Book Review: THE UNBOUND EMPIRE by Melissa Caruso

Genre: Political Fantasy
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 5 stars
Series: Yes - final book in trilogy



the unbound empire

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.

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


If you’ve been following my blog for a while now, you’ll know how much I adore Melissa Caruso’s Swords and Fire series. In December, I said that THE UNBOUND EMPIRE was my second most anticipated read of 2019, and this book was so worth the wait.

Having finished my re-read of the first two books yesterday afternoon, I picked up this book and read it one sitting last night. I don’t even want to guess what time I finished, but it was so worth it.

This book is amazing.

There are so many twists and schemes coming to fruition – so many pay offs. I didn’t see any of the major twists coming, but they were so much fun to watch (once my heart stopped stuttering!).

Amalia is certainly not the same person we met at the start of THE TETHERED MAGE. She is certainly stepping up to be La Contessa’s heir, but with her own streak of mad-cap plans weighed against the odds. The big decision she makes at the end (a la her love life)  exemplifies her arc. I don’t think I’ve seen an arc quite like it (but saying why would be a massive spoiler). Suffice to say, it’s perfect for her and the world she’s in. It might disappoint some, that she’s not followed a more traditional arc, but I think it’s genius.

As ever, Zaira’s speech is so funny – all of her curses and innuendos are a great foil for Amalia’s more considered words. Not to mention the way Zaira can flip anything into a threat or mocking jibe. She’s also changed in the course of the books, and the end of her arc is so satisfying to watch.

Istrella gets to shine in this book – all her quick thinking, determination and bravery really come to the fore. I loved all the scenes she was in, and the way the book forces her to grow and step out of her brother’s shadows.

Ruven is a brilliant villain – he makes your skin creep at the thought of his powers. After Amalia stopped him in THE DEFIANT HEIR, you know he’s up to something horrible – and that he is capable of terrible things as he’s got no conscience. Not knowing what, until it’s too late, builds amazing suspense. His mind-control potion means you can never quite be sure who to trust, but then he unleashes an even worse design.

The relationships are so good, not to mention the number of emotional feels you get from them.

  • I adore the relationship between Amalia and Marcello, and… oh my gosh does this book put you (and them) through the mangle.
  • All the Zaira and Amalia moments are amazing.
  • Kathe and Amalia have some really fun interactions, and the chemistry building between them is incredible.
  • I love the complicated – but undeniably loving – relationship between Amalia and La Contessa. There is never any doubt that they love each other, but La Contessa is also someone who will push her daughter because she believes in her. We need more mother-daughter relationships like this.

As I really don’t want to give out spoilers, I am going to have to be rather vague. So, cue fangirl squealing over some of my favourite plot moments:

  • The Mews sequence is so well done, so tense.
  • We see the political wrangling of the Assembly, and they are some of the tensest scenes – not to mention some of my favourite.
  • My  heart was in my mouth during the plain-before-Ardence scene.
  • The climax (and end) was… something else. It was so satisfying, an amazing end even if my heart is still a mess.

I am so glad we get another series in this world next year, but I’ll probably have to re-read this series again in the mean time to avoid a book hang-over.

Read my reviews of other books by Melissa Caruso:

Swords and Fire (this series):

Rooks and Ruin (set 150 years later):


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