Undercover Mage

Book One, Mage and the Bird Caller trilogy

Fiction - Fantasy - General
420 Pages
Reviewed on 05/04/2023
Buy on Amazon

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    Book Review

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.

Stephanie Chapman

The Undercover Mage is the first book in Kaaren Sutcliffe’s The Mage and the Bird Caller series. A secret meeting has been called. Mage Mantiss, Agamid, and Everand meet with Beram. Beram came from Riverfall. He requests help from the mages in Axis. The lack of rain has caused the river level to drop. Beyond this, strange attacks have threatened people's lives. They sent Everand undercover to find the culprit of the attacks. Under the disguise of Everd, he is quick to discover a competition among riverboats. Riverfall, Riverplain, Riversea, and Riverwood took part in the race. Everand also finds Lamiya, the Glide for Riverplain, who knows he isn’t just a traveler. She insists on helping him while keeping their abilities secret. They develop a romantic chemistry, but will they be able to decide between their feelings and their obligations?

Kaaren Sutcliffe included a backstory interwoven with the timeline given to Everand to perform his mission. I found this to be essential for understanding Everand’s motivation. The mages were secretive, with a concrete wall and magical wards to keep people in and out of Axis. Malach was a major concern for Everand, but I wondered why Lamiya wasn’t. The supporting characters' personalities were distinct, and their roles helped support the storyline. The plot was unpredictable, with time, magical creatures, and mage laws causing obstacles. Politeness was something Riverfall’s people practiced despite how the visitors' actions had inconvenienced them. The end of the story left it open for the sequel. I never could have predicted the conclusion. The Undercover Mage will keep readers guessing and holding their breath with its intense suspense.

Asher Syed

Undercover Mage by Kaaren Sutcliffe blends myth and fantasy and is the first book of three in The Mage and the Bird Caller trilogy. Mage Everand receives a top-secret mission from his Mages' Guild to protect a river province's upcoming festival and trade talks, and he must keep his true identity concealed at all times. However, when he mistakenly ends up in the river and is nearly struck by a dragon boat during training, he catches the attention of Lamiya, the boat's steerswoman. Everand attempts to complete his mission in secrecy but discovers that the party responsible for the festival's disruptions has the outlawed power of magic, and a legend turns out to be real. Time is not on Everand's side and what he chooses to report or keep hidden from the Guild depends on his own fact-finding mission, and will result in catastrophic consequences either way.

Kaaren Sutcliffe has roped me into her trilogy The Mage and the Bird Caller with its exceptional first volume, Undercover Mage. Lamiya is kind of the star of this story to me, mostly because she reads as an authentic, lifeline character. She is not able to do and solve everything in a genre where women often become these unrealistic heroes. Sutcliffe writes an engaging narrative that combines excellent prose and showstopping scenes. One in particular that incorporates all three has a character named Ejad being attacked by a black and green diamondback snake, and Lamiya does what I would do, as difficult as it might be to admit: she freezes. It's a slight battle scene that feels like it is happening in real-time, as does all of the action Sutcliffe weaves into the story. Everand is a complex, compelling protagonist whose uncertainty is also raw, and between dragons, corruption, love, and danger, this is a worthwhile trilogy to ride the current with.