Mini Reviews: Fantastical Mixed Bag Edition

The Tethered Mage by Melissa Caruso (Swords and Fire #1)

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Orbit on October 24, 2017

Source: Publisher

My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a digital review copy. No compensation was provided for this review, and all opinions are my own.

In the Raverran Empire, magic is scarce and those born with power are strictly controlled — taken as children and conscripted into the Falcon Army.

Melissa Caruso’s THE TETHERED MAGE is a historical fantasy set in a city inspired by Renaissance Venice following a bookish heroine, her erratic and violent mage partner, and their straight-laced but swoon-worthy military boss. In other words, total Danya-catnip.

As the only daughter and heir to Lissandra Carnaro, also known as La Contessa, Lady Amalia Carnaro is one of the most important young women in all of Raverra. But unlike her powerful mother, Amalia prefers to read books about magic and alchemy rather than involving herself in politics, armed conflict, and intelligence gathering; unfortunately, the fates had other plans…

When Amalia unintentionally binds a young mage named Zaira, Amalia becomes her Falconer and Zaira the Falcon, a mage conscripted into service to Raverra. Understandably, the former street-urchin Zaira is less than thrilled about her position, and Amalia must work hard to convince her that they should be allies. Particularly when the pair are thrust into an international conflict that could mean death for Amalia’s friends and forced combat for Zaira. The reluctant partnership and eventual blossoming friendship between the two young women was a delight to read, and I thought Caruso did a great job portraying Zaira’s outrage and resentment about being forced into life as a Falcon.

I loved how many powerful women there are in this story: from scholars to mages, spy-masters to politicians, generals to assassins, there are strong female characters on every page. I was also very pleased to see that at least a few of them are queer! A few times while reading I was actually reminded of Tamora Pierce’s Tortall universe, which as you all know is a major compliment.

While there’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about THE TETHERED MAGE, it’s a compulsively readable story that introduces a well-drawn world and a cast of very likeable characters. I’m excited to see what Caruso has in store next!


A Spoonful of Magic by Irene Radford

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Publisher: DAW on November 7, 2017

Source: Publisher

DNF at 27%

My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a digital review copy. No compensation was provided for this review, and all opinions are my own.

Daphne “Daffy” Rose Wallace Deschants has an ideal suburban life–three wonderful and talented children; a coffee shop and bakery, owned and run with her best friend; a nearly perfect husband, Gabriel, or “G” to his friends and family.

I was so excited to stumble upon A SPOONFUL OF MAGIC, a story that features a soccer mom named Daffy and her three kids. That’s right y’all: soccer mom urban fantasy. It’s really rare to find a protagonist in this genre with an established romantic relationship and children, so I was stoked. While the blurb mentions that Daffy’s husband G was unfaithful, I figured that it was either a misunderstanding or that he’d be out of the picture. Unfortunately, neither of my assumptions proved to be correct.

In the first few chapters, Daffy learns that not only is her husband a serial cheater, G also lied about his profession (he’s actually a Very Powerful mage who policies magic), and hid his knowledge of Daffy’s own magic from her. He’s a scumbag. This wouldn’t be that big of a deal had he faded quietly away, but he’s a central character who even has some POV chapters. Add in the fact that everything Daffy learns about the magical world comes straight from G’s lying lips and I struggled to power through his chapters.

There are some cool components to the world building in A SPOONFUL OF MAGIC, most notably the concept of wands. In this world, wands take the form of an object that calls to the magic user; one of Daffy’s children is a talented ballet dancer, and his wand takes the form of a ballet slipper. If only all the dudes in this story had been as cool! As much as I wanted to enjoy this story, I am not interested in spending so much time reading about a family who’s been taken advantage of time and again by a terrible husband and father…especially since it seemed like the door was at least slightly open for Daffy and G to reconcile.

This book was not my style, and I felt that it was best to set it aside. Your mileage may vary!


Sea of Strangers by Erica Cameron (The Ryogan Chronicles #2)

Genre: Fantasy, YA

Publisher: Entangled Teen on December 5, 2017

Source: Publisher

My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a digital review copy. No compensation was provided for this review, and all opinions are my own.

Know your enemy if you want to survive…

I loved Erica Cameron’s ISLE OF EXILES, and I was very excited to see where she’d take her readers in the sequel. While I didn’t think SEA OF STRANGERS was as strong as its predecessor, it does expand the fascinating world we were introduced to in the series opener.

Forced to flee her home in search of a weapon – or magic – that can defeat her enemies, Khya along with a few members of her squadron washes up on the shores of a land they thought they’d only see in death. But Ryogo is very much alive, and its people are ill prepared for the invasion that’s coming. If Khya wants to save the ones she loves and stop the tyranny that runs rampant in her homeland, she’ll need to convince the people of Ryogo that her group of outsiders can be trusted. Just as with the first book, SEA OF STRANGERS does an excellent job building a new landscape, political structure, and cultures; seeing Khya, Tessen, and Sanii try to navigate the differences and celebrating the similarities between their peoples was my favourite part of the story.

