The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso

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.

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

First of all, can we agree that the covers for this series are straight-up gorgeous? The dramatic falcon flight/ gown illusion is just beautiful.

Now, the review.

The story is set in a mock-Renaissance Venice (yeah remember that thing I said about trying to read more non-European settings? I…tried?) where the heiress of a powerful and cunning politician, Lady Amalia Cornaro, accidentally binds herself to a fire mage, Zaira. The unusual pairing gives the Cornaro family an edge, but is also a burden for Amalia – her Falcon, the mage she’s bound to, is…reticent (the ultimate euphemism) and her country is planning to use them both as weapons to quell the tensions in a rebellious province.

If you like your epic fantasy full of geopolitical maneuverings and with a healthy (er, in a manner of speaking) dose of treason and backstabbing, the Tethered Mage is the book for you.

Zaira and Amalia are caught in a web of intrigues, sometimes as pawns, sometimes as targets. Zaira steals every scene she appears in. Angry at her situation – and who can blame her, the Falcon/Falconer system is profoundly unjust – sassy and irreverent, she brings in turns levity and depth to the story.

The magic system is interesting; specifically how the Falcon/Falconer dynamic works. The system strikes me as dangerously close to slavery and I was glad to see Zaira challenge it at every turn. The central theme of the book is power and how it’s used, or misused, and I hope the sequels continue to interrogate the status quo.

I liked how the story was very female-centric; and it features one of my favourite types of relationships in fiction: women mentors/mentees. I wish we could have seen more of this particular aspect. I also enjoyed the fact that the world is LGBT-friendly.

There is a romantic subplot, and while the prince/servant trope is reversed in a cool manner, I do hope that the will they-won’t they tension won’t be dragged out until the end of the series. Was I screaming at the characters “kiss already” during my reading? Maybe. Maybe not. You have no proof.

It was all in all a solid introduction to the series, full of twists and action, with a lot of heart and just as much magic. I would love for the sequels to question and challenge the powers and privileges a bit further (it’s Hiu and Jenia’s influence. YOU GUYS RUIN EVERYTHING). Also please more smooching.

I am excited to read The Defiant Heir and the Unbound Empire!

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