Review: The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso

The Tethered Mage (Swords and Fire Book 1)The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

[Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley for review purposes.]

I'll be a little generous with my stars, since the end of this book was much better than the beginning. I would rate it 3.5 if I had the choice, but 4 is not a stretch. It's not one of my favorites, but once the story got going, it was a pretty good ride.

Amalia is the heir to her mother's seat on the Council of Nine, which essentially "rules" Raverra, their city (I think it was just a city within the Empire, to be honest I didn't quite get all the relationships here). She would rather bury her nose in books (normally my kind of girl) than be a political leader, but here she is. One morning she's out picking up a rare book from one of her connections, when she sees a girl about her age in trouble with a bunch of men. These men are obviously trying to kidnap the girl, claiming she's an indentured servant and still has time left on her contract. Amalia steps in, but the girl says she's got this, and sets the men on fire. Then she sets the area around her on fire. She is completely out of control, the fire is spreading, and Amalia has no idea what to do when suddenly, a man shows up and tells her "Hey, put this bracelet on the girl's wrist and it'll all be cool." So she does, and the fire goes out, the girl passes out, and Amalia is suddenly bound to this girl for life. The girl, Zaira, is now Amalia's Falcon, and Amalia is Zaira's Falconer. The Falconer is charged with keeping the Falcon's magical powers under wraps so that she can't use them, with a set of release and binding words. Admittedly, I was pretty grossed out by the whole thing. It's essentially conscription into an army as soon as the "mage mark" shows up, which is usually in early childhood. The Falcon becomes a soldier, bound to the Falconer, and only allowed to leave their special home (which is an island, by the way) when the Falconer lets them, and only when accompanied by them. It feels like slavery. And Zaira is none too happy about being forced into Falconhood when she wakes up.

Amalia is a pretty wet noodle of a character for a good chunk of the book. It's once we hit the middle point in the book that we see more of a character progression. In the beginning she acts like a teenager with a semi-regal attitude. By the end, she's definitely more regal and interesting. But boy was getting there difficult.

To be honest, I wish this had been told from Zaira's point of view. The political manipulation we get when we hear Amalia's first-person narrative can be pretty boring, and sometimes interesting, but I think Zaira is probably the smarter of the two (at least she has more common sense), and would have made for a more compelling story. As it is, she's practically reduced to a background character. Amalia can go wherever the heck she pleases, while Zaira is at her mercy.

The author did a good job of showing how terrible the whole situation is, especially for Zaira, who never wanted to be caught in the first place. There is a lot of resistance, and even at the end it's not 100% certain as to where Zaira's loyalty lies. The tentative friendship (if you can call it that) at the end of the book is very shaky and seems like it could break at any time. And I'm sure that's where the author was going with it. I just wish I'd had Zaira's side of it all without the cloud of Amalia's judgment.

There is also some instalove, which I called from the first time we meet Lieutenant Verdi (no spoilers here, Amalia's blushing within five minutes of meeting him). I don't quite understand what made him fall for her (or even her fall for him, he's pretty bad at protecting anyone, if you ask me. Frankly, he's a pretty wet noodle himself). He's sweet, and I assume handsome, and of course Amalia is beautiful, and so is Zaira, and so is pretty much every other good character in the book. But I really just wasn't feeling the romance here.

This review is turning out more negative than I expected. OK, let's get to the good!

Like I said up there, I really enjoyed the character progression we saw from Amalia. She grows a spine, grows a personality, and grows into her role in the political battlefield. She learns how to be more covert, she puts her regal-ness to use, and she gets the job done more effectively than I would have expected.

Zaira is also a plus, although she acts pretty much the way I would have anticipated she would. There's really no point in forcing a fire warlock to the battle front if you know she isn't willing to burn shit down. But admittedly, I enjoyed her slight warming to Amalia, even though it's clear Zaira carries all the sense in the relationship.

Once I got to the halfway point, the story started picking up. The twists and turns that the plot took were mostly foreshadowed enough that I could figure out what was going to happen. The only one that surprised me was (view spoiler). The rest I sort of saw coming. That didn't mean they weren't good, because it really was a very convoluted plot, and I wasn't quite sure where the author was going to take it.

