Review: THE TETHERED MAGE by Melissa Caruso

Publisher: Orbit Books
Page Count: 432
Release Date: October 24, 2017
Series: SWORDS & FIRE, Book 1
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars – Liked It!

The Tethered Mage

Lady Amalia’s life is fairly well-planned out. As the heir to one of the ruling families on the Council of Nine, she is being groomed to follow in her imposing mother’s footsteps in a life of politics and intrigue. What was not planned, however, was a chance encounter that left Amalia magically bound to, and in control of, the nation’s only fire warlock. Zaira is a woman of deadly power, the kind that can level cities if not checked. And as a city-state’s rebellious actions drive the empire towards civil war, Zaira becomes a tool the empire is on the brink of using. Amalia and Zaira must figure out who is manipulating events before they are ordered to unleash Zaira’s power on an entire populace.

THE TETHERED MAGE is a promising series opener that, while not perfect, lays the groundwork for an even more high stakes adventures ahead. The first half of the book serves to ground the reader in the world and with the characters, introducing us to the tumultuous relationship between Amalia and Zaira. In the empire of Raverra, any person with a mage-mark is conscripted into the army. Zaira has managed to live on the streets and avoid being caught for nearly a decade and a half, so she’s understandably not thrilled to be locked up with a noblewoman as her keeper. Amalia, on the other hand, doesn’t want the responsibility for potentially one day unleashing such awesome power in war. Under the watch of Lt. Marcello, the two gradually form a grudging working relationship.

Interestingly, despite having equal space in the synopsis, this is NOT a two POV story; the entire tale unfolds from Amalia’s first person POV. This left me a touch disappointed, as I would have liked Zaira’s perspective on events, though she’s outspoken enough we definitely know where she stands on pretty much everything. Still, getting a more intimate look at how she feels about her powers, and the magical constraints now put on them, would have been nice.

The second half of the story shifts into more of a political mystery. Incidents keep happening in the city-state of Ardence that outrage one faction or another, driving forces towards open conflict, and yet all sides deny their involvement in the provocations. Amalia, Zaira, and Marcello have only a few days to investigate before the accusations turn into full-fledged war. This was where the book was at its best, as it forces Amalia to stand up and start using those court skills her mother’s been trying to impart to her. Amalia has to smooth ruffled noble feathers alongside investigating shady establishments in dark alleyways in order to discover who is truly at the heart of the conspiracy.

While THE TETHERED MAGE is a fun adventure, I did feel that there were several instances of things working out a little too conveniently. Characters tend to arrive out of nowhere just in the nick of time to save the day, and informants die seconds before revealing important information. If you don’t mind predictability, it won’t impact your fun at all, but I sometimes had to suspend disbelief at just how good Amalia’s mother’s spy network was.

I was also of mixed feelings on Ruven, a Witch Lord from the neighboring Vaskander Empire with an agenda all his own. At first introduction, Ruven is practically twirling his moustache with sinister intentions. By the end of the book, however, I found myself a bit more unnerved by this unfailingly polite gentleman who will casually murder an underling in broad daylight and dare anyone to call him on it. The next book will send Amalia and Zaira to his homeland and honestly, I’m VERY curious where this weird dance of manners and murders goes to.

While several friends have thrown THE TETHERED MAGE at me, they’ve also cautioned that book 2 is where things click into place for the series. This makes me eager to read THE DEFIANT HEIR, as THE TETHERED MAGE sets up a promising premise for the sequel. THE TETHERED MAGE is a light, fun romp of mystery and intrigue that I devoured in a few days. If this entry is the worst the series has to offer, than I cannot wait to see where the story goes from here.

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