It is not every day that you find a fantasy novel with so much scope for a mass audience. “The Tethered Mage” is a sophisticated tale that has the gripping plot to hook it’s readers whilst stimulating their thoughts with its dense political theme. Caruso has created a page-turner for a wide-range of audiences.
The Raverran Empire is run by a doge and the council of seven, the governing group formed by the aristocratic families of Eruvia. The Empire thrives from trade, culture and the obedience of the cities surrounding Raverra. The Empire has obtained this power and dominance by harnessing and controlling the magic of Eruvia and all the “mage-marked” that possess it. For years the Raverran empire has known peace, but with whispers of a rebellion, the discovery of a fire-warlock and the disappearance of children, the Empire’s authority over Eruvia is in danger and war is looming on the horizon.
“The Tethered Mage” by Melissa Caruso is one of the best books I have read this year. Caruso immerses you entirely into her new, magical world with such fluid, atmospheric language. Discovering a new fictional world can often be quite daunting but Caruso makes it a very natural and enjoyable experience. One of the ways Caruso does this is with her homage to 1900s Italy. The reader can relate to the imagery and setting of the novel and feel as if they are running around a Venetian Eruvia with Amalia and Zaira. Caruso is consistent with her descriptions and keeps characters fresh in the readers’ minds. This keeps the complex story and characters easily digestible for the reader and ensures their engagement and captivation with the narrative.
Melissa Caruso is particularly good at characterisation and manages to show multiple points of view, not just Amalia’s. Each character has defining attributes which are emitted in both their actions and their dialogue. Caruso has created two characters that appear opposite but are instead facing parallel conflicts which makes their relationship interesting to follow. The story is filled with powerful female characters with various characters which makes them relatable to a multitude of readers. Caruso has also created a bisexual character in Zaira and shows a world where there is no social-norm when sexuality is considered.
Caruso sets up so many situations and relationships which makes the narrative flow beautifully and the characters intertwine effortlessly. I particularly liked the forming of Amalia’s friendship with Zaira and seeing the trust between them form. The romance between Amalia and Marcello was enticing and had me routing for them from the start. There was something very raw and innocent about it which added light to a story driven by the threat of war and destruction.
Caruso’s political concept was what made the story a true page-turner. I found it very reminiscent of WWI Britain, rounding up civilians to fight whether it was their will to or not. Personally, I found this very thought-proving and made me look back at historical events that were potentially immoral, like the one in “The Tethered Mage”. In addition, I found myself torn between Marcello’s views of The Mews and what Zaira thought of the place. My own views wavered erratically throughout, keeping me engaged and invested in the narrative. “The Tethered Mage” could not have been released at a more poignant time. The narrative highlights the issues surrounding Empires and Unions and highlights the benefits and negative aspects of this unity. This is extremely relevant in today’s society with countries, such as Scotland and Catalonia, openly fighting for independence.
The only criticism of this novel is that the third quarter seemed to move a little slower than I would have liked. It kept the reader engaged but seemed to lack much narrative development. However, it did contain multiple interactions between characters that helped develop characterisation and relationships.
Overall, this is a beautiful and thought-provoking political story, enriched with magic and wonder. From start to finish you will be lost in Eruvia and all it has to offer, becoming engaged with the social issues like it is your own country. Caruso provides you with such strong, interesting characters that you won’t want to let them go at the end. “The Tethered Mage” is an exceedingly promising start to her Swords and Fire trilogy. I have already pre-order the second instalment!
I would give this 5 out of 5.