Prince Ruven felt like a tropey evil witchlord, full of all the venom, malice, and plain sociopathy you'd expect from a villain. I know that in book 2, Raverra is trying to deal with a threat from Ruven's country, but I couldn't quite figure out how he was connected with the plot that was the main thread. Maybe he wasn't actually connected in the true sense of what was going on, but only in the fact that his presence could help sew discord, which would in turn help fuel the war he wants with Raverra/the Empire. I don't know, but I'm sure we'll find out.

Overall this was a good read. It took a while to get going for me. I wasn't thrilled with Amalia as a main character, but I admit that she did go through a great transformation by the end. I think there was some pretty strong writing, although getting a sense of place and time was a little difficult. I enjoyed it as a fantasy, but wish there had been a little more explanation of the magic system and how it worked. A little bit of extra worldbuilding would not have been amiss either, although at almost 500 pages, it was already running a little heavy. I really love long books and love that this wasn't split into two (YA fantasy has really ruined the art of the long novel, TBH) just to cater to short attention spans. And I'm glad that I didn't cave in to my short attention span and abandon the read. Pick it up, check it out, and see if it's for you.

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Review: The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

The Girl in the Tower: A Novel (Winternight Trilogy)The Girl in the Tower: A Novel by Katherine Arden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

[Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley for review purposes.]

Much like The Bear and the Nightingale, this book was masterfully written, full of atmosphere, and absolutely enchanting. Once the story gets on its feet, it moves along at such a rapid pace I hardly realized how quickly I was blazing right through it.

Vasya has left her home after the deaths of her father and stepmother, and gone off into the wilderness in the dead of winter. Morozko is always nearby, although not necessarily to help her (even though he does provide help in several ways throughout the story). Sometimes he felt almost too present, there at her greatest need, although I imagine he would be anyway. Vasya is off on an adventure, and unexpectedly, her path crosses with her brother Sasha's, who had left in the first book to become a monk. He is now an advisor to the Grand Prince Dmitrii, a warrior monk, and is forced to lie to everyone about his sister Vasya, who has been pretending to be a man.

While I was immediately drawn back into the world of Rus', I admit I did not get fully absorbed into the book until part two, where we really get into the meat of how Vasya came to be in the same place as Sasha at the same time. She has rescued three girls, who had been stolen by raiders, and brought them to sanctuary. Sasha and Dmitrii have been out hunting these raiders, and Vasya, riding in as a man, is the only one who knows where they were hiding. Fooling just about everyone as to her gender, she manages to get into the prince's good graces, and leads the party where they want to go. I won't spoil from here, but it is pretty much non-stop action, plot and fantastic storytelling from here on out.

There are new characters, who must have a careful eye kept on them lest they surprise you (admittedly I wasn't sure about one character, but I was not completely taken aback when my initial instinct was proved right). And there is also the return of my most despised character from the last book, Konstantin. That damnable priest is up to no good, and while I wasn't surprised by his arc, I was admittedly still feeling those same feelings of disgust I got the last time around.

If you loved book 1, you will love book 2. I am now going to eagerly camp myself out on this author's page and wait for book 3...

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Review: The Overneath by Peter S. Beagle

The OverneathThe Overneath by Peter S. Beagle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

[Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley for review purposes.]

Peter Beagle has been a favorite of mine since childhood. Admittedly, I didn't know much about him outside of The Last Unicorn until I was in my late teens. Which is a very sad sad thing. I know I had several of his books hanging around my house, but can't remember if I read them or when. (Remind me to go find them and read them, just to be safe!)

The Overneath is a collection of short stories, some of which were published elsewhere, and some of which are new. I believe both Schmendrick (!!!) stories are new, and they both made my heart skip a few beats. Reading about his life before he met the unicorn was magical! It was like a completely new depth brought to a character I've loved for years. (Peter, please write more Schmendrick! And Molly Grue! And Lir, oh bring Lir back...Yes I know he's gone...but I always want more. The Last Unicorn is one of my absolute favorite books.)

