Every once in a while a book comes along that pleasantly surprises you, and surpasses your expectations. Master of Crows by Grace Draven was certainly that. I ‘heart’ this book so much and its characters that it’s definitely in the top ten books I have read this year.Martise of Asher is a slave and is asked to spy whilst she is loaned to the rebel mage Silhara, the Master of Crows. She is to work as an assistant to help with his quest to defeat the God Corruption, who is gaining more influence in their world. Her master and owner, the mage, Cumbria along with his cabal of mages, who fears and loathes Silhara. They hope Martise can discover Silhara’s weakness to which they can use to defeat him. But their plans crumble when Martise – who has the chance to win her freedom – finds out that there is more to Silhara than his reputation has suggested, and she develops feelings for the sardonic and cynical mage.I have to start with how awesome, memorable and well developed Silhara is. Seriously! I think he is one of the best heroes I have read about in quite some time, and I am a huge fan of dark anti-heroes especially if they do push boundaries. And Silhara definitely does push them but doesn’t cross that line of being a right out unlikable bastard.Silhara is not a happy bunny when he is faced with the choice of Martise as an assistant who has previously not shown any ability to practice magic, and he wonders at the motive on why the conclave and Cumbria had sent her. However, she was tested for being positive for the Gift so Silhara tests her repeatedly to coax out her gift. I loved how she remained steadfast and calm despite the fact that these tests were increasingly getting dangerous and pushed her to the limit whilst knowing that Silhara is dubious and suspicious about her motives.Martise’s character was a great foil and a strength to Silhara, and I loved how she wins him over with her calm resolve and quiet stubbornness. Their exchanges are funny and witty and helped to build on the burgeoning attraction and tension between them.The layers that were unveiled within the characterisation showed different facets of the characters. Not only do we get to see Silhara’s motivations and torn feelings about Martise and his desire to defeat Corruption, but also the danger of being seduced by him and there was times in the book that I felt he could have become lost into that dark side. But I LOVED that his saving grace was Martise, who soon becomes his life-line and that became a core focus for the romance. It really added emotional depth and layered the romance with a quiet intensity which I think is that special X factor for successful romances.I did find the world-building and setting a bit less developed in the beginning, and it took a couple of pages to get the gist of the story. I wished it was expanded a bit more because I did initially found it confusing. But I was soon sucked in and as the story progressed, the world and setting was explored more fully, and I loved how darkly imaginative it is. Such as the Kurman nomads who help out Silhara, to the creepy soul sucking lich’s Keep and conclaves of arrogant mages.Master of Crows is a wonderful, dark and vivid fantasy romance with one of the best anti-heroes I have read about in a long time. It has well fleshed out and rich characterisation, but at its core there is a lot of heart and soul in the story that is the hero and heroine that becomes a rich and memorable romance. I especially loved how Silhara and Martise’s vulnerabilities turned into their strengths and how that added more richness to the story.If you are a fan of Anne Bishop, Patricia Briggs, and Lois McMaster Bujoid, then you will love this heartwarming and memorable fantasy romance! I am planning on glomming on the rest of the backlist from Grace Draven because with this book she has certainly made me a fan!