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Tuesday, December 13, 2022

SPFBO 8 Finalist review: Tethered Spirits by T.A. Hernandez


Book links: AmazonGoodreads

AUTHOR INFO: T. A. Hernandez is a science fiction and fantasy author and long-time fan of speculative fiction. She grew up with her nose habitually stuck in a book and her mind constantly wandering to make-believe worlds full of magic and adventure. She began writing after reading J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings many years ago and is now happily engaged in an exciting and lifelong quest to tell captivating stories.


She is a clinical social worker and the proud mother of two girls. She also enjoys drawing, reading, graphic design, playing video games, and making happy memories with her family and friends.

Publisher: Sanita Street Publishing (December 14, 2021) Page Count: 554 Cover art: T.A. Hernandez


This was quite a different tale. It starts off like it's going to be actiony adventure kind of story, when right off the bat, it grabs our attention with a fatal attack on the main character. But it quickly changes to being a quieter exploration of the characters, and the world they live in, interspersed with the occasional action scene.

Amar, is an immortal and to make things interesting, he loses his memories each time he dies. He is cursed and part of his journey is discovering why.

 Amnesia plots can be so touch and go, but I did like how this was handled. From the mistrust towards the other characters, who are committed to helping him, to the anger and frustration, of not knowing anything about his current life, while knowing most everything about the world he lives in. I liked the varying emotions he displayed, and even though I thought he was a jerk most of the time - I understood why.

Kesari, a young girl who joins Amar’s group, hoping that she too will gain answers. She is looking to break the bond between herself and her magical spirit companion- Lucien. Kesari has a troubled past that haunts her, preventing her from using her magic even when it could have saved a life.  

Aleida, believes Amar, and his curse, may be the answer to curing her dying brother. Unfortunately, her good intentions are peppered with bad choices. Aleida also has a magic spirit dragon companion named Valkyra.

I thought the spirit companions, Valkyra and Lucien, were the neatest thing in this story.

They bond with a person who has magic, and that are willing to sacrifice part of their life to do so. I loved the idea and wanted more about this whole process.
Also, Kesari, wanting to break that bond with Lucien, had me so interested in the repercussions to herself, if she achieved that goal. Would she be lonely without him? Would she be able to handle the guilt because it would effectively kill Lucien? The whole thing raised so many possibilities for her to have to deal with in the outcome and I have to admit, I kind of want it to go there, at some point- even though I quite liked Lucien.


The characters are all carrying some sort of demon to be rid of… not an actual demon, but something that haunts them. This is one place I thought the story shone the most- in the tackling of these demons and allowing them to grow and move on from their mistakes. It was never an easy process for any of them and sometimes- like in life, it seemed it was one step forward, and two back, and always, that trauma was there to shadow any and all decisions that were made by them. The other characters were supportive (some were not at first, Amar was just an angry man but can you blame him?) and each of them were able to make some progress, and become stronger because of the support they received from the others.


If I had any complaints in the story, it would be the lack of tension throughout. Everything is pretty well laid-out with few surprises along the way. Or at least, if you have been reading awhile like me, they weren’t huge surprises even with the bit of misdirection.
It slowed the story down a lot, for me and I found I was not always wanting to get back to it. Though the pick-up in pace towards the end, helped.


All in all, a good story with some great character exploration, and some pretty cool ideas with the bonded-spirit companions.

I also have to bring attention to that nice bit of scene-setting, with the eerie-feel and the sights (namely the skeleton parade) in the lands leading up to Shahalla.


Amar has lived forever—or, rather, he lives over and over again, his curse bringing him back after every death with fractured memories and no idea who or what he is.

Tethered Spirits focuses on several POV characters: Amar, who is arguably the primary protagonist, and whose curse is the center of the various plots and motivations of characters. There’s Kesari, a young mage coping with guilt and distress over a past accident. There’s also Aleida, who desperately seeks a cure for a wasting disease afflicting her brother. The individual threads of these weave together with several other non-POV characters as Amar seeks to undo his curse and others try to help him or turn it to their own ends.

The narrative only scratched on the surface of the world-building, though I liked what we were shown. There are several diverse and distinct cultures present, and the themes of racism and colonialism are woven into the backdrop, and serving as partial motivation for at least Aleida, whose nation was conquered and her people scattered. The story also showcases an interesting magic system. Tarja, or those who can use magic, are those with inherent ability or have bonded with the spirit of a deceased tarja, sacrificing part of their lifespan for the power and magic brought by their bond. I enjoyed the concept as depicted but is also the softest of systems, with spells and enchantments (and level of power) seeming to be as easy or as difficult as the plot demands.

Plot pace is medium, with some extended travel and conversation scenes sandwiching the fight scenes. This is also a very low-key story in terms of tension and none of the characters display more than a mild sense of urgency. There are hints throughout the tale that the situation is not all that it seems and the reveals—while not shocking—were consistent with what had been built up. And without getting into spoilers, I admit the resolution to the finale left me a little puzzled.

If there was a hanging point for me, it was in empathizing with the characters. Though Amar and Kesari grew somewhat over the course of the story, I didn’t quite find myself hooked by their struggles. Most of the cast displayed the same moments of irrational stubbornness. In the end, I was unable to emotionally invest in the three POV characters, which limited my enjoyment.

Overall, Tethered Spirits had an interesting premise and set-up but my inability to connect to the characters meant it wasn’t quite for me.


Tethered Spirits follows three point-of-view characters whose paths cross, sending them on a journey to uncover a dangerous secret.

Amar is immortal, but his immortality comes at a price - every time he returns to life, he loses all memories of his past life and relationships. Kesari is a mage who refuses to use magic. She has traded half of her lifespan to form a Bond with a magical being, but she is looking for a way to break that bond and remove that power. Finally, Aleida, an orphaned young woman, begins as the antagonist, although she's is not a bad person. At the beginning of the story, she hunts Amar and his companions, believing that his immortality could save her brother from a fatal illness.

Tethered Spirits is a character-driven story with very personal stakes. I prefer personal stories to epic ones, so I read the book quickly. Hernandez gives her protagonists interesting and painful backstories and explores them through the plot, dialogue, and some flashbacks. I liked the idea behind them more than the execution. Why? Well, a few scenes felt out of character. Or to put it another way, we get a few memorable and emotionally charged scenes that work well as scenes.  But the path that led to them, or the reasons for the characters' fears or anger didn't seem convincing to me (subjective).

Hernandez's writing style is clear, straightforward, and easy to read, although a bit too descriptive for me (almost every unimportant detail has an extra word describing it). Adverbs are cool, and rules are for fools, but I prefer tighter, less descriptive prose. The pacing is good, though it's a long book and the sense of urgency isn't always there.

World-building and magic system worked well for me. I like the idea of people paying the price to bond with "spirits" to gain magic and paying price for the power. It's more nuanced than that, but I'll allow you to discover it on your own :)

Overall, Tethered Spirit is a solid and entertaining book. It could use one or two trimming sessions to become tighter, leaner, and more impactful. but it works well as an introduction to the world and its main players.




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