(2017) Melissa Caruso, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, iii + 438pp, ISBN 978-0-356-51061-3.
The Tethered Mage by Mellisa Caruso is a sword and sorcery fantasy debut novel, which would perhaps appeal to those who have read Robin (The Dragon Keeper) Hobb, R. J. (Age of Assassins ) Barker or Trudi (Successor's Promise) Canavan.
The setting, perhaps, feels familiar; medieval style fantasy, inherited wealth, a strong divide between the nobles and the commoners with the expected addition of magic. However, in this world those who have significant magic have a telltale mark in their eye and, if found, will be taken into the service of the army whether they agree or not. The mages are assigned a Falconer, a person magically linked to them who has the power to remove or activate their magic with a word. Despite the medieval style setting the gender balance feels more equal than you would expect for that setting, both men and women hold roles of political power and are respected for what they do with that, rather than their gender.
The protagonist is a young woman Amalia Cornaro, heiress to one of the most influential positions in the Raverran Empire. While out in a less salubrious part of town to the one she is used to, she assists a man who is trying to stop a mage from burning down the city. What she hasnít really thought through is that by taking this action she links herself to the mage for the rest of her life and enlists them both into the Empireís Army, a position unthinkable for one of her station. While Amalia embraces the challenge of finding a compromise between her two roles, Zaira, the aforementioned mage, is less happy about her forced conscription and confinement.
Caruso explores themes of individual consent and freedoms compared to a responsibility for our role in society. Zaira has been trapped, forcibly disconnected from her magic, confined and is now working for an army on pain of death. On the other hand, fire mages are dangerous and frequently burn out of control, Zaira killed her parents when she was only a child and since then literally burnt to death those closest to her with a magic she canít control. If she were not an enlisted mage, she would have been put to death for her crimes. Meanwhile, Amalia is constrained by her position in society and the role she will inherit on the death of her mother, she cannot choose her direction in life, her profession who she will marry or even, quite often, the clothes she will wear. However, with her inherited role, comes political power and influence as well as personal wealth. Together they must find a path that balance the demand of them both and forges a future and a friendship.
The Tethered Mage is a fast paced novel, Amalia and Zaira trying to stay one step ahead of the order to burn innocents or themselves be put to death, while unravelling a wide scale plot of political intrigue and murder.
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