The Defiant Heir by Melissa Caruso
I received an advanced copy of The Defiant Heir in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank Melissa Caruso and Orbit Books. *Minor Spoilers May Follow*
In the second entry to the Swords and Fire trilogy, we pick up events approximately a month after the finale of The Tethered Mage. Everybody seems pretty content in the world of Eruvia right up until the point that some of the Empire's Falcons and their Falconers start to turn up murdered. Known as The Serene Empire's secret weapons the Falcons are the magic wielders ranging from warlocks to alchemists and the Falconers are their protectors. They bind the Falcons magic and can help, train, and unleash them should the need arise. These assassinations create unrest and cause whispers that the Witch Lords in Vaskandar might actually be plotting and preparing to invade far beyond their borders.
The first book was extremely enjoyable so I was excited to jump back into Amalia and Zaira's tale. In similar fashion to the previous novel, this follow up is a unique mix of young adult and political fantasy intertwined with heightened poetic world building and addictive, intriguing dialogue throughout. This is the sort of fantasy adventure that ticks all the boxes for me at the moment. Complex enough without being overwhelming or confusing so the descriptive narrative creates perfect imagery in my mind which overtakes me and once again I raced through this in a few days even though it is longer than the first.
We visit a lot more of the world this time, the majority of which is behind the lines of this potential united enemy in Vaskandar. The characters visit haunted forests, volcanos, plague-ridden villages, and highly dangerous fortresses. The ensemble seems to have doubled in size with new additions including the seventeen Witch Lords and Amalia's relatives in Callamorne. The cast was already quite large but these new characters are introduced and presented expertly and too many to name are true scene stealers. That being said, many of the individuals present in the previous book have developed and changed following past harrowing events and also their current dilemmas. For example, you might even call Amalia and Zaira friends now. Along with the Skinwitch Ruven, these three from the previous narrative arguably produce the finest moments. That is alongside new members the Crow Lord Kathe who is charming, mysterious and loves playing games and The Lady of Eagles, Lady Amalia's Great-Grandmother who is so formidable and powerful it would make many grown men cry to be in the same room as her. Also, The Lady of Spiders' dress deserves a special mention too.
The histories of the world and the magic system was already deep and intricate. Both elements are expanded on here. Amalia is a scholar so we learn a great amount of knowledge through her first-person perspective thoughts especially with reference to the history of the Northern Witch Lord controlled territories and about her lineage and how she fits into the bigger political picture. We saw snippets of a different sort of magic in the first tale. In The Defiant Heir, we learn about this further. It's known as Vivomancy and Caruso writes the descriptions in a way that emphasises the power and potential of such magic to Amalia and it resonates with the reader as we're also finding out the capabilities for the first time. Some of the possibilities are truly harrowing.
The Defiant Heir was pretty brilliant. It started strong and it was easy and exciting to get reacquainted with these characters. It's full of great political drama, hidden plots, thrilling moments, betrayals and showdowns, yet the finest showdown is probably a battle of wits and words which I re-read numerous times because it was that exhilarating. The novel features a few interesting beasts such as giant wolves, chimeras, and forests that have lives of their own. It includes a love triangle dilemma which I'm not normally too fond of. The one here didn't change my opinion, however; I did like the interactions between two of the members a lot. There is also an LGBT storyline which I know many young adult book readers enjoy and this one takes a very interesting turn about halfway through but is definitely worth following. To conclude, I love losing myself in Caruso's world which features lead characters I truly cared about. I can't wait for the final book in the trilogy. Recommend.
James Tivendale, 8.5/10
The Defiant Heir, sequel to The Tethered Mage, and the second book in Melissa Caruso’s Swords and Fire series is a wonderful story that manages to be epic in scope but intensely personal in feel. It’s the sort of sequel that builds on the first novel and yet manages to continue to leave you guessing and discovering new aspects of the world and characters. Caruso has given us a page turner in this one, a novel that demands to be read.
It’s hard to know where to begin singing Caruso’s praises when talking about The Defiant Heir. The world building continues to be top notch. Instead of resting on her laurels after the first book, Caruso continues developing the world, allowing us to learn a great deal more about how magic works in this world and especially the impact that has had on the political map. In particular, we get to learn much more about the political makeup of Vaskandar and how their particular flavor of magic has impacted that political makeup. I continue to be impressed with the way that Caruso links the magic system into the political functioning of her world. Everything about it makes sense, but too often in fantasy we have mages that can throw fireballs around and yet the political system is not significantly different from feudal Europe. It’s not only the worldbuilding and magic that are wonderful in this novel, however. The character development is equally worthy of praise. Both Amalia and Zaira are different at the end of this novel than at the beginning. We get to watch them grow as individuals and in their various roles. I particularly enjoyed the camaraderie that - by the end of the book - is blossoming between these two. To top it off, it isn’t only the protagonists who are well-rounded and developed. The antagonists are equally well fleshed out, with realistic and believable motivations.
The Defiant Heir is a fantasy that is epic in scale, the fate of empires hangs in the balance, but Caruso manages to keep things very grounded in the midst of this. She does this by steadfastly refusing to introduce any viewpoint other than Amalia’s. Not only does this keep things tightly plotted and the action moving, which I enjoy, but it also makes the story a deeply personal one, which I love. It’s rare to read an epic fantasy with world altering stakes that still feels incredibly personal. Caruso manages this balance with great aplomb.
The novel does have a couple weaknesses worth noting. First is that there are a couple of moments throughout the story when it feels as if Amalia is primarily being pulled along by the narrative. She’s being saved by others or otherwise feels like she lacks real agency. Thankfully those scenes are few and don’t rob the narrative of its tension, but it was frustrating to see the titular heir being… well… quite compliant at times. There’s also a sort-of love triangle in this novel. Normally I despise love triangles. In this novel, however, I didn’t particularly mind it. Unfortunately, the reason I didn’t mind it is because I don’t feel much romantic tension between Amalia and either of her potential love interests in this novel. I could sort of care less who she ends up with, and to me a romance ought to feel more important - or at least I ought to feel more invested in it - than that.
The Defiant Heir has all of the deep world building, fascinating magic, and wonderfully realized character that made the first book in Caruso’s Swords and Fire series so gripping. It even manages to up the ante in all three of those areas while continuing to tell an incredibly personal story. If you love character driven fantasy and haven’t started this series yet, you should correct that!
Calvin Park, 9/10
All reviews for: Swords and Fire
The Tethered Mage
Swords and Fire #1
In the Raverran Empire, magic is scarce and those born with power are strictly controlled - taken as children and conscripted into the Falcon Army. Zaira has lived her life...
The Defiant Heir
Swords and Fire #2
Across the border, the Witch Lords of Vaskandar are preparing for war. But before an invasion can begin, they must call a rare gathering of all seventeen lords to decide a ...
The Unbound Empire
Swords and Fire #3
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 Raverra...
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