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The Tethered Mage (Swords and Fire) by…
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The Tethered Mage (Swords and Fire) (original 2017; edition 2017)

by Melissa Caruso (Author)

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Member:mkbishop24
Title:The Tethered Mage (Swords and Fire)
Authors:Melissa Caruso (Author)
Info:Orbit (2017), 480 pages
Collections:To read
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The Tethered Mage (Swords and Fire) by Melissa Caruso (2017)

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Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
I received this novel from Orbit Books through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

Lately I have been particularly lucky when choosing debut novels to read, and The Tethered Mage was one such great find: the story is set in what looks like an alternate version of 18th Century Venice, with the city of Raverra and its canals and waterways as the playing field; my past visits to the real Venice helped me to see the city being described here, adding to the enjoyment of a well-painted background. Raverra has extended its influence over the surrounding countries, particularly the neighboring city of Ardence, whose restless nobility feels the ever-increasing need for more independence, the fires of freedom further kindled by the powerful realm of Vaskandar whose ambitions are equal only to its ruthlessness. Raverra, however, has been able to maintain its standing thanks to the strong politics of its Council and ruling Doge and to its ability to exploit the magic of gifted individuals.

And it’s indeed with the magic system that this novel forges an interesting path, because the rare and precious mages that are Raverra’s strength and deterrent are carefully screened since infancy for the tell-tale colored ring around their irises, and once discovered are corralled to the island enclave of the Mews, where their powers are harnessed through a bracelet called jess. The jess tethers each mage (or Falcon) to their handler the Falconer, in a partnership that only death can dissolve: according to a person’s point of view, such an arrangement can be seen either as slavery or symbiosis and that is one of the story’s main themes, the ethics of channeling useful or potentially dangerous abilities by effectively placing a gifted person under life-long tutelage.

Zaira is a formidable and quite unique fire mage, the most dangerous kind, and she’s been able to move under the Falconers’ radar for a long time until she’s forced to unleash her powers in self-defense: that’s when Falconer captain Verdi enrolls the help of a young woman to put a jess on Zaira, not knowing that his improvised assistant is Amalia Cornaro, heir to the most powerful woman in the Raverran council. Amalia finds herself saddled with the responsibilities of a Falconer, a duty that clashes with those imposed on her status as The Contessa’s daughter, and what’s more her Falcon deeply resents her both as a Falconer and as a representative of the pampered ruling class.

The dichotomy between these two young women, so very different in origins and character, is one of the supporting themes in The Tethered Mage and makes for a very interesting journey in which both of them have a great deal to discover by getting to know each other, overcoming diffidence and prejudices: the trope of very different people thrown together by fate and having to learn how to cooperate is one I’ve always found interesting, and in this case I appreciated it even more because it avoided the clichéd pitfall of the man/woman pairing that turns from hate to love. By linking these two girls and having them cooperate through a crisis, we learn more about the society they live in and at the same time we get to know and like them as characters – with the added bonus that the increased understanding of each other does not change who they basically are but more simply the way they perceive their counterpart.

I found Zaira to be the most fascinating of the two – not least because there is so much about her that is barely glimpsed, leaving a great deal of mystery about her past: she’s strongly independent, although the choice of keeping apart from others stems from some dark, dramatic roots, and she’s also brash and outspoken, and quite proud of that – to the point that contact with the higher strata of society fails to compel her to soften that approach, with quite amusing results. On the other hand Amalia, despite being the first-person narrator, comes across as slightly less interesting because of the shades of predictability that weigh on her character: if I liked the fact that she’s what we would nowadays call a “nerd”, due to her preference to magical and technical studies over politics or fancy parties, I felt that part of her journey was overshadowed by the required romantic entanglement and her role as the problem-solving heroine.

What makes Amalia stand out, however, is the relationship with her formidable mother: the two women are often in disagreement over Amalia’s life choices and her mother’s need to groom her as a successor, but instead of taking the path of all-out conflict they bridge their differences through mutual respect and a deep love that comes across quite strongly even if it remains mostly unexpressed. If anything, this novel is a showcase for strong female characters that know how to work with difficult situations and overcome many obstacles: as I said, Amalia is less effective in this field if compared with her mother or Zaira (or the Contessa’s right-hand helper Ciardha, a character I hope will get more narrative space in the next novels, because she’s beyond intriguing), but her willingness to put herself to the test and not give up, even in the face of unsurmountable odds, more than makes up for that.

