Greymalkin's Reviews > The Unbound Empire

The Unbound Empire by Melissa Caruso
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it was amazing
bookshelves: scifi-fantasy

** spoiler alert ** So I finished _Unbound Empire_ by Melissa Caruso almost two weeks ago and it's just SOSOGOOD. Damn satisfying. Took me a while to write something up about it but that's because I finished reading it and then went back and read it a SECOND TIME so I could really appreciate the character moments and dialog.

Bias caveat- I have beta-read for this book and the whole trilogy. So I may, uh, be a little biased.

Spoiler-free-ish review (spoiler comments at the end of this post)
The third book for any trilogy is so important and can be really difficult to pull off well. Balancing plot needs with character arcs with reader expectations and keeping it all enjoyable and satisfying is not easy. And while I'm okay with happy endings and tidy resolutions, I want them to feel earned. If they just win because they were stubborn, lucky, or the bad guys shot themselves in the foot, that is deeply uninteresting to me. I want to feel like the ending has been earned. And hoooo boy do they earn this ending in TUE.

Plot arcs are resolved well, with solutions that don't feel like they come out of nowhere. Issues brought up in the very first book finally "land". Terrible terrible things happen and the characters are forced to make choices where there is no good answer. I love that. LOVE IT. I really hate it when authors get to the final book and then wimp out on putting their MCs through the wringer because they love them as much as we do and don't want to be mean to them.

One of my favorite parts of this whole trilogy is watching the development of the various relationships in the book and I feel that this is where this book really shines. The relationships feel organic and real. The trust has been earned over the whole trilogy, the affection is based on actions that we watched happen. It's splendid.

Okay, now onto SPOILER COMMENTS!!

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YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED

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I've been on Team Marcello since day one and remained so, even after meeting Kathe (though he's a fun delight). In an early draft, when I read what Ruven was going to do to Marcello, I think I might have shrieked out loud. Not in anger, but in delight. I have always been very fond of Marcello as a character and I love his relationship with Amalia. But while she has changed and grown, he has pretty much stayed the same earnest doormat and Kathe was handily winning the "which suitor is more suitable" battle.

I was so happy that Ruven's manipulations would force that issue to a head and either break Marcello completely, or finally make him be more of a true partner and friend to Amalia.

I was worried though, because that type of plot twist is always so tricky to handle. I'm the gal who is always disappointed when the Beast turns into a "handsome human prince" at the end of Beauty and the Beast. Bah!! Feels like erasure and backsliding to make the ending be "pretty heteronormative people get to kiss now". Ugh. Hooray for this not being the case here! Just because I am on Team Marcello doesn't mean I was rooting for them to get married and have babies, though that would have been fine, I wanted him to be happy and to be a true partner for Amalia.

Amalia and Marcello love each other but they are also friends, and now Marcello has learned that expressing his truth, the dark and unpleasant feelings and thoughts, are not going to destroy their bond. It actually makes it stronger because she sees him now, perhaps for the first time. Amalia is going to need friends who are going to be more than yes-men, friends like Zaira who are going to call her out on her shit, but also friends she can lean on when she's feeling tired or hurt. Or, as La Contessa says so perfectly in one of my favorite pair of quotes: "And that's why you need to decide now, when you're still at the beginning of your journey, what lines you will not cross. What things you will never let go." and "Sometimes those of us who've been travelling this path too long need the people coming behind us to pick up what we've abandoned and remind us of its value.". I feel like Marcello can be that for her now and she needs that. Ahhhh so good.

One other thing that I really appreciated is that Ruven is not stupid. He's not a supergenius, but he sees opportunities and he takes them. This really helps with making it feel like the protagonists are actually working toward their victory. He forces them to make hard choices and to think creatively to thwart him, and that makes for a much more satisfying ending. Taking over an army to send it to attack Ardence so that they had to either kill their own people or be overtaken is horrible and cruel, but also very clever.

I adore Istrella. I love that her mind is always working to puzzle things out or improve them. I cackled when they were so horrified that "sweet little Istrella" didn't have any problems designing weapons of war or calling out Amalia for condescending to her about Marcello being under Ruven's control. She reminds me so much of Entrapta. FOR SCIENCE! Er, FOR ARTIFICE!

After Marcello's, Zaira's arc was my favorite, because she doesn't talk about her feelings, so much of her emotional journey has to be telegraphed subtly. It felt like a mini-reward to watch Zaira do or say something that surprised the other characters with its maturity or resolve and yet to the reader, you knew that Zaira could never say or do anything else. My heart broke for Zaira having to make those choices, especially unleashing her baelfire to kill thousands. She may be streetwise but she is still young and she wants so SO much not to be a monster. Hooray for the evolution of her friendship with Amalia that allowed her to come back from those terrible choices with her sanity.

Also, I spent way too long thinking about if I would like chocolate soup.
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Reading Progress

August 14, 2018 – Shelved
May 1, 2019 – Started Reading
May 16, 2019 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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message 1: by Ilkay (new)

Ilkay “Fans of Tamora Pierce” = add to my to read list


Greymalkin Ilkay wrote: "“Fans of Tamora Pierce” = add to my to read list"

They are fun fast reads, I think you will enjoy them! There's a character I'm 99% sure you will love. You can probably guess who I love. I really hope you didn't read my spoiler comments for this book though because they are super spoilery. :) I recommended them at the libraries and I think they just purchased them. At least contra costa overdrive has them, I don't know if alameda has them yet.


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