Monday, June 17, 2019

Double Reviews: The Defiant Heir & The Unbound Empire by Melissa Caruso (Sword and Fire #2 & #3)

The Defiant Heir (Swords and Fire, #2)

The Defiant Heir (Sword and Fire #2) by Melissa Caruso 
April 19th, 2018

The Tethered Mage was a fantastic 2017 debut that I immediately loved. I had high hopes for this trilogy and anticipated that it was only going to get better, and let me tell you, it exceeded those expectations more than I could have ever possibly imagined. The world keeps expanding and Caruso’s skills at writing become more and more apparent as the story moves on.

The Defiant Heir is where this trilogy really seems to ramp up on the political components and also the sheer gravity of all the stakes involved. The first book certainly had intense moments with some fairly high stakes, but this book takes it to another level of depth with more lives are on the line. The story picks up a short time after the final events of The Tethered Mage when things in Raverra aren't in an immediately dire situation, but they aren't exactly calm and worriless, either. There is unrest among the Falcons and Falconer, especially as some start being murdered and fear begins to rise. This is also where the Witch Lords begin to gain importance to the plot, as there is now question whether the Witch Lords are behind this, and thus the plot begins to expand.

I’ve really liked learning about the relationship between the Falcons and Falconers and the political ramifications that go along with that. It’s one of those situations where it’s not an overtly negative situation, but it’s certainly not a positive one, either. I’ve been intrigued by the ways in which people want to rectify how this is handled, and I appreciate Amalia’s understanding and empathy for those who must live in the Mews.

The best part about this book, other than the incredible political maneuverings and intelligent dialogue, is that we get to visit more of the world and explore more locations. Events of this book lead our characters to Vaskander, which thereby allows us to explore more of this land and the Witch Lords that inhabit it. I particularly loved learning about the magic and political methods of the Witch Lords and how they all seem to have a unique sort of style or theme associated with them, such as the Lady of Spiders who is just as horrifying to be around as you might imagine. In addition, there are also many additional characters introduced that take on important roles and add so much more color to this world in both positive and negative ways.

Amalia continues to impress me. She is slowly learning to take on the role her mother has been grooming her for and while also beginning to take more risks associated with her station for the good of Raverra. She’s an extremely knowledgeable character, which I appreciate, and I enjoyed researching more about the magic and history of this world along with her. Zaira, of course, continues to be a grumpy gem of a woman that I can’t help but love, and I have so enjoyed seeing her and Amalia’s relationship develop from strangers (where Zaira hardly tolerates Amalia) into something maybe possibly resembling friendship.

In this book, we also get introduced to Kathe, a Witch Lord that seems interested in working with Amalia--or rather, in trading favors and using one another for political gain. Kathe is one of those dark, mysterious characters that seems tricky and not entirely trustworthy, but you also just can't help but be intrigued by him and want to find out what he's doing constantly.

I could continue going on about this book probably endlessly, but as I’m writing two reviews for this trilogy today, I’m going to keep this one a bit brief in order to jump into the review for The Unbound Empire! Overall, I’ve easily given The Defiant Heir four and a half stars.

*I received a review copy of The Defiant Heir courtesy of Orbit (thanks, Paola!) in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the novel.*

The Unbound Empire (Swords and Fire #3)
The Unbound Empire (Sword and Fire #3) by Melissa Caruso
April 25th, 2019

I could not have asked for a better or more satisfying ending to a trilogy.

For as intense and unpredictable as The Defiant Heir was, The Unbound Empire is--somehow--even more intense and unpredictable. I was constantly on my toes, constantly dying to pick this book up whenever I wasn't reading it, and more engaged with these characters than any I've been with in a long time.

Much like in the previous books, the world-building and magic system are wonderfully crafted and full of depth. Since I have written two reviews for this trilogy so far and touched more on the world-building, magic system, etc., I'm going to mostly skip over that in this review because all I can really say about it is that I loved it just as much as in the previous two books, if not more. Caruso has developed a world that is expansive, compelling, magical, and full of intrigue; it's complex, but as I’ve mentioned before, it's not too complex to where enjoyment is lessened.

It's hard to even know where to start when talking about this book because all I really want to do is simply rave. The characters continue to grow and develop in so many ways that felt entirely realistic and logical. Characters underwent changes that I couldn't have predicted and that left me devastated at what might happen to them in the end, as well as changes that left me falling in love with them even more. Amalia and Zaira continue to be one of the best friendships I've ever seen developed in a book in a while. Their back-and-forth bickering now comes more from a place of heart and understanding, and I love how Zaira's no-sense, endlessly practical side blends so well with Amalia's own logical yet more emotional side. They both work to keep one another in check in the best ways possible, making them truly a wonderful pair. I also grew to love Kathe even more in this book than I imagined I would, and I'm so glad where Caruso decided to take his storyline.

As for the pacing, plotting, and politics in The Unbound Empire, Caruso executed this book almost to perfection. I genuinely had no idea what was going to happen at any particular time. This entire book has a bit of dread and intensity looming at every moment, though there was a wonderfully even mix of plotting and "relaxing" with other characters and more intense battle-like scenes or scenes of pursuit and confrontations. Similarly, the politics play a steady role throughout the book, more overt and abundant in the beginning, but still forming a constant presence in the background at all times, especially when it comes to the various decisions made by characters. I really liked how Caruso had everything play a role, incorporating both moral and ethical elements as well as those that would be most beneficial to a country or land. The way Caruso handles topics in such a deft way is remarkable and kept me constantly hooked. She really dives deep into difficult moral crossroads and explores the various paths that can be taken by these characters in a logical and interesting manner. This is not a shallow book about one land’s struggles, but rather a book that tackles real-world themes and conflicts that really makes you think.

Overall, I've given The Unbound Empire and well-deserved five stars. I can't believe how fantastic this trilogy was and I can't wait to re-read it sometime. If you're looking for a completed fantasy trilogy with incredible characters, a rich world, an interesting magic system, and plenty of politics, then I implore you to give the Sword and Fire trilogy a chance!

*I received a review copy of The Unbound Empire courtesy of Orbit (thanks again, Paola!) in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the novel.*

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