Genres: Action & Adventure, Fantasy & Magic, Young Adult
Series: Court of Fives #1
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on August 18, 2015
Also by this author: Poisoned Blade
In a world where relations between two distinct classes of Patrons and Commoners are tense, Jessamy and her family are stuck in the middle. Her father is a Patron who married a Commoner, a rare occurrence, and stayed faithful to her, which is unheard of. Jessamy has three sisters, Maraya, the eldest who has a deformed foot and wants to be an Archivist, Amaya, the youngest, who dreams of poetry and marriage, and Bettany, Jessamy’s twin sister who is prone to moods and, as part of twins, is suspected to be cursed. Lastly, there’s Jes, who is not quite the son her father wanted and longs to run the Fives, an arena race where contestants journey through 5 varied courses each valuing different skill sets to win. It is the ultimate test of athleticism and glory in their kingdom. Jessamy had been planning to finally be able to run in the upcoming Fives race, but her father, a decorated military leader, returns home from war and is honored by being asked to watch the Fives with his liege lord. Jessamy is faced with a choice–to sit by and let her one chance at greatness go or expose her family to ridicule, as her father would never live down the shame of his mixed-class daughter competing in so public an arena.
Risking her father’s reputation, her mother and unborn child’s safety, and her sisters’ livelihoods and dreams, Jes runs the race brilliantly, managing to purposefully lose in the final bit to another gifted boy and young lord, Kalliarkos. In the aftermath, her father’s lord suddenly dies and they are left to founder without his protection. Lord Gargaron, Kalliarkos’s slippery uncle, makes a deal with Jes’s father to put aside his wife and family to be married to Kal’s sister, have more power in the military, and only if Jes runs for Gargaron’s stable in the Fives. Unable to see any other choice, Jes’s father agrees and Jes is sundered from her family, whom she only glimpses in a funereal procession for the former lord.
In her new status as a real Fives Adversary, Jes excels along with Kal, but she quickly realizes Lord Gargaron has not kept his word to keep her family safe–he has instead trapped them alive in a tomb to starve. Jes and Kal must secretly save her family and return to run the Fives before Gargaron finds out or her whole family dies.
This fantasy was so good! I definitely did not expect to like this book as much as I did. It was compelling and action-filled. The characters were engaging. I loved Jes and Kal the best. The whole book revolves around Jes’ conflicts and her choices based upon a few events. Running the Fives has been her dream that has always been out of reach. With her father’s status as great military leader and his already taboo marriage to an Efean woman that he refuses to put aside, meaning she and her children still have his loyalty which is unheard of for a Patron man and makes him and his wife legendary among the Efeans, Jessamy is cautioned even more to be inconspicuous and obedient. In fact, none of the girls are to ever draw attention to themselves, hard because of their mixed race/status, the attention of Jessamy and Bettany being twins/cursed, Maraya having a club foot, and Amaya being exceptionally beautiful. This makes having a mixed race a key element of the book, which should draw some attention in YA and be part of #weneeddiversebooks movement. It’s rare to have a YA fantasy deal with mixed race issues so prominently.
When their family status and future is most insecure than it has ever been due to her father’s lord dying, Jes still pursues her dreams with the possibility of ruining everyone else’s, which one could argue shows both courage and stupidity. It doesn’t hurt that she’s met Kal, who she is attracted to, not just for his looks, but because he’s smart, honest, and a talented Fives runner who also happens to be a lord. But then when her mother and sisters are shamed as her father’s star rises by being taken in to Lord Gargaron’s household, Jessamy also faces the hardest choice — to continue with her one chance to run the Fives in front of her father or be a dutiful daughter and go with the rest of her family. Having always thought her father was rather hard to reach and would deny her despite her dreams, Jessamy continues with her plans but loses to Kal on purpose; however, Lord Gargaron knows of her cunning plan and forces her into a deal to run for him which also increases her father’s status. But when she finds out that her mother and sisters are missing, Jessamy sacrifices her chances as a Fives adversary to possibly be discovered rescuing her family, showing that when faced with the worst odds, she will choose her family’s lives over her own. It’s quite a turn from selfishness to sacrifice for Jes, but then, if you consider that Jessamy decided not to run the Fives originally, she likely would have been missing with her family and no one would have been in a position to attempt to save them, much less find powerful enough allies to make a difference in their fates. This is one of the reasons that this book is really inspiring because choices of one young teen girl (who starts out selfish yet brave) comes to be the savior of her family, at least in the short term. We’ll see what happens in the next book!
The setting was a mix of ancient Egyptian and Greco-Roman society (think playing Age of Empires or Civilization) and myth. For more on the elements Kate Elliott used to create Court of Fives, visit “The Book Smugglers” site. This was a pretty clean read except for the bit about Kal pretending Jes is his mistress to give them more time together to plot and plan. Does contain some romance, but not very much, so this can definitely be read by middle grade readers or upper elementary readers. An interesting bit is how the premise is modeled after a variation of Little Women, which I hadn’t realized up until now. All in all, worth a read! If you’d like to read an excerpt, visit Tor.com. Stay tuned for my review of book 2 coming soon!
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