I would like to thank Melissa Caruso and Orbit Books for sending me a prerelease copy of The Unbound Empire in exchange for an honest review.
Following on from the conclusion of The Defiant Heir we find Lady Amalia now at home in Raverra. In addition to the other political duties that the Cornaro heir would have to perform, she is looking to compose the Falcon Reform Act. This Bill would allow the ‘mage-marked’ certain rights and elements of freedom. They are currently seen by all as little more than weapons of magical destruction that are owned and that will be controlled by The Serene Empire should war occur. The Witchlord and Skinwitch Ruven who rules Kazerath has been quiet recently due to the winter snows but the delay is only temporary and he remains a constant threat in his quest for invasion and to conquer all. We also have to wonder what the other Witchlords are plotting in their own domains of Vaskandar too…
This may be a shorter review than my analysis of the prior books as I don’t wish to repeat what I’ve said previously regarding the world, themes, certain relationships, previous plot points etc… Simply put, this is one of my favourite political fantasy trilogies from recent years. Looking back two years ago, I only started Caruso’s debut as I couldn’t decide what to read next and liked the cover. Yet, when I have received the two follow-ups they have instantly been promoted to the top of my to-be-read list and I have completed them before the release dates. I’ve got a gigantic reading list featuring hundreds of books that I’ll probably never get to so I think this projects how much I admire Caruso’s work.
In The Unbound Empire, Caruso really has exceeded all my expectations. It’s a gorgeous narrative that intertwines war, love, political intrigue, betrayal and it’s anything but predictable. The pages are brimming with highs and lows that pulled at my heartstrings and occasionally made me an emotional wreck. This tale is overflowing with excellent characters that I have invested a lot of quality time with and really cared about. Some of my favourites were the Fire Warlock Zaira, the Mysterious Witchlord and mind game loving Kathe, the ever reliable and honourable Marcello and even new characters such as the aide Lucia and the bantering Heartguards. It also features one of the most terrifying, sadistic yet overpowered characters I’ve ever read about.
Although this series does have elements of YA this entry is much darker. There is still romance, friendship and frivolity but these elements are mixed with complete catastrophic destruction, both physical and mental torture, and lots of other nastiness. The Unbound Empire is full of excellent set-pieces, three of which stood out in particular to me. One of these is a stunning, engaging showdown towards the end of the narrative. The payoff here is great. It all wraps up nicely (for some more than others) and I would love Caruso to return to this world as quite often it seemed like a living and breathing character in its own right. I’ll be following this author’s career closely as I think she is sublimely talented.
A phenomenally well-written, engrossing political fantasy series with fine dialogue throughout. Swords and Fire is a series that many more people should add to their reading list.