Monday, July 11, 2016

court of fives: stardust reviews

Court of Fives (Court of Fives #1)
Kate Elliott

☆☆☆1/2 – ☆☆☆☆


On the Fives court, everyone is equal.

And everyone is dangerous.

Jessamy’s life is a balance between acting like an upper-class Patron and dreaming of the freedom of the Commoners. But away from her family, she can be whomever she wants when she sneaks out to train for the Fives, an intricate, multilevel athletic competition that offers a chance for glory to the kingdom’s best competitors.

Then Jes meets Kalliarkos, and an improbable friendship between the two Fives competitors—one of mixed race and the other a Patron boy—causes heads to turn. When Kal’s powerful, scheming uncle tears Jes’s family apart, she’ll have to test her new friend’s loyalty and risk the vengeance of a royal clan to save her mother and sisters from certain death.

In this imaginative escape into an enthralling new world, World Fantasy Award finalist Kate Elliott’s first young adult novel weaves an epic story of a girl struggling to do what she loves in a society suffocated by rules of class and privilege.

full review under the cut! 

I first bought this book around a year ago, when it first came out, and I was really excited about it! Until, you know, my enormous TBR pile continued to grow and I just never got around to it. (It happens to the best of us, right?) So this awesome book has laid by the wayside for almost a year while I toiled through so many others. However! The sequel comes out in less than a month, and with that date looming on the horizon, I finally picked this one up, and absolutely flew through it. I have a couple of issues, which are pretty minor, but overall I thought this was an inventive and engaging read. Good for fans of Roman-style worlds, sister bonds, deadly games, and fighting against the odds.

This book is sort of like if Little Women, American Ninja Warrior and the Roman Empire got together and had a baby. (I hope y'all are familiar with American Ninja Warrior, but if not, it's a show where competitors use balance, upper body and grip strength, and pure determination to get through the world's hardest obstacle course) The story centers around Jessamy, sandwiched in the middle of four sisters, living in a world where sons, and pureblooded sons especially, are valued above all. Jessamy, or Jes, exists in a precarious position, a mixed race girl in an unkind society, and what she loves to do more than anything is run the Fives, an obstacle course where everyone is on equal ground. Though she is expressly forbidden from being anything other than a perfectly dutiful daughter, Jes' talent and love for the game forbids her from stopping. She runs in secret, and this is where we pick up the story.

I'll start with my issues, because they're far less than the things I liked about this one. Number one would be the romance. I didn't hate it, it just felt a little... forced? A little instalove-y? Just all around a bit undercooked. I really wish that Jes and Kal had been given a little more time, maybe just a few chapters, to develop more of a relationship. As it stands now, it seems to me that he was impressed by her talent in running the Fives and then basically threw all caution to the wind to do a bunch of illegal things for her. Somewhere around the mid mark of the book, the relationship moved from a flirtation to something stronger, and I just wish that we had developed to that point, instead of taking a huge leap. The other thing that bothered me a bit was the fact that the ending was SUPER confusing, at least from my point of view. The beginning sort of eases us into the world, which is a complicated one, and in the end, there are tons of names and cultural references and events that happen that I didn't feel like were very well explained. I got a little lost a couple of times and had to backtrack, which is nothing more than a little annoyance, but I do wish that these things, like the difference between monarchies and cultures, had been explained a little better.

The worldbuilding in this book was extremely well done. Aside from the confusion I had with the more specific aspects of the world, I really felt comfortable in it. It is a sort of Roman-esque setting, with warring empires and social classes, temples and oracles and priests and emperors, and it is extremely harsh. There are two classes, two cultures, that live in the land where this book takes place. There are the Saroese, the Patron class, who are of the ruling class and who took the land over from the natives. The natives, the Efeans, are called Commoners, and though they do not experience the same elevated status as the Patrons, it could be argued, and I would argue, that they have more personal freedom. Though, they still exist "under" the Patrons, so I wouldn't go so far as to say that they are free. This book explores the dynamics between conqueror and conquered, and how the winners control the narrative of history. The interesting thing is that this book explores that dynamic from the point of view of someone who is mixed race, someone who, at once, belongs to both and neither class. I think that the second book will probably expound even more upon the cultural nuances of these people, and I will be very interested to see where it goes with that.

Jessamy is a great main character. She's headstrong and independent, which gets her into all sorts of scrapes that are great for the narrative, but she also cares so much about the people in her life. It's a good balance. She wasn't so brash that it bothered me, but she wasn't meek either. I loved her relationships with her sisters, and I wish we had gotten even more of that. Her sisters, named Maraya, Bettany and Amaya (Meg, Beth, and Amy, anyone?) are all unique characters in their own rights, and I loved getting to know them. I thought that most of the characters in this book were very well formed, including their mother, father, Kalliarkos, his uncles, and the girls that train the fives with Jes. Obviously, they are not all of equal importance, but for their roles, they were developed nicely. I also liked Kalliarkos, though I felt like I could never fully trust him. He seemed like he was too nice! But that ended up being one of his best qualities, and in the end I did have full trust in him. I think that Coriander and her brother are going to play a bigger role in book two as well, so I can't wait for that!

As for the plot, I thought there was a really good balance between action and exposition. Elliott did a great job at peppering in facts and anecdotes that helped build the world and characterize the people in it, all the while keeping up a quick pace that made the book impossible to put down. Like I said, I got a bit confused at the end (where we go into a giant underground maze, so maybe that's why), but until that point I was having a great time reading about Jes and Kal's exploits. The harshness and rigidity of the world made the actions of these two characters stand out even more, as they seek to buck tradition and do what they know to be right, consequences be damned. Though people were warning them to stay away from each other at every turn, they also ended up needing each other to make it through. I won't say too much, because I would just get very rambly about trying to describe the plot in a non-spoilery way, but I loved the twists that were there and Jes' straightforward tone in her telling. And the end made me want the next book now!

Definitely would recommend this book to someone looking for a different sort of fantasy world, excellent world building, excitement, sister relationships, and deadly games.


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