Welcome to the SPFBO 8 Finals! Team Queen’s Book Asylum reviews Tethered Spirits by T. A. Hernandez, picked by Becky.
A quick reminder about how we are proceeding in the Finals: our judges had the freedom to opt out of reading any of the books due to personal interest, time restrictions, unforeseen life events, etc. Our aim is to have at least 3 reviews/scores for each finalist, which shouldn’t be too hard between the 5 of us. For Tethered Spirits we have 5 reviews for your reading pleasures, so, let’s get down to it!
|Series: Curse of Shavhalle #1
|Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Young Adult
|Date of Publishing: December 14, 2021
A man with an unknown past
For years, Amar has traveled the Kavoran empire, seeking a way to recover his lost memories and end the curse that plagues him. With support from loyal friends, Amar may finally be on the verge of finding answers, but to do so, he’ll need to enlist the help of an unexpected guide.
A girl afraid of her own powers
Kesari is a Tarja, granted magical abilities through her Bond with a spirit named Lucian. Haunted by past mistakes that have left her desperate to sever her Bond, Kesari has her own reasons for agreeing to help Amar. But in doing so, she may finally have to face the fears she’s carried ever since leaving home.
A woman on a vital mission
Meanwhile, a young refugee named Aleida is in hot pursuit, hoping the secret behind Amar’s curse can save her brother from a fatal illness. With so much at stake and little left to lose, Aleida will stop at nothing to get what she wants.
And when their paths collide, all three are set on a journey to unravel a mystery far deeper than they ever suspected.
Tethered Spirits presented an interesting premise: immortal guy doesn’t know why he’s immortal. Loyal friends try to help him find out. Relentless revenge-thirsty killer chases them all. Reincarnated dragons.
The character dynamics and setting promised endless adventure throughout dangerous desert landscapes, and hinted at intriguing Arabian-inspired worldbuilding.
However, the actual story more often than not stumbles as it tries to juggle its elements. The setting fumbles with countless names of places, cultures, and ethnicities, but it doesn’t quite flesh them out as something approaching concreteness within its own world.
The Arabian-inspired aspects nestle merely in various vaguely Arabic-sounding terms, because the cultural practices and intricacies one would expect to explore are threadbare, if there at all.
There’s plenty of naming, but people and locations are hardly distinguishable from one another, especially at the beginning.
There are characters built in to function as placeholders (i.e. the sickly person who serves as a motivator for the “actually important” main character), and even the strong presences in the book end up resonating like archetypes; they react as you expect them to. And when they don’t, they react as conflict requires.
Familiarity has its own charm, but sometimes it can be a double-edged sword. I felt like nothing really stood out to me as a mystery. Added to a very slow pacing, the story failed to capture my interest for long.
With a bit more careful fleshing out of its world and characters, I think I would have very much enjoyed this one. It has the workings of a compelling adventure, but, ironically, it felt pretty untethered.
The book opens with fast action… being written down. The author avoids infodumping a bit too successfully for me – I’m scatterbrained and tend to forget names, especially, and there were many names of people, places, professions, and afflictions I tried to memorise. At 3%, after a day of a break, I had to go back to the beginning. It didn’t help a lot. (Have I mentioned I’m scatterbrained? Can’t remember.)
My favourite character was the saraj-playing Mitul, who, together with Amar and Saya, was searching for a Tarja woman named Tamaya Takhar, possibly the most powerful healer in all of Erythyr, during a typical Kavoran summer in Tarsi, reminding Saya that her haseph markings were pretty faded, as they were being chased by a Visan girl who might also have had some Kavoran or Atrean blood as well, finding Kisara, who at the price of twenty jitaara with the help of Pujit could help them find… (yes, that was the first 3%) I was so busy trying to absorb and retain information I found confusing, that I had no time to build a bond with the characters.
Around 15% mark, Amar experiences amnesia (by means of dying and returning to life). His friends, whom he doesn’t remember, provide him with the information I’ve been missing. Here I bow to the author, because I thought “that’s a very convenient amnesia” – when it turned out this form of immortality was actually Amar’s curse and his story, I felt rather awkward. What Amar sees as a curse is the reason Aleida is trying to hunt him down – although I wasn’t sure whether she was just going to kill him and see what happens, or had something else in mind. I didn’t forget what happened before as thoroughly as Amar did, but at this point – when I finally found out what I am reading about – I had no connection with the characters. My favourite out of the three POV MCs was Kesari, but the same happened in her case; it took so long for me to find out why she wanted to break the Bond with Lucian (and what the Bond was, and what the consequences would be) that… I wished her best of luck in her future endeavours.
What really killed the book for me, though, were the character names: Mitul, Kesari, Amar, Aleida, and Jameson Weatherford. This would work very well in satire (see Thursday Next by Jasper Fforde), but Tethered Spirits is not satire. Every time I saw the name “Jameson Weatherford” my thoughts flew either towards Douglas Adams or Fforde, neither of whom wrote books vaguely similar to Tethered Spirits. I felt like being thrown out of the story.
