The first of a trilogy set in a land inspired by late-17th-century Venice—but with magic, gender equality, and same-sex marriage.
Bookish Lady Amalia Cornaro will one day have to step into her mother’s role as intelligencer and politically powerful member of the Council of Nine, rulers of the Serene Empire of Raverra. But her reluctant entree into politics comes more quickly than she would have expected or wished when she volunteers to bind herself to Zaira, a rogue warlock who in a fit of anger has unleashed balefire that could devastate the whole city. The only way to stop her is for Amalia to put a tether on the girl's wrist, which will link them for the rest of their lives. All the mage-marked in Raverra are conscripted into the Falcons, the empire’s cadre of magical soldiers, and each is linked to a Falconer, who can loose or seal the mage’s power on command. A noblewoman such as Amalia isn’t supposed to be a Falconer, and Zaira has spent her entire life in the gutter hiding from the Falcons. But Zaira is too potent a weapon for anyone to ignore. Amalia will have to win over the furious warlock and take a more active political role when it becomes clear that someone is fomenting war between Raverra and Ardence, a neighboring client realm where Amalia has many friends. It’s a pleasure to journey with shy and slightly awkward Amalia as she puts her scholarship in magic and puzzle-solving skills to good use, gaining confidence and proving that perhaps she’s not as politically unskilled as she thought. There is an obvious but still sweet, star-crossed incipient romance between Amalia and Marcello Verdi, lieutenant of the Falconers. That Amalia and Zaira will eventually build trust feels like a foregone conclusion in books of this type, but debut author Caruso does a decent job in creating moments of doubt and tension at key points in the novel.
Charming and solidly fun.