The Tethered Mage (Swords & Fire #1) by Melissa Caruso (2017)
Fiction | Fantasy
“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 threatens 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.”
Expected Publication Date: October 24, 2017
pooled ink Review:
Thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy to review!
Yes, I have to say overall I rather enjoyed this one. The more I read the more I got into it and was curious to know more. I’ve mentioned a thousand times before how political webs can cause me no small amount of frustration so there were a few times I wanted to call it quits and skip to the ending (hoping there would be a villain’s confession before slaughtering the heroes except of course reinforcements would arrive just in time) but I held on and I’m glad I did.
The characters in this book are plentiful but this is absolutely a plot-driven story. It’s a political fantasy with complex and ever changing motives and plot twists with no end to the hidden enemies, espionage, betrayals, and startling revelations. Overall it’s a pretty good fantasy read. I found it interesting with bursts of action and excitement throughout. I’d be perhaps more on edge if I never knew when or if Zaira might ignite but with a jess smothering her powers that’s not really an issue…Then again war is looming, which no one (well someone but mostly no one) wants and to stop it would indeed call Zaira’s powers into action.
Zaira is a powerful fire warlock who has managed to go undiscovered for eighteen years, until of course she threatens to burn down Raverra and Amalia is called upon to slip a jess on her to stifle her powers. Zaira I found to be abrasive, passionate, intelligent, strong-willed, amusing, and a survivor through and through. I rather liked her.
Amalia, the main character of this book, however is rather a naïve idiot for much of the plot (although she does become quite clever and useful towards the end). She constantly failed to see how the world can never be sunshine and rainbows or how not everyone will survive or how some wars cannot be won without bloodshed. I mean she knows all this but she’s a dreamer. She is not stealthy, composed in pressured situations, willing to accept the harshness of ruling an Empire, or able to truly understand how stifled Zaira feels as a hooded mage. All she thinks about are happy memories, her lovely friends, and spending all her time in books of magical theory studying it all despite having no magic herself. She is certainly a very nice person (and her studies of artifice do thankfully become quite handy), but she is not a very interesting or dynamic one. Although yes, I did like her in those last few exhilarating chapters.
“I used to worry what kind of heir you would prove to be, when you closed yourself in your room with your books and ignored everything happening around you.”
“I was done hiding in my room.”
I do feel bad for Amalia though because she really is caught between a rock and a hard place even if it was technically by her own doing (one would think for all she has studied about magic that she would understand how a jess works). But she is the Cornaro heir, whether she likes it or not, and one would think that with such a severe responsibility awaiting her future that she would at least try to be prepared for it rather than choosing willful ignorance by hiding with her books and friends.
Yes, I feel sorry for her but life isn’t fair and her character overall struck me as soft and not particularly interesting. Although I admit by the very end of this book she does make some bold and impressive decisions with quick thinking. I think over the course of the chaos in this first book her eyes are opened to not only what she will be required to do but all that she could do if determined enough. There is hope for her yet.
Zaira snorted. “You’re pretending the world is fair again.”
I think Zaira is exactly what Amalia needs in her life. But do you know what character I liked best? La Contessa. Amalia might be a dreamy bookworm but her mother is nothing short of impressive. She’s graceful, sharp, composed, and understands the games of the Empire and its enemies. I’d like to read a book about her, especially when she was just an heir rising into power.
Marcello Verdi was a nice enough character but it somewhat baffles me that he could rise to Lieutenant Falconer of the Mews when half the time he’s upset, fretting, despairing, or trembling. I like him as a character well enough but he does come across as quite soft for a person of any actual military rank. But perhaps I’m being overly critical and still wrapped up in the brutality that is politics and war in Red Rising as opposed to most books where the dreamers get to dream.
Now to discuss what has been a slightly heated topic in the reviews for this book: the Falcon system. I’m not sure I have any idea at all how I feel about it but I have to agree that it’s undeniably a form of slavery. I mean it’s a system that works quite well for both parties (the Empire and the mage-marked) if truth be told but that doesn’t change the fact that the mage-marked/Falcons are used for their power to keep the Empire strong and given no choice in the matter.
Falcons are taken to the Mews as children with no exception and they cannot leave unless accompanied by their Falconer and once bonded to a Falconer’s jess they are bound for life. A Falcon’s powers are controlled via a jess by their Falconer, and the Falconer is given orders by their military superiors and, well, that’s that. I find it rather naïve (*cough* Amalia *cough*) to look at the soft beds and plentiful food and family visits and call it enough to justify forcing children into the military. But it’s easy to see it as a rescue when a child might be traumatized by the realization that they accidentally turned their family into cinders.
I suppose it all depends on what matters most to you: safety, education, and comfort? Or freedom? But then shouldn’t you have a choice to choose? What Zaira wants is a choice.
The whole Falcon system is quite complicated and I actually appreciate this. The author is careful to show many different perspectives keeping the arguments in favor of or against always pushing and pulling. And actually with the way magic works in this world, particularly with warlocks who can easily lose control of their powers, the issue becomes an ethical conundrum because these mage-marked contain great power that if left unchecked could topple empires, could decimate entire cities, could slaughter their very own loved ones by mistake and without their knowledge until it was too late.
So in a way putting a jess on the mage-marked is a safety precaution for all parties, even the mage-marked. But again, what is the cost of freedom? Do you take away all threats of magic going out of control or turning against the Empire by taking away their freedom? Or do you uphold their right to choose and hope they choose the Falcons? There is no clear answer, or at least not an easy one nor one that would satisfy all parties and this adds a continuous current of unrest throughout the book that kept things interesting.
Anyway, that’s what I’ve seen some readers heatedly debating about (even with their own selves) because while this book is an exciting fantasy filled with magic, war, and enemies galore, there is also a prominent position of slavery that is condoned by the Empire, most of the Falcons, and the main character, Amalia, herself. If feels a tad wrong to support a book that supports this pretty form of slavery, and yet it’s so intriguing and logical how could one not?
But yeah, having finished this book I definitely found it a rather good read. I loved how twisty the plot was and how although there is clearly more work to be done (when is the work ever “done” for an Empire?) this book didn’t end in some hideous cliff hanger.
The Tethered Mage is filled with traitors slithering through its pages and nothing is ever what one says. With several players, some bold faced and others pulling the strings out of sight, in this game of dominion, there is a constant strum of unrest, desperation, determination, and all set to the ticking of a clock. While Zaira refuses loyalty to her captors and Amalia desperately searches for a solution of peace, their enemies have great plans set into motion and are not at all concerned about getting a bit of blood on their hands. As the plot escalates, will true enemies be unveiled? Or will fire turn them all into naught but ashes?
P.S. Isn’t the cover amazing??? Bold, simple, and subtly symbolic. Idk but I think it’s great!
Purchase here: The Tethered Mage
Meet Melissa Caruso!
I’m a fantasy writer, tea drinker, geek, and mom, not necessarily in that order. I live in Massachusetts: a magical land where you can find great white sharks, two hundred year old stone walls running randomly through the woods, and cider doughnuts. Despite being born on the summer solstice and going to school in an old mansion with a secret door, I have yet to develop any super powers (that I’m allowed to tell you about, anyway).
My debut fantasy novel, THE TETHERED MAGE (first in the Swords & Fire trilogy), is coming from Orbit Books in October 2017.