Apart from the characters’ journey, The Tethered Mage is enriched by the fascinating power plays that constitute its backbone, a complicated dance of political expediency, back-room plotting and outright betrayals that speed up the pace in the second half of the novel and that kept me glued to the pages until I reached the resolution. And if the “bad guys” sometimes feel a little over the top (especially when they tend to explain their dastardly plot to a soon-to-be-killed-captive, as in the oldest narrative tradition), or if their identity is too easily gleaned, the story is so exciting that it’s not difficult to put the Inner Critic to sleep so that we can lay back and enjoy the adventure, one that I will be happy to follow in the next installments.


Originally posted at SPACE AND SORCERY BLOG ( )
  SpaceandSorcery | Dec 25, 2018 |
It took me a long time to get into this book but I'm starting to wonder if that's a me problem instead of the book's. By the end, I loved it and I'm so ready for the next one...which of course isn't out yet 🙃 ( )
  Catsysta | Aug 5, 2018 |
Lady Amalia Cornaro is walking around incognito when she is enlisted to tether a rogue fire-mage who is threatening to burn the city. But something goes wrong, leaving Amalia unable to yield her role of Falconer to another - a role which, as a noble, Amalia is not supposed to hold, and as her mother’s heir, Amalia cannot make her sole priority.

I kept expecting this to be more gripping - more consistently gripping - than it is. Amalia is under a lot of pressure and trying to juggle conflicting loyalties. As the Cornaro, her choices are constrained and scrutinised. As a Falconer, she’s expected to obey orders and quickly secure Zaira’s loyalty, and neither of them are given the time they need to adjust to this new relationship. Tensions are escalating between Raverra and the city where Amalia attended university, and she knows that she and Zaira may be ordered to threaten, or even burn, a place where Amalia’s friends live.

Yet Amalia approaches all of this with a certain amount of calm confidence. Which is actually quite believable - she has a strong sense of security and identity which come from the relationship she has with her mother, the resources she knows her mother can wield to protect her, and the skills and knowledge Amalia has gathered - but it does undercut the urgency somewhat.

I don’t think this is necessarily a weakness - perhaps just a case of the story almost-but-not-quite meeting my expectations and not-quite doing what I wanted it to.

The Tethered Mage has some memorable characters, satisfyingly-complex political intrigue and rich worldbuilding. (It’s not the first time I’ve come across the concept of magic users being leashed, but the way it is approached here is different.) I’m interested in seeing what happens next.

“Amalia, do you know why I let you run around Raverra without an escort? [...] Why I let you study magical science in Ardence, or allow you to go out dressed like a country squire’s seventh daughter, or pretend I don’t notice when you visit pawnshops in unsavory areas?”
“No, Mamma.”
“To see what you do, given freedom to make your own choices.” Her words cut the air like a thrown knife. “And to see what you learn. Because I hoped this independence indicated a spark of intelligence or ambition that might serve our family well, and that you might prove yourself worthy to be my heir.”
I had thought, perhaps, it was because she wanted me to be happy. “I did learn things.”
( )
  Herenya | Mar 9, 2018 |
Amalia Cornaro is heir to a great family name, wealth, and untold political influence within the Raverran Empire. However, she has been content to leave most of the political machinations to her brilliant and ruthless mother, and concentrate on her studies of arcane magic. However, when a powerful fire warlock threatens the city of Raverra, Amalia finds herself drafted into containing the warlock’s magic, and in so doing inadvertently becomes a “Falconer”, tethered to the fire warlock and responsible for controlling her powers. Thrown into the middle of a political firestorm (couldn’t help myself), Amalia must use everything her mother ever taught her to prevent a civil war within the empire she loves.

This was an enormously fun fantasy novel, and is the first in the new series. Surprisingly, this is also Melissa Caruso’s debut novel. The story, while ostensibly YA, manages to avoid the pitfalls so common in the genre, and delivers an entertaining and suspenseful read. Caruso has built up an interesting and complex world, and her characters are lovingly crafted and more complex than one usually sees in the Young Adult genre. The book reminded me very much of Dragon Age, the Bioware RPG game (which from me is a huge compliment). I especially enjoyed the way magic is dealt with in Caruso’s world, and the push and pull between Amalia, and her “Falcon”, Zaira.

Fans of YA or the fantasy genre looking for a bright new talent should definitely pick up this book.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. ( )
  irregularreader | Dec 8, 2017 |
This is a very imaginative series, and would make a good gift for a teenager. ( )
  kerryp | Nov 30, 2017 |
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To Dad, for always believing I could do it, and to Mom, for showing me how to get it done.
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"Here, my lady? Are you sure?"
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"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"--… (more)

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