Title:The Defiant Heir
Author: Melissa Caruso
Publication date: April 2018
Paperback: 515 pages
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 course of action. Lady Amalia Cornaro knows that this Conclave might be her only chance to stifle the growing flames of war, and she is ready to make any sacrifice if it means saving Raverra from destruction.
Amalia and Zaira must go behind enemy lines, using every ounce of wit and cunning they have, to sway Vaskandar from war. Or else it will all come down to swords and fire.
Stand alone or series: Book 2 in the Swords and Fire series
How did I get this book: Review Copy from the Publisher
Format (e- or p-): Print
Lady Amalia is the last person one would expect to be a falconer. The daughter and heir to the powerful Cornato family, one of the ruling council members of the Raverran Empire, Amalia has been raised to follow in her formidable mother’s footsteps. All of that changes, though, when Amalia meets Zaira–an exceptionally rare and powerful mage possessing the ability to summon balefire. In the right place at the right time, Amalia becomes Zaira’s falconer: the one person who can controls her tethered mage’s ability to use her power. An unlikely pair, Amalia and Zaira have a tumultuous start to their relationship–seeing as Zaira hates being controlled and by extension, Amalia–but eventually find a rhythm, trust, and gradually, friendship. The pair, with some help from their friends and allies, work together to expose a Witch Lord of Vaskandar and the neighboring province of Ardence, working together to topple the Raverran Empire. The Defiant Heir picks up just weeks after the events of The Tethered Mage, with Lady Amalia dispatched as an ambassador to ensure the safety of Raverra–especially from Vaskandar. When Amalia learns that the Witch Lords of Vaskandar are to hold a Conclave to decide whether or not they should go to war, Amalia and Zaira are desperate to be extended an invitation and plead the case for peace. If that’s not enough to contend with, with the shadow of war looming, another threat appears when the Empire’s Falcons and Falconers start to turn up dead–murdered by persons and for reasons unknown. Now, Amalia and Zaira are on a race to prevent a catastrophic war, and to save their own lives.
A good second book in a trilogy is a hard thing to find. Often, second novels are bridge stories that accomplish little except for setting the stage for the inevitable showdown in book three. The Defiant Heir is not that type of book. Instead, it’s a high-stakes, gripping, political and magic-fueled awesomeness.
As with the first book, characterization is key, and The Defiant Heir delivers more of Amalia, Zaira, and team in spades. I remain impressed with Lady Amalia and her idealism, especially in light of everything that she and her mage have been through in these first two books. As the plot thickens and both Falcons and Falconers start dying, Zaira’s response is, predictably, anger–yet Amalia counters this fear and anger with her desire to keep the remaining Falconers safe and attack the potential source of the deaths. Stuck in an unenviable position as a powerful heir responsible for a magically unprecedented Falcon, Amalia may second-guess her political prowess but she isn’t afraid to make sacrifices or take risks that could pay dividends. Case in point: the involvement of Crow Witch Lord suitor Kathe, whose courtship Amalia accepts not merely because she’s attracted to him, but because of the power and legitimacy his approval could mean for her as the Vaskandar Witches prepare for their Conclave. (Speaking of Kathe, I’m not usually a fan of love triangles but I do think the romantic tension between Amalia, Kathe, and Marcello is built beautifully in this second book.)
More important than the romance, however, is the bond that strengthens between Amalia and Zaira. I love that these two are not automatic friends, and every glimmer of respect and trust gained by Amalia is fought for from Zaira–that the young mage is a glorified slave is a point that is not lost in this book. We also get to see other Falcons chafing at the “protection” that the Raverran Empire offers them, seeing firsthand how limited these mages’ futures are. In this second novel, Zaira and Amalia learn not only how to trust each other, but rely on each other–especially as they are in enemy territory, with a murderer and potential traitor in their midst.
Of course, the best thing about The Defiant Heir (at least in this reader’s opinion) are the high stakes and power dynamic. I love seeing in this book that Zaira’s balefire, while powerful, is not really the same type of magic and power that the Witch Lords hold. Now those guys are terrifying. Zaira is not the deadliest thing around; what with the blood of magic flowing from their realms themselves, and the complicated line to succession of power in Viskandar (a monarch has to die for their child to ascend to the throne… except Witch Lords don’t really die, so you can see the dilemma). Suffice it to say, succession is messy and the potential foes in this second novel are enticing as hell. (Plus, there are some epic wizard/witch fight scenes–seeing quite literally how Zaira’s power compares to the Witch Lords firsthand.)
There’s a war that’s brewing, and while Amalia’s politicking and passion for Raverra might not be enough to save the day, the relationships she has with others and her faith in the system leaves plenty of room for big things to happen in Book 3. I loved The Defiant Heir even more than The Tethered Mage and cannot wait for more to come.
Rating: 8 – Excellent, and I need the next book in the series like immediately