The Swords and Fire trilogy is one of those series that I firmly believe deserves more love. My obsession has only grown with each book and this book was an emotional roller coaster. I went from laughing aloud while reading, to tearing up, to swooning within the span of a few pages.
While winter snows keep the Witch Lord Ruven’s invading armies at bay, Lady Amalia Cornaro and the fire warlock Zaira attempt to change the fate of mages in the Raverran Empire forever, earning the enmity of those in power who will do anything to keep all magic under tight imperial control. But in the season of the Serene City’s great masquerade, Ruven executes a devastating surprise strike at the heart of the Empire – and at everything Amalia holds most dear.
To stand a chance of defeating Ruven, Amalia and Zaira must face their worst nightmares, expose their deepest secrets, and unleash Zaira’s most devastating fire
(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
How can I not give this final book five stars? While the intrigue and political manipulation never ends in this book, what continuously hooks me about every book in the Swords and Fire series are the characters. I love them all for varying reasons whether it’s Amalia’s selfless heart, Zaira’s sarcasm, or Kathe’s refusal to use doors. In the course of a chapter you’ll be laughing aloud, shedding a tear, your heart may break just a little more. If you’ve been reading this series, you will absolutely not want to miss this last book because it is a fantastic finale.
Worldbuilding and Politics
I am a political goldfish. It’s just an example of why I would be an awful politician. I know that in the movies we get that classic, “the best rulers are ones who don’t want to rule” kind of spiel, and I’d just like to say that probably doesn’t apply to me. But the Swords and Fire trilogy lets me live vicariously through both Amalia and her mother.
The world building is immersive and rich. We’re thrown back into a world where magic is a weapon and people are tools. A society where people are controlled for the ‘better of society’ and where change is made in closed rooms with secrets. But The Unbound Empire truly takes the politics and schemes to another level. Amalia, her friends, and her country is faced with a force never seen before – Ruven – and they must be challenged, more clever, and inventive than ever before.
I have always loved Amalia’s mother, she is a powerhouse. But I think she receives the most tenderness in this book – not literally because it is rough for her in The Unbound Empire, but Amalia starts to see her mother as more of a person as she takes on more of the responsibility and needs more of her advice than ever before.
Sure the entire series I have loved Amalia and her selflessness, her noble heart, her determination to save those she loves, but The Unbound Empire merely cemented my love of Zaira and Kathe. Who wouldn’t love this tricky duo? Zaira is plain spoken, genuine, and unabashedly herself, all while being standoffish to hide her own fears. Whereas Kathe is a tricky, clever, Witch Lord who is always up for a game, and who hides his own secrets.
And finally, my favorite area, the themes of The Unbound Empire. Amalia’s inner conflict of duty versus love comes to a crescendo in this book. As a ruler, people target your loved ones as a possible pressure point, and in this regard Amalia has to figure out what kind of leader she will be. It’s about the job stripping things away from us, stopping us to express our love because it leads to vulnerability. But Amalia does not want to let her duty and power cause her to sacrifice everything she holds dear.
In The Unbound Empire Zaira is forced to make some hard decisions. While the balefire is a destructive force to be reckoned with, it’s still a piece of herself. Can Zaira still be herself while embracing her power? Does that make her into a demon? Into a weapon? What can she do if she stopped letting her fear rule her?
But another theme that is brought up through Zaira is the comparison between her and Ruven. Both of them have immense power and magic. Whereas Ruven’s cruel treatment and danger twisted him into himself, using his magic and disregarding people as power sources, Zaira has a similar force inside of her. She is similarly treated as a weapon, feared for her power. Where are the differences between them, their choices
I cannot sing enough praises of The Unbound Empire. It is a phenomenal and introspective book on its own, but combine the power of this finale to the series and it becomes even more emotional. Delivering characters that ask us what is human and if we can truly change, Caruso shows us the victims of what happens when we value duty, the consequences of our actions. And living in the lights of our words, our mistakes, can we find the strength to do better? In this constant battle to be good, to do what’s right for your home, do we let the choices we make change us? And into what?