Across the border, the Witch Lords of Vaskandar are preparing for war. But before an invasion can begin, they must call a rare gathering of all seventeen lords to decide a course of action. Lady Amalia Cornaro knows that this Conclave might be her only chance to stifle the growing flames of war, and she is ready to make any sacrifice if it means saving Raverra from destruction.
Amalia and Zaira must go behind enemy lines, using every ounce of wit and cunning they have, to sway Vaskandar from war. Or else it will all come down to swords and fire.
This is the second book of Melissa Caruso’s Swords and Fire trilogy, and after having a somewhat average experience with the The Tethered Mage, I didn’t expect to love this one as much as I did. So glad I went in with low expectations, because this sequel was great.
After the events of the first book, we find Amalia with a little more respect in Raverra. People have taken notice of her actions and she’s now becoming a major player in Raverran politics. I love political intrigue in books and here it isn’t so much intrigue as just maneuvering–trying to make new alliances for the empire while upholding promises made to those within. With war threatening from Vaskandar, Amalia has to tread carefully while searching for the cause of the disappearing Falcons.
The Defiant Heir is very much about the characters, their relationships, and their actions. But, in a way, the relationships are also very much about politics in this one. Amalia’s gained new respect in her mother’s eyes and is given more responsibility as a result. She’s on better footing with Zaira this time around, but they’re still working on things. The relationship between them remains strained due to its very nature–something Amalia hopes to change with a new law she wants to get passed about the Falcons.
With those two relationships being somewhat more steady going than previously, Amalia faces uncertainty in other quarters. Marcello and Amalia’s relationship is on rocky ground, not because of the their feelings for each other but for more practical purposes–a relationship between them would in no way benefit Raverran politics. Amalia is meant for a political marriage and a captain of the guard just won’t do. I do love how they remain fast and true to one another’s hearts, despite all practicality and, well, other distractions. Speaking of distractions, Kathe, the Crow Lord–oh my. Well, as I’ve said before, I love characters who are charming but hard to read whose side they’re on, so of course I love Kathe. He’s such a fun character.
There is a great amount of character development here as well, both from Amalia and Zaira. Amalia is forced to continue to make difficult choices due to her position, and learn how to assume the mantel of leadership. While Zaira finally learns to open herself up a bit and be vulnerable for once. When I read I’m usually 95% all about the characters, so seeing such character growth was a delight for me.
Both the magic and the world-building are kicked up a notch in this sequel. We get to explore an area on the border of the empire and venture outside of its borders where things are very, very different. It’s interesting comparing and contrasting these two cultures–the way they view mages, for instance, is opposite. Mages in Vaskandar are respected and feared. Mages that are at the top of their power assume a mantel related to the land they draw power from and become, essentially, immortal. They seem very fae-like in that regard and there’s something very appealing about that to me.
Overall, this was a fantastic sequel–everything from the characters, plot, pacing, and raised stakes was great. I can’t wait to read the final book. 4/5 stars.