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I read this concurrently with Avery. Given the similarities in violence and depravity and my general unlikelihood of reading such themes, it is a strange coincidence. While it might have been tempting or even involuntary to contrast them, each book stood quite independent and enjoyable in its own right.
While the gladiator-like violence and harsh slave culture won't be for every reader, Lindsey Piper creates something beautiful in the midst of darkness. She renders relationships and characters organically - the changes are slow, real, understandable. While the action propels the characters toward a goal, it's really about Nynn and Leto.
Leto's a winner. He fights in the Cage and wins breeding privileges for his family. It's all he knows and he is the best at everything in his world. He gets a new trainee to break in and ensure that she wins three fights. Despite his record as an honorable and undefeated champion, his capricious master ties his future to hers. Leto's clan needs him and he won't let Nynn's agenda get in their way.
Nynn is a Dragon King like Leto but chose to build a life as a regular human. Her exile has been a happy one until the she is kidnapped and tortured because she had a child, something Dragon Kings shouldn't be able to do without scientific intervention. Now she needs to survive to save her son and Leto is very much in her way. Since she can't go around him, there is no way but through.
These two clash and connect fiercely. It's a real and rare pleasure to find strong and interesting characters who are not lessened by evolving. Piper writes believable voices, utilizing the senses and psyches of Leto and Nynn to give each individuality. It says something that they are also equally compelling and distinctive. Their love story brightens a grim place and heralds a new must-read series.