The other stories were very different from the others of his that I've read (although I can't say I've read his other short stories, I am really just talking about his books). I enjoyed the title story very much, and the very last one based on the dedication to The Last Unicorn. Both were intriguing. I still want to know what happened to the narrator's friend in The Overneath, and more more more.

Peter Beagle has always had a way of making me just want more. Can you tell?

I highly recommend this collection. His short stories are just as magical as his novels and novellas. There is so much atmosphere, such great character development in such short spaces. The stories are interesting (except that troll one - that one kind of left a bad taste in my mouth). And the unicorns! Okay, I think there was only one unicorn. But that's all right. The fantasy was there, the mood, the magic and the wonder of it all. Read this if you are a fan. Even if you're not a fan, give it a shot. You never know what you might find...

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Now as an aside - I did notice at least one review on Goodreads where the reviewer had received an e-mail from Tachyon Publications claiming that Connor Cochran, Beagle's manager, actually co-wrote many of Beagle's books and short stories, and requesting that he be credited in all reviews going forward (and previous reviews be edited as well).  Included on that list was In Calabria, which I have read.  I don't remember most of the titles from The Overneath, but there may have been one or two in there that Cochran claims he helped to write.  I have also read just about everything I could find on the internet about the dueling lawsuits between Cochran and Beagle, and frankly, what I've read has broken my heart.  Until a decision is made by an actual judge on whether Cochran is committing elder abuse, or Beagle is not the sole "author" of these works, I will not edit any reviews, nor will I acknowledge Cochran's contribution.

I'm back!

Well hello there everyone!  It's been a long two-and-a-half years and a lot has happened since I stopped posting.  I had a baby, who is now a two-year-old (as of next Sunday), and ... well I had a baby.  Which is a lot!  She takes up a lot of my energy and time, but I am still finding time to read when I can.  So I figured I'd start back up with the posting.  For now it will be mostly reviews.  But if I do manage to get any author interviews, those will go up too!  Who knows, maybe eventually I'll clean out my bookcases and do some giveaways (you know, when pigs fly because I have no energy).

So keep your eyes peeled on this page!  I'm not really sure what's going to show up, so maybe you'll be surprised.☺

Review: The Emerald Circus by Jane Yolen

The Emerald CircusThe Emerald Circus by Jane Yolen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

[Disclaimer: I was provided a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley for review purposes.]

Jane Yolen has been a longtime favorite of mine. I guess you could say, a lifelong favorite of mine. I started reading her in middle school, I think (at least, that's the point at which I became aware of the authors of the books I enjoyed). Her Sister Light, Sister Dark trilogy, and the Jackaroo books are probably the ones I enjoyed the most. But in all my years of being a Yolenite, I've never actually read any of her short stories or poetry.

Jane Yolen has published over 300 books. And I have yet to find one that I don't enjoy. This collection of short stories, mostly published elsewhere before, were almost entirely "twists" on the traditional. The opening story about Hans Christian Andersen started the book off with a punch to the gut. I loved almost every story that followed. The one with the take on Red Riding Hood wasn't very interesting to me, and I wasn't sure exactly what to think of the one with all the frogs and witches (although I did enjoy it). I think my favorite of the bunch was the story about the island of women, where Guinevere gets her start. The story about the monk's confession did not immediately strike me as being about Merlin's birth because I'm not wholly versed in his mythology, but once that was explained (in the notes at the end - make sure you read those!), I liked it a whole heck of a lot more.

This was a quick read, as I find most short story collections to be. It is definitely one worth reading. I loved it! It's a little funny that this is being released this year, as I just re-read Sister Light, Sister Dark a few months ago. Up until then I hadn't read a Yolen book in years. It was sitting on the shelf in my bedroom staring at me, and so I picked it up and loved it all over again. Seeing this on the NetGalley roster brought back a flood of emotions. I was excited to read The Emerald Circus, and was not disappointed in the least.

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Review: Dance of Thieves by Mary Pearson

Dance of Thieves by Mary E. Pearson My rating: 5 of 5 stars I received a free e-copy of this book from NetGalley for review purposes. ...