I feel like this review sounds harsher than it should – I appreciated the worldbuilding, the conflicts both internal and external, the writing style. The structure of the book was what lost me, or rather I lost it. I would like to know what happened next, because this is an interesting read, but because of that structure I’d have to go back to the start again, knowing Jameson Weatherford lurks behind a corner. Tethered Spirits and I went to a few dates, found out we had a lot of similarities, but Tethered Spirits was really into escape rooms and mazes, while I preferred slowly sipping whisky while watching a documentary. Ultimately, we lacked chemistry, so at 54% we shook hands for one last time and decided the two of us were not meant to be together.
I see a lot of other reviewers classifying Tethered Spirits as a “character driven fantasy”. After reading it I have to agree that the strength of this story directly derives from these characters, their alternating viewpoints, and their individual journeys as the events of the book unfold. And it definitely succeeds on this level. While I do enjoy books that have deep and effective characterization, where the story bogged down for me was in the pacing which I found a little off and on for my liking. Sometimes I need a book to move along a little more and my mind kind of wandered during these parts to the point where I often had to reread entire pages. The worldbuilding and magic are decent and being a big worldbuilding fan I appreciated the creativity that Hernandez brings to the table here. Ultimately, I did enjoy the book overall but there were a number of things that didn’t completely hook me on the plot and like I said, I was a bit distracted and couldn’t completely focus in certain sections. This leads me to realize that I just wasn’t as engaged as I should have been and as a result I feel like this was a good but not great read for me. However I do think that many other readers would appreciate this story and by no means should my opinion of it deter you from picking this one up and giving it a go.
Tethered Spirits by T. A. Hernandez is a boots-on-the-ground YA fantasy focusing on its characters and their journey. While we are treated to multiple point-of-view characters, Amar is undoubtedly the main focus, if not the main character. Amar is an individual blessed/cursed with immortality, and it is his ‘condition’ that drives the plot and links together the motivations and goals of everyone else.
The plot is straightforward, with the group travelling from place to place whilst being pursued, aiming to eventually discover the what, where, why, and when of Amar’s curse, hoping that their own particular ambitions can be realised once the mystery has been solved.
Given that the journey spans a handful of months, it’s no surprise that we encounter a sizeable number of locations, cultures, and people. There’s obviously a great deal of thought behind Hernandez’s world, with a lot waiting to catch your eye; it feels expansive and has plenty of potential.
While overall, I did enjoy Tethered Spirits, I didn’t feel as though there was enough flesh on the bones, so to speak.
Though the world felt expansive, it never felt filled, with too much telling and frequent repetition (owing to Aleida’s chapters encountering the same locations and people immediately after Amar’s group), leading to some pacing inconsistencies. Characters suffered similarly and, despite journeying together for three or four months, never displayed any impactful levels of growth, burgeoning friendships, or developing camaraderie.
Though Tethered Spirits may not have ticked all of my boxes, it’s a solid enough read and one that finishes with a bang.
When Tethered Spirits made it into the finals, I wasn’t sure – based on the blurb – whether it’ll be up my alley or not. I suspected not, but I still gave it a go, because I was curious. You know what they say about curiosity and the
pet demon cat, though. Goodreads tells me it currently has a 4.11 average which means it has an audience, but that audience is sadly not me. We parted ways at the 52% mark.
Tethered Spirits has 3 POV characters: Amar, Kesari, and Aleida. Amar is searching for answers regarding his condition – i.e. his immortality, Kesari wants to make her Bond with her Spirit Tarja (a Tarja is a person who has magical abilities, they are mostly natural born, but one can get powers by bonding with the spirit of a dead Tarja), and Aleida wants a solution to heal her little brother from a disease that’s slowly killing him. All three characters have clear motivations, and the premise is interesting enough, with cool ideas like the Spirit Tarja which can take all kinds of forms. The stronger the Tarja was, the more complex form they can take. Kesari is bonded with one that appears as a flame, while Aleida has a dragon. Forming a Bond and severing it has serious consequences.
But the thing is, no matter how interesting the worldbuilding is, or the premise if it fails to be engaging. In the beginning, Tethered Spirits is a bit confusing, because it starts a bit abruptly, we get introduced to three POV characters, plus the world which can be a bit daunting at first. It took me a bit to differentiate between Kesari and Aleida, they are a bit similar, in age, in their situation, and honestly, their voices aren’t distinct enough. Once I finally sorted them out in my head, I started actively disliking them, including Amar… which is not a good sign, him being the main focus of the book. I liked Mitul, though!
As their story is unraveled, I know I should have felt sympathy for them, but I just couldn’t make myself to. I was also bored, especially with all the traveling bits. I really don’t like long traveling sequences in books where nothing happens. It also felt a bit repetitive, especially with Aleida, who follows in the main group’s footsteps. It just felt like all of the characters were pretty one-dimensional, and needed more fleshing out to make them feel like real people. There was also a lot of telling instead of showing, and even though there were supposed to be different cultures in the different countries, they weren’t actually distinguishable from each other.
I was trying so hard to focus on what was happening, that it took me 14% to register the word Tarja. In Hungarian “tarja” means pork, and once I realized that, I just couldn’t unsee it… Obviously, this is not Hernandez’s fault, and it did not ruin my reading experience, but it certainly made it harder to take things as seriously as it was intended.
Ultimately, cool as the worldbuilding was, I just had to admit I was not the right audience for Tethered Spirits, and quietly walk away.
Our score for Tethered Spirits by T. A. Hernandez
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