Review: The Unbound Empire by Melissa Caruso
Series: Swords and Fire #3
Also by this author: The Tethered Mage
Published by Orbit on April 30, 2019
Also in this series: The Tethered Mage
The final volume of the Gemmell Morningstar Award-shortlisted Swords and Fire fantasy trilogy, in which political scion Amalia and her bound fire warlock Zaira must save the Empire from a ruthless, magical enemy. Perfect for fans of Tamora Pierce, The Queen of the Tearling, and Uprooted.
While winter snows keep the Witch Lord Ruven's invading armies at bay, Lady Amalia Cornaro and the fire warlock Zaira attempt to change the fate of mages in the Raverran Empire forever, earning the enmity of those in power who will do anything to keep all magic under tight imperial control. But in the season of the Serene City's great masquerade, Ruven executes a devastating surprise strike at the heart of the Empire - and at everything Amalia holds most dear.
To stand a chance of defeating Ruven, Amalia and Zaira must face their worst nightmares, expose their deepest secrets, and unleash Zaira's most devastating fire.
Swords and FireThe Tethered MageThe Defiant HeirThe Unbound Empire
It’s always bittersweet when a series you enjoy comes to end. The Unbound Empire was no exception for me. The book was full of action, drama, dire threats against the empire, and balanced with great friendships (and yes, romances) that all left me a happy reader.
I enjoy Caruso’s books because for me they strike a great balance of being very easy to read and interesting plot. Sometimes as books get more complex, they get longer and sometimes slower to read because there is more to take in. And sometimes when books are “easy” to read, it can feel like there’s not much there, you just enjoy the ride as it happens. I feel like Caruso is in between. It’s not overly complex. The bad guys are bad guys (well, except Witch Lords who are originally seen as “bad” are given a different light with Kathe), but the antagonist, Lord Ruven, is definitely just a “bad guy”. There’s not really any shades of grey with him, but there doesn’t need to be. The other characters in the book have enough complexity in them to feel like they are more than just caricatures (which is something I often notice in books I find “easy to read”). There are certainly some events in the book that could fall into a “grey” area, which can keep things interesting.
I love Kathe, Amalia’s mysterious Witch Lord suitor. Witch Lords have a nasty reputation in the Serene Empire, so people find the pairing somewhat shocking. And Kathe, with his connection with crows that follow him, and help him, can have a flair for the dramatic. But his sense of humor and playfulness with Amalia makes him incredibly fun to read. The dynamic between these two, with their games, are so much fun, and Kathe’s entire attitude is just something I want more of. If Caruso takes requests for spin-off or standalone books in the series (probably not, but I’m allowed to wishful think, right?), one focused on Kathe would get my vote hands down.
As for the plot in this one, it opens with Amalia working to get her Falcon Reform Law passed. This is a very important step for her as it would make serving as a Falcon voluntary. This is huge as currently mage marked people have no choice. It is either serve or hide, neither option really allows them the choice of a normal life. But getting such a measure to pass with war knocking on the door (or border), is no easy task. The mage marked are invaluable during war time, so its a hard sell to pass a law that could potentially lose some of their greatest assets (especially their fire warlock, Zaira). But Amalia knows first hand how possessing great power and being used as a tool of war, making choices that involve life or death for other people can impact someone. And if that someone is being asked to make those choices against their will, how much harder is it then?
This is just one of the reasons Amalia can’t back down, her personality and drive to do the right thing for her friends just won’t allow it. It’s one of the many traits I love about her. I don’t want to say too much about what happens, because I’m a firm in letting the author tell as much of the story as possible, but as important as this law is, it quickly becomes overshadowed by a shocking tragedy that makes it hard to know who to trust and can shift the power of the empire.
Amalia experiences a real journey of personal growth in this book as well. She has to come to terms with her role as a leader as well as evolving her personal relationships. She gets a better understanding of herself, her position and of her friends in this one. She has come a long way from book 1 in terms of maturity.
Caruso did a wonderful job tying everything together and leaving the reader with a real sense of closure on the various plot points from the series. Everything became so clean that I almost wondered if there was a checklist she used to make sure all the boxes where marked off. Even though I can be a fan of a good open ending here and there, this was satisfying in its conclusion. That said, I would still love to read more because while everything was tied up, I just enjoyed this and wanted to keep reading. That said, I was happy with my exchange with Caruso on Twitter, because it confirms a new series will be coming out next year:
I’m so glad you liked it! Yay!!! ?— Melissa Caruso (@melisscaru) April 20, 2019
I do have another trilogy coming out from Orbit starting in 2020…It’s set in the same world but over a century later, with new characters. The MC is a Witch Lord’s granddaughter!