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.
War looms on the horizon. A single spark could turn their city into a pyre.
In a way, The Tethered Mage is all about Amalia’s relationships. Her relationship with her mother, her new falcon Zaira, and Marcello–a captain of the mews who works with the falcons and is responsible for helping Amalia learn her way as a new Falconer. It’s a bit frenetic as we shift from one mood to another depending on who Amalia is dealing with at the moment because these relationships are all very different. And though I feel like the core of the story rests on these relationships, I wish they each had more time to properly develop.
I never really get a feel for Amalia’s mother, or whether or not they even like each other. Her mom seems a bit scary at times, like ‘oh no, I wouldn’t want to cross that woman’ and at other times she almost feels like she dotes on her daughter. It’s really hard to get a read on her. I don’t mind that at all, I like characters that are complex like that, but you never get a clear picture on how Amalia feels about her mother even though she’s the POV character. She kind of wavers as much as we do, which doesn’t really make sense since she’s grown up with her mother and us readers are only meeting her for the first time.
Once Amalia tethers Zaira, keeping her from being able to use her magic except for when Amalia ‘lets her loose’, their relationship comes into play. It’s here that you get the feeling how naive Amalia can be because Zaira keeps bringing it up. It’s not exactly subtle. I found Zaira to be really off putting too, she just doesn’t want to give Amalia a chance to learn and change, but I can’t really blame her in a lot of ways because she is pretty much enslaved, as she also likes to constantly point out. This dynamic between them, because of all that’s between them, the entire slavery issue and the mages being captured and used to further the empire’s means, keeps a certain distance between them. Amalia is the empire and Zaira represents something very wrong about it. It doesn’t help that everyone else in Amalia’s life is telling her that it’s for the greater good. Still, there were times when I wished Zaira would have been a little more cooperative instead of intentionally making things difficult and causing problems, but then again should I just expect her not to want to rebel against what her life has become, a tool for others? You really feel Amalia’s exasperation more than sympathize with Zaira here which kind of feels wrong when you think about it. Maybe that’s the point?
Lastly we come to Marcello. He’s handsome and charming and he takes Amalia under his wing teaching her all about the Falcons and Falconers. We learn his backstory and why he’s come to live in the mews himself and suffice to say he has his own personal stakes in the program. And even so he’s perfectly fine with it and is more than supportive to Amalia’s new position. Even if it feels a bit awkward because she’s above his station. This is one of those relationships where you know they’re going to fall for each other pretty much right away and also ‘oooh, forbidden romance trope’. It’s not bad, I enjoy that kind of trope very much. I only wish Marcello’s character had been a tad more consistent. At one point he’s all for the Falconers and their tethering of mages because it’s for the greater good and of course while it’s not ideal there is no other way and they’re not really doing anything harmful, are they? And then later he’s like ‘omg, this is wrong’ in one specific incident involving someone he cares about. But then later he goes back to his first stance again. You get the idea that this has been so ingrained in him, the propaganda of the Falconers, that when he does have an independent thought on the matter he’s quickly snapped back to his old way of thinking. I very much hope that is the case and was done on purpose to demonstrate that, otherwise it was just poorly written character inconsistencies.
Besides the relationships and characters, the story is very plot heavy and a little complex at times. We already have a lot going on just between the characters and the whole Falconer/enslavement issue. Also, there’s a whole missing children plot point that’s introduced near the beginning as well, but it seems mostly in the background at first. On top of all of that there is a ton of other politics introduced. The empire is not as stable as it’s pretending to be and a rebellion may be on the horizon in one of its territories. Amalia is given the task of gathering intelligence for her mother while under the guise of a state visit so to speak. Tensions are high and Amalia gets to attend parties and wear pretty dresses while trying to figure out what’s going on while no one ever says what they mean. (Except for Zaira who is sick of everyone’s crap and not playing these games.) There is a LOT of stuff going on here. Somehow it all comes together, although I do think the pacing was a little off, things really got going near the end.
Overall I thought this was a pretty good story, if a bit overly complicated at times. I do wish some of the relationships between the characters were a little more fleshed out because they felt a bit superficial but I’m hoping much of that gets explored further in the next books. 3.5 stars.