Book Reviews

The Tethered Mage (Swords and Fire #1) by Melissa Caruso Book Review

hell yeah Review

  • 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.


Book Blurb:

In the Raverran Empire, magic is scarce and those born with power are strictly controlled ā€“ 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.

Book Review:

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.šŸ‘Œ

Purchase The Tethered Mage.

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40 thoughts on “The Tethered Mage (Swords and Fire #1) by Melissa Caruso Book Review

  1. I see you you touched on the YA at the end šŸ˜‰ I will be addressing this further in my review I think, as of right now it seems to still favor YA for myself (per our chat), but it is slow going with my eye still acting up. This is a great review. I feel I will probably end up agreeing with most of it. Too early to commit to that statement haha. But I am favoring the concept and magic system as well. It is unique and sometimes that is a rarity in fantasy anymore. Again, great review!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, I only touched on YA and mentioned in the genres that it is YA too. I don’t read YA and so it wouldn’t be fair on me to write a lot about it as I really don’t know about it! lol šŸ™‚

      From our chat though I have to say when you said it reads like YA I had read a couple of articles that said it was YA and not adult (yeah, I’m sad, I didn’t read any reviews until I’d written mine but had to look up the book when I received it as I hadn’t heard of it) and it surprised me how much I enjoyed it even after the dreaded YA label. I’ve also read a couple of other reviews since I wrote mine that called it YA and didn’t mention adult fantasy at all. it’s very subjective and I don’t go into elaborate detail anyway (it’s not my style) I just offer my thoughts on what I like and don’t like. šŸ™‚

      I think the lack of sex, swearing and violence (there is some but not like in grimdark) does give it a YA feel though I like violence and gore so I enjoyed reading fantasy for once that was lighter.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Always nice to enjoy something slightly different and it might help others better understand how there is value and quality to be found in YA fantasy. It is nice to see titles that bridge those gaos as you mentioned šŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

      2. There’s value and quality in all genre of book, tat too at times, Creamed by Cave Creatures springs to mind.šŸ˜‚

        I just prefer darker stuff normally, never said there’s no value in YA though, everyone should read what they like and I’d say that YA fans are worse for that type of nonsense than others, hell, they often don’t just hate on other genres they hate on each other too.šŸ˜‚


      3. Nah. I happen to be a huge YA fan and hate being labeled lile that. It starts to wear on me. I tire of hearinf why YA fans are guilty of. Too many assumptions, but there is definitely value in all genres for sure šŸ˜Š


      4. I wasn’t labelling just stating what I’ve seen, read and heard. YA fans can be vicious to each other and fans of other genres just like other people and genre readers are too! Hell, you don’t want to cross some adult fantasy fans/fandoms they are terrible for it!

        And let’s be honest, it’s not necessarily that it’s a YA reader or a fantasy reader or a crime reader or a romance reader, it’s really nothing to do with the genre you read, just gets classed as that ‘oh, he’s a fantasy reader’ etc, it’s the person not the genre they read.


      5. It is all a load really šŸ˜‚ I know I ton of idiots and arses and they read a variety of genres. I just get frustrated because the incidents in the YA community are constantly highlighted. But playing fair that falls into a percentage the average age of the targeted audience and the trend with social media. Sorry man. I shluld stop commenting while on meds haha. I am not upset.. just loopy šŸ˜‚

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Exactly, that’s my point, you get arses and idiots who read every genre and it’s not down to the genre that they read it’s simply that they themselves are arses and idiots.šŸ˜‚

        Yeah, you have a point about the age and I agree but I think perhaps with YA and why it’s highlighted so much at times is because it’s so viscous at times but who knows, they don’t need to hide behind the genre they read, if they are an idiot then they should just state that.šŸ˜‚


      7. I wouldn’t say I’m right it’s just something that I’m tired off and not just in reading and blogging but in everyday life and the world. People use and hide behind labels to justify their behaviour and then also use the label to play the victim card too and it sort of fits with reading as regardless of the genre you read, an idiot is an idiot and you can’t blame the genre for how you choose to act.šŸ˜‚


      8. Lol so true. I am afraid I have to bail on our fun ramblings for now šŸ˜” this Valium is not helping and I am sick. Enjoyed this review and may link back to it when I post my own (whenever I can see enough to read) if that is ok.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Well Y’allkin I’m not sure it’s technically YA! I’ve read that it is but I’ve also read others class it as adult. Then again, I’ve heard one person say it isn’t complex enough and another say it’s too complex, bloggers, can’t please them all!šŸ˜‚

      Regardless, it’s a fantastic read and if it’s YA then yes, I enjoyed a YA book, the shame!šŸ˜‚

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You know , as i kept reading this review , I kept thinking ‘this sounds an awful lot like a YA book’ but in the end you stated that it’s actually somewhere in the middle of YA and Epic Fantasy . Although at present it’s been impossible for me to read anything , had I been free to spare some time , i’d be giving it a go asap .

    As usual , another fantastic review , quite short as well , I’m surprised to not see any slangs or sarcasm in this one , what’s up with that?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not sure about slang and sarcasm, struggling with reviewing and blogging at the moment and that could have something to do with the lack of sarcasm, also saving it for other types of posts.

      Yeah, it’s quite short, my reviews have been getting shorter and shorter recently!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. oh , I’m sorry to hear that , don’t mind , I was just saying things I noticed , it’s still a nice review šŸ™‚


      2. No worries Rash, it’s all good. Sarcasm in my reviews varies, also depends on my mood when I’m writing the actual review – I do have a blog post on bloggers who charge for reviews that contains lots of sarcasm!šŸ˜‚

        Thanks, I’ll still on occasion write long reviews but I’m not going to stress over the length anymore, if I write 400 words and it says all I want then cool, if it’s 1,400 then that’s cool too.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. So glad you enjoyed this one! I will finish it today or tomorrow at the latest and I’ve found it a very pleasant and engaging read. My hope is that the next novels in the series will show us a little more about Ciardha, because she’s a very, very intriguing character! šŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This sounds like a really cool fantasy read!! The magic sounds really cool, especially how they’re identified. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Fabulous review, Drew… I truly like the sound of how complex yet well done the whole world building is and the concept around the magic sounds proper cool.
    I have seen the book around before but was never that pulled towards it… after reading your review I feel it’ll defo be worth my time when I get a chance… šŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Mm… this is interesting.. I wonder why Dani is not enjoying it.. I must check with her šŸ™‚ But, glad you still enjoyed it so much.. there’s still hope for me šŸ˜‰

        Liked by 1 person

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