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Book Review – The Tethered Mage

The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso

The Tethered Mage

What is it about?

In the Raverran Empire, magic is scarce and those born with power are strictly controlled – taken as children and conscripted into the Falcon Army.

Book cover for The Tethered Mage, featuring the image of a large black bird with its wings open.

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. War looms on the horizon. A single spark could turn their city into a pyre.

The Tethered Mage is a YA fantasy novel, the first in the Swords and Fire series. Let me start by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed this book and the next two instalments are already in my TBR pile. YA isn’t my usual fare, but I’d heard good things and decided I wanted in, which is also unusual for me. Reading the book or watching the series everyone is raving about is often a recipe for disappointment – this one didn’t disappoint.

The book begins by introducing some of the magical laws governing the world, but it isn’t what makes it so readable. Magic matters – it’s what everyone is fighting to control – however, the stakes are so much higher, and this story has more to offer. The political landscape of The Tethered Mage is cleverly designed and explained, never once dumbed down, pulling you right in. Amalia is well-developed, likeable character, one which the reader can easily relate to. In contrast, Zaira has a lot of edge, which doesn’t necessarily abate as the narrative unfolds, and makes for an interesting dynamic. The host of other characters provide opportunities to expand the reader’s knowledge of the world, and lay the groundwork for future stories.

I wouldn’t say The Tethered Mage is the most original concept out there, but the effort and detail Caruso has put in makes it stand out. Experiencing everything through Amalia’s eyes is partially what makes it special – it’s a familiar story seen through an unfamiliar protagonist. Caruso’s writing keeps the tone exactly right, consistently building the tension and intrigue, consistently engaging the reader. One definite plus for this book is the diversity; race, gender and sexual preference are all touched on, and treated as completely normal. No issue is made of it – it’s just the way things are – and I’d like to see more of this in fantasy writing, especially YA.

Perhaps the only downside of this book is the inconsistency in the level of detail. Some aspects of the world are given a lot of explanation (I wouldn’t say too much), while others are touched on and whisked away before the reader has too much time to think. I’d say the same for some of the scenes. It could be that Melissa Caruso plans to expand these, and I’ll be interested to see if they play out in books 2&3.

If you enjoy fantasy and political intrigue, with a little budding romance thrown in, I’d definitely recommend this book. You can buy it here.

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