kind of man he would want for her.

Dax Lahn, barbarian king, is the uber-alpha male. But what can you expect from a man who had to fight to become king of this warring bloodthirsty race? As gruff and hard as Lahn was - I could not help but love him. He was a definitely a brute - but Circe taught him how to be soft and sweet. Now don't get me wrong, he was only sweet inside their cham (tent) because to show that soft side to his warriors would have had them challenging him for his throne. This is one of the best redemption stories that I have read, and it all has to do with Lahn's character. I won't say that he does a complete 180 because that would indicate that his behavior in the beginning was intentionally cruel, and it was not. It was harsh and brutal, yes, but it was not mean-spirited. Lahn's changes come directly from his interaction with and love for Circe. He is a harsh man, but she tempers his steel and we really see him come to cherish her and respect her opinion as his queen.

The relationship between these two was obviously not all hearts and roses. But once we are past the initial difficult parts, we start to see them grow as a couple. I loved the way they learned to communicate, and they really learned a lot from each other. It was easy to get hooked into this relationship emotionally... and there were some heart-wrenching moments that made me ugly cry. But that is pretty standard with a KA book as well.

The magicality (is that a word?) of this story was well done. It was folded in lightly enough to make it interesting without being overwhelming. The world-building with the Korwahk culture was extensive - particularly when you consider that their entire language had to be invented.

About the wife hunt, claiming (rape) and general treatment of women in this story. It may be hard for some to take. I have seen some protesting the content and saying they will flat out not read it. Those scenes are not graphic and no, its not acceptable in our society.  But try to keep in mind that this is dark fantasy in a parallel world in a different and brutal culture. I have seen similar things happen in GoT and other high fantasy type stories that I have read - and I don't see an outcry over any of those stories. So it irks me to see a romance author bashed for having these elements in her story. It's a story - it's not real. If you don't like the subject matter, don't read it. But don't bash the author or fans of the work. Oops - totally didn't mean to get on a soapbox there.

One thing you miss out on with the audio is seeing the Korwahk-English translation. Having read this book several times before listening to the audio, not having the translation didn't bother me so much. So I would recommend that everyone read this one first before you do a listen... or if you have the ebook and got the audio via whispersync, you can flip back and forth to see what they are saying.  Or you can just learn as you go like Circe did.

I'm a little sad that this is the only story of this type in the series. The other kingdoms are more civilized so we really don't see the harsh element that we have in The Golden Dynasty. I would love to see more warrior-type characters from KA because she did this one so freaking well.