An Interview with Melissa Caruso

Hello Melissa, thanks for agreeing to an interview with us and welcome to the Inn! Would you mind telling us a bit about yourself and your current series, the Swords and Fire trilogy?

Sure! I’m the author of the Swords & Fire trilogy from Orbit Books, starting with THE TETHERED MAGE and continuing with THE DEFIANT HEIR and THE UNBOUND EMPIRE. It follows the adventures and intrigues of Amalia Cornaro, scholar and reluctant political heir, and Zaira, the ex-pickpocket fire warlock to whom Amalia accidentally becomes magically linked such that she’s the only one who can unleash or seal Zaira’s devastating power. It’s full of magic, intrigue, murder, betrayal, explosions, surprises, and fabulous outfits! I also have a new trilogy set in the same world coming from Orbit starting in 2020.

Congratulations on your new series being acquired by Orbit! How does it feel to say goodbye to the characters of Swords and Fire and write about a new cast?

I definitely miss Amalia and Zaira and all my Swords & Fire characters already, but I console myself with the knowledge that I can always go back and write more about them someday (even if it’s just a little side story). Meanwhile it’s really exciting and liberating to be working on something new! But it’s also harder. I’ve been writing just Swords & Fire for years now, and have gotten very comfortable with those characters. I have to get to know my new cast for the new book, and that means a lot more revision as I explore who they are! But I love this new set of characters already, and I’m really excited to get to introduce them to the world.

What was for you the “gateway drug” to fantasy?

I’ve loved fantasy above all else for as long as I can remember, from picture books on up. It’s hard to try to single out one or two things that got me into fantasy when I feel like I was always swimming in an ocean of amazing fantasy for as long as I can remember!! But to pick a few, in addition to the usual classics (The Hobbit, Narnia, etc), a couple of my childhood favorite authors were Lloyd Alexander and Madeline L’Engle, and Robin McKinley’s THE HERO AND THE CROWN was definitely a formative book for me.

What’s your latest book-crush, one story you’d want to put into everybody’s hands?

I’m so glad you said “latest,” because that makes it easier when there are so many amazing books out there! I recently read and adored THE INVISIBLE LIBRARY, the start to Genevieve Cogman’s incredibly fun and wonderfully imagined series about world-hopping librarian secret agents acquiring books for an extradimensional magic library. It’s got great characters you want to spend time with, fantastic worldbuilding, and fast pacing with lots of action and intrigue. And it’s smartly written! This series has been around for a few years and I’m coming to it a bit late, but it’s my most recent read that’s made me want to run around shoving the book in everyone’s hands going YOU HAVE TO READ THIS!

The magic system you created is interesting, with mages being tethered to someone controlling their magic. Would you prefer to be a Falcon or a Falconer?

Having magic would be pretty amazing (and being a Falconer could be a bit ethically uncomfortable, depending), so I’d definitely prefer to be a Falcon! Hopefully a vivomancer, so I could make lots of animal friends.

In a viral Twitter thread last year, you explained in great (and fun) details how to properly fight with a ballgown. What does your dream swordfight-ready gown look like?

Ooh, well, if we’re talking a true battlegown rather than an I-could-fight-in-this-if-I-had-to party dress, and we’re not going for historical accuracy… I’d want a skirt that’s higher in front and longer in back, so I can do low lunges without tripping but still have excellent twirling potential. Relatively light fabric (like silk or taffeta) for ease of movement, but lots of volume for fabulousness. I feel like that’s pointing to a kind of Faerie-looking aesthetic, so maybe we should go all the way and go for a kind of Evil Battle Fairy Princess look and have it be black and silver with light, sheer, flowy layers to the skirt so I could look like I was trailing shadows. In which case I also want either flowy faux-sleeves split at the shoulder or, better yet, some kind of flowy cape (or split cape!) hanging back from the shoulders, so I can have some drapey flowy shadowy stuff going on there too (I like to use technical terms, as you can see) without it actually encumbering my arms at all. For the bodice I’d want it to be nicely fitted but with either soft/flexible boning or no boning (I do fight in steel-boned corsets, but it can get uncomfortable), with either  lots of pretty silver embroidery or possibly a faux-armored look. (Or both, if the designer can make it work!)

What’s the strangest thing you’ve researched for your WIP?

Hmm, I’m not sure! I mean, I’ve researched all the usual things that make writers wonder if we’ll get flagged on some watch list due to our Google searches, like the quickest ways to kill someone or how long it takes a body to decompose. The most interesting thing I’ve researched for a book was probably volcanic eruptions, and I got into a long back and forth with editors once about what types of cookies were in period (complicated by the fact that biscotti are ancient cookies but they have contemporary associations for most American readers), but I can’t think of anything that really qualifies as strange! I wish I had some story for you about needing to look into the courtship rituals of wombats or something, but alas, not yet.

What can we expect from The Unbound Empire, book 3 of the Swords and Fire trilogy?

Since it’s the final book in the trilogy, I tried to make it fittingly climactic. Lots of hard choices, nasty surprises, bittersweet moments, terrible and glorious magic, blood and fire, politics and intrigue…The usual, only more so! It’s hard to talk about without giving spoilers, but I’m very excited to finally get to share it with everyone!

Thanks for visiting the Inn and chatting with us, Melissa! Anything you’d like to say to our readers to close off?

Thank you very much for having me! And a salute to your readers for having excellent taste, since fantasy is clearly the BEST genre. (Okay, I may be biased. But c’mon—dragons! Swords! Magic!)


Melissa Caruso was born on the summer solstice and went to school in an old mansion with a secret door, but despite this auspicious beginning has yet to develop any known superpowers. Melissa’s debut novel, THE TETHERED MAGE, was shortlisted for a Gemmell Morningstar award.

Melissa lives in Massachusetts with her video game designer husband, two magical daughters, and assorted pets. You can find her on Twitter, where she posts about writing, tea, and swordfighting in ballgowns.

Official website

Amazon page

Our review for The Tethered Mage

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