The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso fantasy book reviewsThe Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso fantasy book reviewsThe Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso

In The Tethered Mage (2017), The Raverran Empire is as complacent, even “Serene,” as its military is legion, and indeed, magical. Every military empire has its controversies, and so does this one, however enlightened it may pretend to be with gender and marriage equality achievements.

Amalia is the heir to the Cornaro fortune and seat upon the Raverran Empire’s Council of Nine, and is as yawnishly blue blooded as she can be. She has, however, enough spirit to attempt harnessing rogue fire warlock Zaira, who has loosed her deadly balefire, with a magical “jess,” binding the pair together for life as falcon and falconer. Thus the two become conscripted soldiers in the Raverran (Serene) Empire’s impressive magical military machine.

Amalia’s nobility should have precluded the relationship, but in emergency situations, these things happen. And so we launch into the story of political intrigue and stratagem as an annexed state foments a war by breaking the Serene Accords — set against a stage of late 17th-century Venetian wardrobe design. (I think the resemblance to this point in history may pretty much end there.)

How is the intrigue? Pretty good. A political story can go very wrong in fantasy novels, authors lacking the experience to ground a fantastic tale to the realm of the very technical (and human) device of control politics. Melissa Caruso is no political hand, but she takes some care with the subject, and muscles you into the fictive dream.

The Tethered Mage’s pacing gets sluggish toward the middle as it heaves the dead weight of a sweet, but barely interesting star-crossed romantic subplot between falconer Lieutenant Verdi and Amalia Cornaro. Amalia’s relationship with her falcon Zaira has more interest and tension. Caruso gives both characters a markedly distinct voice and this parity may be her finest achievement of the entire book.

The story is, for the most part, fairly straightforward, with one or two surprises. I was looking for a little more in the way of character twists. Some villains are exactly as villainous as they appear to be, no more or less. Amalia’s character arc is well handled. She comes into her own with a strong assent toward the end.

On balance, The Tethered Mage is a good read and if you like the guise of 17th-century Venice, then you are in for a rare treat. A sequel, The Defiant Heir, is currently scheduled for publication in April 2018.

Published October 24, 2017. 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 the first novel in a spellbinding new fantasy series.


  • Taya Okerlund

    TAYA OKERLUND's first career was in public service in the federal government. She previously lived in Japan and China and speaks both Mandarin Chinese and Japanese. More recently, she authored YA novel Hurricane Coltrane (WiDo, 2015) and currently reads and writes in spare moments between therapy runs and child rearing heroics.