Australian Publication Date – 24 April 2018
World Publication Date – 19 April 2018
Melissa Caruso follows up her extraordinary debut with another unmissable magical adventure.
On the continent of Eruvia lies the Serene Empire of Raverra. Ruled by the Doge and the Council of Nine, the Empire’s power comes from its mages, the legendary Falcon Army. When a mage comes to power in the lands of Raverra, they are conscripted as a Falcon and bound to a Falconer, a non-mage who can choose to unleash or bind their Falcon’s power with a word.
However, the Serene Empire is not the only great power on Eruvia. To the north lies the mysterious nation of Vaskandar, controlled by a dangerous group of mages known as the Witch Lords. Each Witch Lord is a powerful vivomancer whose magic grants them control over all living beings, such as animals, plants and even humans. After years of peace, several of the Witch Lords desire additional territory and are preparing for war against the Serene Empire. Large forces of soldiers and the Vaskandar’s dreaded chimeras amass on the border while covert attacks are undertaken against the Serene Empire’s most powerful Falcons. But before the Vaskandar can formally declare war, all seventeen Witch Lords must meet in a conclave to agree to a course of action.
Lady Amalia Cornaro is heir to one of the oldest and most powerful families in all of the Serene Empire. Formerly a sheltered academic, her life dramatically changed when she was accidently bonded to the rebellious teenage runway Zaira, a rare and destructive fire warlock and the most powerful mage in the Empire. Despite a turbulent and resentful start to their relationship, Amalia and Zaira have come to a mutual understanding following their adventures in the city of Ardence.
As the tension between the two nations increases, Amalia and Zaira are sent as a military deterrent to the border province of Callamourne, ruled by Amalia’s grandmother. Despite their presence, it quickly becomes apparent that forces are conspiring to bring the war to pass, especially with spies and assassins targeting Amalia and Zaira directly. Determined to maintain the peace, Amalia knows that the only way to prevent the war is to infiltrate Vaskandar and attend the conclave on behalf of the Serene Empire.
Entering Vaskandar is a dangerous proposition. Each Witch Lord has their own territory which they rule absolutely thanks to a mysterious bond to the land that allows them to control all living creatures within their boundaries. In addition, Amalia already has powerful enemies among the Witch Lords. The deadly Lady of Thorns holds a grudge against her entire family, and Amalia and Zaiara have experience with the machinations of the Skinwitch Ruven, whose plot could cause great destruction.
Their only hope to influence the conclave may come from the mysterious Crow Lord, who has taken an interest in Amalia. However, the Crow Lord is playing his own game, and Amalia and Zaira are the perfect pawns.
Melissa Caruso is a relatively new fantasy author whose first book in the Swords and Fire series, The Tethered Mage, was released in late 2017. The Defiant Heir is a direct sequel to this, and is set a few months after.
The Tethered Mage was one of the surprising hits of last year. What started out as an intriguing sounding fantasy novel turned into one of the most exciting and memorable debuts of 2017 and proved near impossible to put down. Caruso maintains this trend of excellent writing in The Defiant Heir, which continues to the provide the same great characters, fantasy adventure, worldbuilding and amazing story writing that made her first book such an irresistible read.
Caruso has chosen to expand her fantasy world in The Defiant Heir by detailing the nation of Vaskandar and focusing on its rulers, the Witch Lords. While Vaskandar was mentioned and one of nation’s vivomancers, Prince Ruven, was a secondary antagonist, this area of her world wasn’t really explored in the first book. For this book, Vaskandar is a major location and the protagonists spend a large portion of the story within its boundaries. As a result, Caruso has produced a significant amount of fascinating lore about this country, especially when it comes to the Witch Lords. The focus on the Witch Lords is particularly interesting as Caruso has developed complex backstories, powers, plots and motivations for many of them, which adds immensely to the story. In addition, despite the fact that they all study the same branch of the magic, each of the Witch Lords has their own speciality and their appearance and abilities are different as a result. This is especially noticeable during the numerous magical duels that occur throughout the book, where these differences allow for a wider variety of magical action. It is also quite fun when the various Witch Lords use their powers to show off with memorable entrances and appearances during the opening scenes of the conclave.
Readers should also keep an eye out for Caruso’s focus on character development within The Defiant Heir for the two main characters. Amalia’s growth is the most significant, as circumstances force her to become a more savvy and decisive political player, very much like her mother. As a result, she is forced to make a number of tough decisions and struggles to maintain her morality in a harsh world where her options are becoming more and more limited. There is also the growing realisation that her position may not allow her to have the personal life she wants, and this greatly affects her relationship with the dashing Captain Marcello, the main love interest of the first book. This is a well done bit of character development that will draw the reader in emotionally, especially when it comes to Amalia’s most significant decision in the book.
Zaira’s development is more subtle, as she is not the book’s narrator, and is mostly a continuation of the transformation from inverted loner to team player that started in The Tethered Mage. However, it is more realistic to see that this growth is a slow process, and her stubbornness is not automatically fixed in the span of one book. The same could be said about the satisfying but gradual development in the relationship between the main characters.
Melissa Caruso once again shows why she is one of the brightest new stars in the fantasy fiction. The Defiant Heir is an outstanding continuation of her first series that introduces significant and exiting lore to her already intriguing universe while providing significant development to her main characters. If you haven’t already discovered the magic of Caruso’s Swords and Fire series, you are in for a serious treat.
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