Book: “The Unbound Empire” by Melissa Caruso
Publishing Info: Orbit, April 2019
Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher!
Book Description: 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.
Review: I have loved this series from the get-go, so it was with very mixed emotions that I picked up and started this book. On one hand, I was dying to know how everything would be wrapped up in one, admittedly long, book. And on the other hand, I didn’t want it to end and had some concerns about whether it would stick the landing. The last book really does make or break a series, and while so far the books have only gotten better and better…you just never know. Luckily, this was a solid landing, and now I’ll just have to wait to see what the author has up her sleeve for a next book/series!
Amalia is coming into her own, heading up her first political action with the introduction of a new law that would grant the magic-wielding Falcons unprecedented freedoms. On top of this all, she is still balancing her complicated feelings for Captain Marcello and the witch-lord Kathe, whom she has been courting for months now. Add to that the mad witch-lord Ruven who is making increasing threats to the Empire and may finally push things to the point where Amalia and Zaira will have to confront the harsh reality of using Zaira’s balefire in combat. But nothing is too great a challenge for a Cornaro. Or is it?
What makes this series special has been the sheer number of points of interest and enjoyment that have pulled me in throughout story. Not only have I enjoyed Amalia as a main character, but I’ve loved her relationship with Zaira. The balance between political and military action has always been on point. The romance has gone in unexpected directions, somehow avoiding gaping pitfalls that many series fall into. And throughout it all, the story tackles larger questions regarding duty, loyalty, and the balance between freedom and safety. This book continued to deliver in all of these areas.
To start with characters (because we all know how much I love character-driven stories), Amalia and Zaira have traversed quite a journey throughout this trilogy and we see the dividends of this slowly built relationship pay off big time in this book. On their own, they are each excellent characters. Amalia’s sense of duty and her clear-eyed vision of her role in the world and the privileges, sacrifices, and burdens that come with it has never been more clear. She is so blessedly free of angst regarding this all. She sees the true dangers of her role (the hardening of one’s heart that comes with making life and death decisions), but doesn’t get caught up in any self-pity or dramatic indecision of the kind that we see all too often from YA protagonists. Zaira, too, is still her prickly self. However, she’s also come to value the relationships she’s built with those around her, and with these connections, she sees her own role in the Empire in a different light. She is still terrified of her balefire and its seeming control over her, but now, with people she loves in danger, she’s willing to risk herself in a way that would never have been true of the self-focused Zaira from the first book.
And together, Amalia and Zaira have come so far. They don’t where BFF bracelets or anything, but the respect and genuine love and friendship between them feels earned and true after the struggles of the first two books. And it’s only through that slow-growth that the almost impossible choices they must face in this book can be believable.
Ruven is also an excellent villain. Not only is he fun to hate, but he is actually given a bit more depth to make him, well, not relatable, but a bit more understandable. And his abilities are legitimately challenging to the point that a way through the threat he presents is never quite clear until the very end, and even then readers are left on the edge of their seat.
And then, of course, we have the romance. In the second book, the author somehow managed to introduce a love triangle that I didn’t hate. I honestly didn’t think this was possible. Much of it comes down to, again, Amalia and her dramatic-free, pragmatic approach to her life and the requirements that come with it. It is believable that she would have feelings for both Kathe and Marcello, and that these feelings could exist at the same time and still be wholly separate from each other. I was incredibly nervous to see how this would ultimately play out, and I was so pleased to find that the resolution presented felt natural and satisfactory. I guess this goes to show that even the most hated tropes don’t always hold true!
This is a long book, however, and it is this length that forces me to drop it down from a perfect 10. There’s a bunch of story here, and it’s not that I was bored at any point. However, especially in the beginning with the ins and outs of Amalia’s political actions to get her Falcon bill approved, there were a few points where I feel like a bit of editing could have been done to streamline the story. When there are all of these greater factors swirling around, this beginning portion almost felt like it was from a different book at times. But not a bad book, even then! Just a different one.
Other than that small, very tiny quibble, I absolutely loved this book and this series as a whole! I so hope that it gets all the attention that it so rightly deserves, and if you haven’t read any of these books yet, just you wait! You have an excellent ride ahead of you!
Rating 9: Perfectly sticks the landing in what turned into one of my favorite trilogies to read in a long time!
“The Unbound Empire” is a new book so isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Best Political Fantasy.”
Find “The Unbound Empire” at your library using WorldCat!