- The Tethered Mage (Swords and Fire #1).
- Melissa Caruso.
- 480 pages.
- Epic Fantasy / Coming of Age / YA Fantasy / Fantasy.
- My Rating: Hell Yeah Book Review.
In the Raverran Empire, magic is scarce and those born with power are strictly controlled – taken as children and conscripted into the Falcon Army.
Zaira has lived her life on the streets to avoid this fate, hiding her mage-mark and thieving to survive. But hers is a rare and dangerous magic, one that could threaten the entire empire.
Lady Amalia Cornaro was never meant to be a Falconer. Heiress and scholar, she was born into a treacherous world of political machinations. But fate has bound the heir and the mage. And as war looms on the horizon, a single spark could turn their city into a pyre.
I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
The Tethered Mage is the first book in the Swords and Fire trilogy by Melissa Caruso and oh boy, what a tremendous start to the trilogy it is!
On her way back from the Tallows (the rough and seedy district of Raverra) a chance encounter means that Lady Amalia Cornaro comes across a young girl being assaulted by a group of men. Going to assist the young girl, Zaira (the girl in question) uses her magic (balefire, she’s a fire warlock) to thwart the attack but loses control. Shouting for help Amalia gets the attention of a Falconer (The Falcons of Raverra are the company who control the mages, Falconer = handler, Falcon = mage) but he is already linked to another mage and so, it’s up to Amalia to bind the girl with the aid of a Falconers jess and stop her out of control magic before it causes any devastating damage. This is where the ‘tethered mage‘ of the title becomes relevant as the Falconers jess, a bracelet (of intricately woven golden wire and beads) that is affixed to the wrist, seals the magic, tethering the mage.
Due to the heat of Zaira’s balefire, her jess has been fused shut and is unable to be removed, this leaves both her and Amalia with a situation that neither wanted.
You know by now that I don’t go in for a detailed analysis of the story or spoilers. Suffice to say that after the initial set-up involving Amalia and Zaira the story moves forward and as they attempt to bond and learn to trust each other trouble and unrest starts to brew in the Serene Empire and political conspiracies, schemes, plots and intrigue abound.
I really liked the magic system (there are four types of mage: warlock, vivomancer, alchemist and artificer) and how it is used and controlled. Generally, mage-marked (the mage mark is a coloured circle ringing the pupil in the eye) are spotted as children, taken to the Mews and trained from a young age to become Falcons but some like Zaira manage to avoid detection until they are older. Due to the Serene Accords magic is reserved for the Serene Empire, they control the secret of the ‘jess‘ and thusly, they also control the magic and anyone who shows the mage-mark is according to the law as being the ‘property of the State‘. Which does bring into question whether or not it is right to jess the mage-marked and conscript them, especially if like Zaira they are bonded against their will adding even further depth to the story being told by Caruso within the pages of The Tethered Mage.
The idea of The Falcons and Falconers in The Tethered Mage is an interesting concept that is well executed by Caruso. Only a few pairings are mentioned and it would be really cool to meet some more in future books.
The world of Eruvia in The Tethered Mage is richly detailed with plenty of history. You have Raverra and Ardence in the Serene Empire as the locations used for the story but mentions of another area, Vaskandar give added depth and hint at possible future exploration and direction for the trilogy. Vaskandar is separated from the Serene Empire by the Witchwall Mountains. Vaskandar has an opposite view and different attitude to magic than that of the Serene Empire, they don’t tether their mages or bond their magic with the use of jesses. For Vaskandar, the mage-marked are revered as powerful and they rule as Witch Lords over their own individual domains.
The characters in The Tethered Mage are top quality and all are well developed (even the minor and secondary ones). I really liked Amalia as a character and our narrator, bookish, good-natured, intelligent and with a steely determination. From the secondary characters Lieutenant Marcello Verdi of The Falconers, Istrella, his younger sister and an artifice in the Falcons and Amelia’s mother, La Contessa are all great additions. But, the star of the show for me has to be Zaira, the Falcon to Amalia’s Falconer. She is a brilliant character! Brash, abrasive, feisty uncouth and snarky. She is an absolute pleasure to read. Amalia and Zaira are ‘chalk and cheese‘ complete opposites but act as the perfect foil for each other and whilst the relationship between them is rather fraught and turbulent they make for a fantastic pairing.
Caruso uses The Tethered Mage in the same way that a Falconer uses the device known as a jess in her book. But instead of bonding the Falcons magic, Caruso bonds the reader, only deeming to release them after they have turned the final page.
I can’t fault the book, not at all! I thoroughly enjoyed every moment that I spent reading The Tethered Mage, there’s action, plenty of plot twists, perfect pacing and superb world-building which combines with scintillating storytelling and a fascinating cast of characters to create a fully engrossing read.
I feel like The Tethered Mage bridges the divide between YA and adult fantasy and that fans of both those genres will find a lot to like within the pages of Caruso’s book. If you like fantasy, you’ll love this book.👌
Purchase The Tethered Mage.
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