I think the first thing that impacted my rating was the difference between what I expected and what I got from this book. I had imagined a story similar to Bloodraven and got something much less. I realised only after starting the book, that is was written before Bloodraven. And indeed, at times, the story felt like an exercise for something that was refined in the author's other book.
I alternated between liking and disliking Illya. Perhaps because I was comparing him to Yhalen or maybe because there were traits in his personality that I disagreed with, I couldn't come to empathise with Illya. I found him too soft, naive and trustworthy for the world he was living in. There were times when I was surprised he had even managed to live that long. And Illya himself alternated between states. One moment he was pinning after the quietness of home, the next moment he was recalling the abuse at the hands and words of his family and relatives. The same in his feelings for Ashe. After spending 3/4 of the book playing the damsell hard to get, he proved hard to get out of Ashe's sheets afterwards and remember the guilt he felt at the mere thought of such intimate pleasures. His innocence sometimes made him seem to me barely a boy reaching his teens and not the man he claimed to be.
The story itself was convoluted. I was prepared for a typhoon, and got a light rainfall instead. There was no gret violence in their captivity by the Gunthars. The worst they came of it was psychological abuse for the prince and a carry-on ghost for Illya. Then, when finally making their escape, they came across bandits, at which time Illya begged Ashe not to slit the throat of one of them. Because the bandit dying a slow and painful death (still by Ashe's hand) is better than having it end quickly. That one just baffled me.
And so on it goes. There were just so many subplots that never went anywhere. There was no in depth evolution regarding Illya's ability to see ghosts and interact with them. There was no retaliation to the Gunthar imprisonment, there was only mention of a betrothed ( I suppose to cast more glum on the lovers' fate), there were doubts as to how lord Argi met his demise, there were queries as to what became of Davad. Way too many loopholes, in my opinion.
Their story indeed is only HFN. And if you look at it throughout the whole book and what it hints to in the epilogue, it's not realy all that happy actually. Both Illya and Ashe felt like rough characters with too many traits that ended up butting heads. There was an abundance of squirmishes in the plot line that distracted from a clear line in the intrigue(or maybe that's just a personal preference) and there was a flood of descriptions that weighted the story down instead of giving it depth.
It could have been better. For me, this felt like a rough draft that needed polishing. It was interesting enough, but not something that left an impression.