Where SEA OF STRANGERS falters is with the actual plot itself, which is quite pared down: move from one place to another in search of magic, weapons, and allies. Compared to the wild action of the first book, the lack of excitement was a bit disappointing. I was also hoping for more from the character development: while Sanii grows substantially, I felt like Tessen’s character remained stagnant. Maybe he’ll be featured in the conclusion.

The effortless and natural diversity of the characters and the exploration of difference through a curious and compassionate lens remains the strongest part of this series. Despite my problems with this volume, I’m eager to see how Erica Cameron concludes the story.

Have you read any of these books? What are your hard “no”s when it comes to fiction? Let me know in the comments!

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  • Greg Hill

    That is such an amazing cover on the Tethered Mage! Glad it was good too, it sounds like it has a lot of intrigue and pretty intricate world building, which definitely appeals to me. Sea of strangers has my interest too, since I’ve been seeing some good reviews for those books.

  • I’ve heard so many good things about The Tethered Mage, and honestly the cover is spectacular. So glad you enjoyed it!

  • Karen

    Awww sorry to hear the second one didn’t work. I looked like so much fun.

    For What It’s Worth

  • Whew, that first one sounds really cool. I’ll have to give it a read! I’m always down to read more fantasy about magical royal people and unlikely-buddies.

  • MaddalenaSpaceandSorcery

    I lost track of the second volume of the Ryogan Chronicles. so I’m glad to know it came out, even though it seems to suffer a little from the dreaded “middle book syndrome”. I will keep that in mind when I read it, it might help me overcome the partial disappointment… Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  • That first one is on my wish list 😀

  • I haven’t read any of these. I am most interested in The Tethered Mage, it looks like that was really the only winner for you. I probably wouldn’t have even considered A Spoonful of Magic just based on the cover. I am kind of a snob when it comes to covers. I do judge books by them and as a result I sometimes miss out. It kills me to see a good book with a bad cover.

  • I haven’t read any of these unfortunately. But I am actually bummed that A Spoonful of Magic sucked so. The cover looked enticing 🙁 The Tethered Mage sounds Epic and I am loving the strong female characters. In terms of hard nos: bad pacing, ‘strong’ character for the sake of using ‘strong’ in the blurb. And twists, which aren’t twists and are just lame. Sighs. Soooo many.

  • The Tethered Mage sounds interesting! The rest of them maybe not so much… I hate it when books are disappointing! But good on you for not forcing yourself to finish it. I strongly believe that you should DNF books you aren’t enjoying because there are so many fabulous books out there and you shouldn’t waste time on the not so great ones! Awesome reviews, it’s a shame the last two books didn’t reeeaaally work out for you

  • You always manage to find such interesting books, all set in different places and everything. Just the first paragraph of your review of The Tethered Mage makes it sound really good! Sorry Spoonful disappointed :-/ w/o reading the book idk how I’d feel, but I feel like I might be ok w/ it as long as the jerk husband wasn’t made out to be a good guy? Not sure it’d be my kinda book anyway though. And yeah, sometimes sequels are kinda disappointing when they’re not what we were expecting based on the first book.

  • The Tethered Mage sounds so good! Why have I not heard of this book? Why do you keep making me want to buy books? Ugh, I am totally buying that I don’t even care I’m meant to be cutting down my book buying.

    I’ve skipped your review for Sea of Strangers as I do have the first book to read yet so no spoilers. It sucks it wasn’t quite as strong but if you’re still willing to read the next one it can’t be terrible.

    And the middle book? Well, less said about that one the better because it sounds terrible.

  • The Tethered Mage sounds really good! I love the sound of it, especially the friendship. And swoon-worthy military boss you say? That’s my cat-nip too. I’ll have to look into it.

    Soccer mom urban fantasy! It definitely sounds like a good concept, but I totally get why you weren’t into it with the dumbass husband.

    I know you loved Island of Exiles, and it’s a shame this sequel didn’t exactly live up to that. I still want to give the series a try, but I hope the next book ends with a bang for you, Danya!

  • Lynn Williams

    I hadn’t realised that Erica Cameron’s second book was out already. Shame that it wasn’t as good as the first but I’ll pick it up at some point.
    Lynn 😀

  • I tried reading Tethered Mage but I wasn’t in the mood so I never picked it up again. I do adore Queen Tamora Pierce so I’m going to revisit this one again!

  • Fantasy is not really my thing so I havent even heard of this but Im glad you at least enjoyed one of them 🙂

  • Sea of Strangers sounds great, although I do not enjoy books where the plot falls off. The description of the characters and world has piqued my interest.