Master of Crows by Grace Draven
I loved this book. I absolutely loved it. Draven writes wonderfully and she is able to immerse you in her world without confusing you. There were no info dumps and the characters were well developed. I like the type of magic that occupied this world and I like how the class systems worked because it gave the story some life.
The main two characters are Martise of Asher and Silhara of Neith. Martise is a slave and is sent to Neith as an apprentice. Her true purpose was to spy on Silhara so her master, Bishop Cumbria, could find an excuse to execute him. There is extreme hatred between the two and neither bother hiding it. Martise is a well and is able to translate old texts. Silhara is in need of her abilities so he can find a way to kill the false god, Corruption. Silhara also has to try to make Martise's Gift appear. It's obvious she had it but it doesn't want to show itself.
Silhara is an ass but there are good reasons for this. He is a powerful mage who lives in squalor. Neith is a ruin for someone of noble blood. The title "Master of Crows" is an insult because they associate crows with evil and death. In truth, Silhara only uses some dark magic and not for dark purposes. At the moment Corruption wants to use Silhara as his avatar to rule the human world. Silhara is doing his best to resist the evil god but he can't resist much longer. He needs to find a way to kill him.
Martise is an average woman but with a beautiful voice. She isn't beautiful; she is plain and unassuming. She is very smart and clever however and her role as a slave serves her well. She picks up information because who pays attention to a slave? She finds that she fits in at Neith. Gurn, the servant but truly Silhara's friend, is mute but uses sign language. He cares for Silhara and soon comes to care for Martise. I like Gurn. He's a giant with a big heart despite a dark past.
We do end up finding out about Martise's Gift but it is not the Gift anyone expected. It's actually a curse. It's quite sad actually but there is an excellent reason behind Draven's choice of Gift for Martise. I like that Silhara is extremely powerful and that he is a tortured soul that Martise comes to love.
This is a fantasy-romance so obviously the two fall in love. Their love isn't instant and it's obvious that it is a difficult thing to embrace. I like how their relationship grew through the book and the discovery's they find in each other and in themselves.
There is plenty of action and suspense. The ending is a HEA for which I am grateful. I couldn't see it ending any other way. The entire book is just written brilliantly. Her words paint the picture in your mind and you find yourself completely immersed and up way late into the night when you should be sleeping.
I highly recommend this book. I read it in the anthology "Darkly Dreaming." I just discovered that there will be a sequel coming out. Draven hadn't planned for one but she changed her mind and decided that it sounded like a good idea. I'm excited. There is no official date yet but Draven did provide a small snippet from the next book, "The Brush of Black Wings." You can read it here. But don't read it before you read Master of Crows. Seriously, there are spoilers and this is one book you don't want to spoil for yourself.