The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso

October 19, 2017

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.

Back at the beginning of this year I made a decision to try and read more debut authors than I had in the past. I think I wanted to find novels that I could enjoy without any preconceived notions of what to expect. I’m pleased to report that the experiment has proven very successful so far, I’ve read some wonderful stories from some exceptional new authors. The latest to add to this growing list is the new novel by Melissa Caruso, The Tethered Mage.

When it comes to fantasy novels, I think they succeed or fail based on how the narrative deals with the concept of magic. As long as I buy into the magic system, everything else tends to slot comfortably into place. I really like the premise that lies behind the relationships between Falcons and their Falconers. Magic is too wild and uncontrolled to rest on the shoulders of a single person so those with the mage-mark are bound to another who determines when the magic can be unleashed. Amalia and Zaira are forced together through a chance meeting so their relationship can be described as rocky at best. The constant interplay between these two wilful, fiercely independent women lies at the heart of the novel and makes the story shine. Neither of them want to be in the situation they are in, but needs must and eventually they begin to find a common ground.

There are other characters dotted throughout the main narrative that help to explore the different elements that make up the life of a Falcon. Different Falcons have different skills. There are artificers and alchemists, as well as those with the ability to manipulate animals and human flesh. Each of these skills requires years of training to master. A small child, a young teen and a well- established Falcon and Falconer team all help to illustrate the different steps that a Raverran who has the mage mark will follow in their life. It’s the little extra touches like this that The Tethered Mage so engrossing.

What goes hand in hand the magic? A good old slice of political intrigue. The city states that make up the Serene Empire are a fractious bunch. Their various leaders are all about scheming against one another. Amalia’s mother, La Contessa Lissandra Cornaro, is one of those leaders and her masterful skill at playing the players is one of this novel’s many highlights. Watching how Amalia tries to reconcile the differences between the woman who is her mother and the woman who efficiently deals with any potential political rival is fascinating stuff. I loved it. All these power plays and schemes ensure that the Falcons and Falconers are continually called upon to keep the peace. Zaira is one of the rarer Falcons, she has the ability to produce balefire, making her a weapon of mass destruction magically speaking. For a free spirit like her, even the concept of being a Falcon is a prison. She rails against the system whenever and wherever she can. The main problem is that Zaria views Amalia as the living embodiment of that system.

The other nations and states that border The Serene Empire also have magic users, but they treat them quite differently. To the north, the country of Vashkandar is ruled by magic users, the brutal Witch Lords. This first novel offers some tantalising hints about what is going on there. I look forward to learning more in the future. Once again, Orbit have brought us a brilliant novel that delivers on all its initial promise. The characters are well realised and the plot is captivating. The writing does a first-class job of depicting the bustling city of Raverra and its nearby neighbour, Ardance.  I was entertained from beginning to end.

A fantastical novel needs a fantastical soundtrack so I went with the soundtrack to Witcher 3:  Wild Hunt – Blood and Wine by Marcin Przbylowicz, Mikolai Stroinski and Piotr Musial. It perfectly complements the evocative fantasy landscape that Melissa Caruso has created. I still find it hard to believe this is her debut novel. The writing is so self-assured, the plot so confidently handled.

The Tethered Mage is published by Orbit and is available from 26th October. Book 2 in the Sword and Fire trilogy, The Defiant Heir, is set the follow in the future. I can’t wait!

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