Author: Melissa Caruso
Published: 24 October 2017
Personal Context and Initial Thoughts: NetGalley provided me with an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis from Goodreads:
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.
“It is precisely because we all know we are capable of exercising unstoppable military power that we do not need to do so. It is by the implicit threat of war that we secure the peace.”
I think, first and foremost, that The Tethered Mage highlights the importance of diplomacy. The idea that a compromise between two parties–whether they be two countries or two people–can be reached through empathy, honest communication, and patience absolutely permeates this novel. Caruso filled her story with conflict both global (The Serene Empire v. Ardence/Vaskandar) and personal (Cornaro Family v. doge, Falcons v. Falconers, Amalia v. Zaira), which served to add not only depth to her characters but substance to her story.
“True power wields a light touch, because a light touch suffices.”
It is obvious to the reader that Amalia was crafted with thought and care in equal measure. She is bold, brave, compassionate, confident, daring, humble, wise, and witty. Her willingness to admit her own flaws and shortcomings exemplifies her humbleness and humility and her desire to help others despite any danger to herself was something I admired deeply. She started this story as a slightly naïve but erudite child, and ended it as a wizened and impassioned member of society. This transformation was one of my favorite parts of this book, and even though the story was only 438 pages, it covered such a vast amount of character development.
“‘The more power a leader wields, Amalia, the harder it becomes for him or her to value individual people over results…the welfare of millions of imperial citizens…how do you balance that against the happiness of one person? Or even their life?’
‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘Do they always need to be in conflict? Can’t you do both? Take care of the Empire as a whole and have care for its individual people as well?'”
Many who read the passage above would call Amalia’s response naïve. They would label it as idealistic and dismiss it. It is my single favorite passage from this story. It defines Amalia’s character and states plainly the most important question persons in power must ask themselves.
“‘No,’ Zaira agreed, dropping the foppish act. ‘What’s realistic is maybe once a day you’ll pause and wonder how I’m doing, and a couple times a month you’ll take me out for a horrible, awkward afternoon in town. And I’ll have to act like I love it. Because when you’re starving, you’ll eat shit like it was a feast.'”
I absolutely adored Zaira. A fiery personality matches her mage-mark-given-ability and she has no trouble stating her opinion. Having suffered immensely for nearly her entire life, she has cultivated a realistic (but borderline cynical) attitude regarding life and her place in it. Having accidentally killed everyone she’s ever loved with her uncontrollable fire, Zaira closed herself off from everyone else and has spent the majority of her life alone. I can barely imagine what that must feel like, and I admire her strength and tenacity to survive on her own.
“But as I pulled away from leaning on her, I could have sworn she squeezed my hand.”
Towards the end of this story, we see her slowly open-up to Amalia and it’s a truly breathtaking sight to behold. As this is the first book in a series, I am excited to see how their relationship continues in the next installments.
The Tethered Mage is an adventurous tale filled with memorable, complex characters, an engaging plot, witty dialogue, and the drama of courtly intrigue. Featuring an abundance of strong female characters, it is a breath of fresh air and a rallying cry in the current political climate. Caruso’s writing is clear, concise, demonstrative, and poignant with an immersive and captivating plot to boot. A lesson in treachery, The Tethered Mage reminds you to trust your instincts and to keep your friends close and your enemies closer.