The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso is a great test of how I judge books. It proved to me that a book can have good writing, interesting worldbuilding, and a well-paced plot, but if the characters are flat, then the whole story falls flat for me.
The premise of the book is that The Raverran Empire strictly controls people with magic and magical abilities. Amalia Cornero, the wealthy heiress to a powerful Raverran family, finds herself tethered to a magic wielding girl named Zaira, a.k.a a “Falcon.” Amalia has to navigate her new role as a “Falconer” as well as deal with the political ramifications the situation causes her family.
The main character is okay. I would rather have been reading about someone else.
Amalia is different from other characters in the novel in that she’s not one dimensional, and she does have some character development. She starts out the book as a naive young girl, and she grows into someone who has a better handle on complicated political affairs. I just didn’t feel a ton of sympathy for Amalia, in the sense that her entitlement was very apparent to me. I don’t think that Amalia has an easy life at all, but I would much rather have read about a character who wasn’t born with every privilege in the world, namely Zaira. Knowing that a character like Zaira was out there made it hard for me to focus on Amalia. I think that Zaira is a more compelling character. She’s tethered to a rich girl after successfully evading the government and its magic hunters for years. She can’t control her power, which is terrifying. There is a lot of material to work through with Zaira, and the book just doesn’t focus on her as much as I would have liked.
Most of the characters fell flat to me.
To be clear, I didn’t like Ziara. I just liked the idea of her. She, along with many of the other characters, doesn’t exhibit a ton of growth throughout the course of the novel. Sure, her feelings for Amalia change a little, but it is painstaking progress, and some of the only progress that she’s allowed to have. Most of the characters were flat in the same way, being defined by one emotion or allowed to grow in one small way.
La Contessa, Amalia’s mother, was the exception to this. Instead, she is defined with two traits — her cunning and her motherly love. I never had any doubt that she loves Amalia, but she also is always on the lookout for her career and the potential enemies that she faces. She is sometimes harsh in her teachings, but there is a sense that she does it to protect her daughter. I would have liked to see their relationship develop more throughout the book, and see her fully acknowledge her daughter’s progress and change.
In a similar vein, I thought the love interest was kind of boring. There was no explanation about why he and Amalia liked each other, and it is another instance of instant chemistry without proper explanation. The actual relationship between the two is more of a slow burn, and I do appreciate that it’s going to be given some time to develop throughout the series, but I feel that his character needs to be fleshed out a little more besides his relationship to the main character and his thoughts on some of the army proceedings.
One of the main villains of the book, named *redacted*, is truly scary, but also lacking depth. I didn’t know much about him other than that he was evil, and I didn’t really need to know more for him to function properly in the story. Some more information on why he thinks the way that he does would have been helpful.
As I mentioned earlier, I do think that the book had interesting worldbuilding.
The cities that Amalia reside in and travels to are based off of Italian cities, and it’s always nice to read books that aren’t set in poor covers for England. Caruso is descriptive in her settings, and it was easy to paint pictures of certain scenes in my mind. I felt like I knew the magic system fairly well by the end of the book, and I was interested in learning more about it.
The details of the political intrigue within the book are also interesting. Every character has a different (if somewhat predictable) motivation, and it’s engaging to watch how the political chess games unfold, and to see what the repercussions are for the empire.
It is good to see a book with majority female characters.
One definitive strength of the characters is that they are mostly female! Seriously, normalize having books with less cisgendered white men in them! Your stories will benefit. It saved my interest in this book!
Ultimately, while there were some aspects to enjoy about the book, Caruso struggled to bring her characters to life here.
I give the book a neutral rating.