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Reviewed by Jamie Michele for Readers' Favorite
Undercover Mage by Kaaren Sutcliffe is the first book in the Mage and the Bird Caller fantasy trilogy. The story follows the young spy mage, Everand, who is sent on a covert mission to Riverfall to investigate incidents of sabotage before a festival of dragon boat races. He meets the magnetic boatwoman, Lamiya, and a rogue half-mage, and together they try to uncover the truth behind the incidents. The story also explores the history of a Mages' Guild founded on deception, and a rain-denying river dragon so cantankerous that he could give Oscar the Grouch a run for his money. As the layers of intrigue unfold, Everand must balance his duty with his growing feelings for Lamiya, and face the legacy of treachery and secrets that underpins the foundation of his beloved Guild. The book offers a mix of action, romance, and magic, with themes of loyalty, betrayal, and redemption.
“One dark and stormy dark-fall, when the moon was obscured by shadows and clouds ... must remember them words …” I love a cheeky 'dark and stormy night' reference in a story within a story, especially when it is being retold by a character as colorful as Clommus, although all the characters Kaaren Sutcliffe developed for Undercover Mage are exceptional in their own right. Characters and magic are the key elements in an epic fantasy and Sutcliffe is skilled in the creation of both. At the heart of Undercover Mage is the age-old disparity conflict between the powerful ruling class and the people that the ruling class subjugates in order to retain their power. Only the Guild is allowed to summon, compose, and wield magic, and the populace is made complacent by a love of the Guild and the Guild's version of bread and circuses. As a woman of Asian descent, some of the Chinese mythology was familiar and was respectfully adapted, and I enjoyed seeing it. Overall, Sutcliffe kicks off her series brilliantly and I have no doubt that lovers of classical myth and fantasy will feel the same. Very highly recommended.