I had some tokens and after reading a number of really enthusiastic reviews about this one, I decided to get hold of it. The marvellous cover influenced me, too…
Zaira has lived her life on the streets to avoid this fate, hiding her mage-mark and thieving to survive. But hers is a rare and dangerous magic, one that threatens the entire empire. Lady Amalia Cornaro was never meant to be a Falconer. Heiress and scholar, she was born into a treacherous world of political machinations. But fate has bound the heir and the mage.
Amalia Cornaro lives in the shadow of her powerful, politically effective parent – and for a change, said parent is La Contessa. We don’t hear very much about Amalie’s father – it’s all about her trying to live up to her mother’s expectations. As the only child, those expectations weigh heavily. Especially as Amalia is more comfortable studying the art of magic and how to manufacture spells, even though she isn’t mage-touched. Because if she were, she wouldn’t be living in her mother’s palace – she would be residing in the fortified Mews with other magically-gifted individuals, wearing a small bracelet which would allow an ungifted companion to control her magical ability – her Falconer.
The story is about one such gifted individual, Zaira, whose magical gift is the ability to create balefire – a blue-flamed conflagration which feeds on the flesh of its victims and very quickly turns into a firestorm. Most balefire mages don’t make it past childhood without killing themselves. But Zaira has managed to eke out a living in the Tallows, the slums of Raverra – until an attempted kidnap draws her to the attention of the authorities running the Mews and she finds herself braceleted and carted off to live in luxury. The only catch being, she’s not free…
This approach to the whole issue of magic-users is a really intriguing one. I love the idea that they either run amok, becoming the entitled, despotic overlords – or the tools of the state, working for the greater good, while being magically tethered by their bracelets, or jesse. It’s a clever term, with its overtones of falconry, where the birds of prey are shackled by leather straps called a jesse.
I haven’t mentioned the story, or the plotting or even said much about the characters. And I should – because it’s a cracking tale, full of incident and adventure, narrated by Amalia, who is an engaging protagonist. While I enjoyed her character, my attention was inevitably drawn to Zaira – I thought it was a bold touch to have the main protagonist the less charismatic, gifted character, and it works very well. I also liked the fact that this world has a number of powerful women, alongside the men, who have agency.
I’m delighted I bought this one and look forward to reading the next book in the series, The Defiant Heir. Highly recommended for fantasy fans.