Review: The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso

Tethered Mage


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.


The Tethered Mage is pretty much my perfect fantasy novel. I really, really loved it. I’m struggling to articulate my love for it without just fangirling all over the place. I will admit, up front, that it may also not be for everyone. I’ll explain why as I go. Let’s start with the worldbuilding. It was well done. The book starts with a high-action scenario (where Zaira and Amalia first meet) and then delves into the repercussions of that meeting, which are many and varied. As the political and personal repercussions of the actions the girls took at that first meeting are exposed, the world continues to expand and build and grow before your eyes. You discover the Serene Empire, and you discover some very precarious political situations are going on. You discover how the doge (emperor) thinks that Zaira and Amalia are the answer to most of his problems, and you discover the Empire’s interesting way of dealing with magic, that is not straightforwardly good or evil, but can be the source of multiple varied opinions amongst the characters.

The political background is rich here, and a lot of the book does deal with politics. Amalia, the main character and narrator, is the heir to a powerful seat on the Council of Nine that rules the Empire alongside the doge, so politics are a major part of her life. They govern how she should be spending her time, the words she speaks to anyone vaguely related to politics (bringing to mind for me the Orlesian “game” in Dragon Age: Inquisition–a video game I love), and who she can date/fall in love with. Since politics are such a central part of her life, they’re also a central part of this book. If you don’t love reading about a bunch of political intrigue in closed chambers and at garden parties, then this book may not be for you. I, on the other hand, adore politics in fantasy, so I was very excited to keep up with all the twists and turns of conversation.

While a lot of the book contains and focuses on politics, particularly regarding who rulers should be ruling for and the politics of war, it also has a good bit of action in it. There are many political scenes and situations that made me feel tense, and they were well written. However, there were also plenty of daring and fast-paced action sequences that made me hold my breath and hope for the best. I loved the mix of both in the book, and was glad that neither took a backseat. The plot was tight and well done and I really felt that every aspect of it, whether political or action-based, was integral to the plot and the building tension.

The characters were also amazing. Amalia is the narrator, as previously mentioned, and it was a wonderful journey as a reader to see her struggle with her life as an heir to power, and ultimately come into her own, but on her own terms. I felt like her story was very original and refreshing in many ways (which I can’t delve into without spoilers). Zaira, whose life is inextricably linked to Amalia’s from the beginning of the narrative, was great to have along for the ride. She’s a strong female character who has always lived life on her own terms, and finds herself unhappy with her current situation. She’s a snarky, sarcastic badass, and I loved watching her and Amalia bicker and banter and negotiate their new relationship as Falcon (mage/warlock) and Falconer (the person who can unleash the mage/warlock’s power). I also appreciated how well drawn other characters were, including Amalia’s mother and all of her political enemies and allies. There’s also a villainous prince who will make your skin crawl, and a Falconer lieutenant who I absolutely adored (who is basically the third main character). I will admit that I kind of wished this book was from multiple perspectives, just because I really wanted to know more about all of the characters. I would love to see a spin-off novel telling Amalia’s mother’s story, for instance.

There is romance in this book and it takes multiple forms. However, this was NOT instalove, and I really appreciated the way it was handled. From the beginning, the romantic entanglement was bound to happen, but it did happen slowly, and at a believable pace with believable obstacles. I’ll be interested to see how it continues to develop in future installments of the series, but I really like it when romance is realistic.

Overall, I really can’t say enough about how much I loved this book. I didn’t really want this to just be endless fangirling, but I’m kind of afraid that’s what it turned into. If you love fantasy with great worldbuilding and don’t mind politics as a central theme, I really think you’ll love this novel. If reading a lot about politics isn’t your thing, you may still like it, but the middle will be a little slow for you. I do, promise, though that there is plenty of action. If you do check it out, I’d love to see what you think!

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

More Information: Amazon, Goodreads, Melissa Caruso’s webpage

Note: I received this book from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

What political fantasies have you read and loved? Are you planning on checking this one out? Do you hate politics with your fantasy–or do you think it helps with worldbuilding? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

9 thoughts on “Review: The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso

  1. Well-written review, Sarah! You have definitely caught my attention here. Two weeks ago, I would have said that politically-focused fantasy is not my thing. However, I am currently reading The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison and it’s AMAZING. 100% politics. I’m listening to the audiobook and I just cannot stop at all. I can’t articulate why, however!

    I can definitely relate to your review here. I look forward to picking this book up myself. The only downside is that this is part of a series… Hm. I will have to wait for a while before reading these. I like to binge read my series. 😉


    1. I’ll have to look into The Goblin Emperor. I really love political intrigue in my fantasy. It started with Three Dark Queens by Kendare Blake and just grew from there, I think. I understand waiting a bit for series–the next one comes out in April, so thankfully not too long of a wait, and there’s really not a big cliffhanger here. Hope you enjoy when you get to it!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s really cool! I didn’t realize that. So, like with Maria V Snyder’s Study series, or Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn — multiple series stacked on top of each other. At least that means I can start reading these books now since the duology is done. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

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