Court of Fives by Kate Elliott
Book One of the Court of Fives series
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: August 18, 2015
Rating: 4 stars
Source: ARC sent by the publisher
Summary (from Goodreads):
In this imaginative escape into an enthralling new world, World Fantasy Award finalist Kate Elliott begins a new trilogy with her debut young adult novel, weaving an epic story of a girl struggling to do what she loves in a society suffocated by rules of class and privilege.
Jessamy's life is a balance between acting like an upper class Patron and dreaming of the freedom of the Commoners. But at night she can be whomever she wants when she sneaks out to train for The Fives, an intricate, multi-level athletic competition that offers a chance for glory to the kingdom's best competitors. Then Jes meets Kalliarkos, and an unlikely friendship between a girl of mixed race and a Patron boy causes heads to turn. When a scheming lord tears Jes's family apart, she'll have to test Kal's loyalty and risk the vengeance of a powerful clan to save her mother and sisters from certain death.
What I Liked:
I'm so glad I enjoyed this book! I've seen some so-so reviews, as well as some disappointment and unhappiness with this one, but I personally really liked it. To be honest, I knew next to nothing about it, other than it's fantasy. But it worked out for me!
In this world of hierarchy, class, wars, and entitlement, Jess is the daughter of a Patron and a Commoner. Her father is a low-born Patron, elevated to the rank of Captain - no easy feat. Her mother is a beautiful Commoner. Commoners and Patrons do not mix, or marry. Her father cannot marry her mother, and yet, for twenty years, he has been faithful to her, and vice versa. Jess and her three sisters do not go into society, because their father forbids it. Amaya, the youngest sister, looks the most like a Patron type, and has the best chance at getting a good marriage and future. Jes just wants to run the Fives, a competition that has great rewards. The day comes when Jes's training and patience pays off - she runs the Fives. But shortly after, her father's supporter dies suddenly, and her father is forced to marry a highborn lady, abandoning Jes, her sisters, and her pregnant mother. Jes is taken by a Lord Gargaron to run the Fives, alongside the boy she beat, Lord Kalliarkos. But Jes will stop at nothing to make sure that her family alive and well, no matter the costs.
The thing that struck me the most about this book is the world-building. Despite the sexism and regression of women's rights, I really enjoyed the world-building. I can see some people getting bent out of shape about how patriarchal this society is, but think Ancient Greece or something. The world-building is very well-constructed and well-written. While it is sometimes unsettling to read, the world-building is unique and intriguing. There is an Ancient Greece feel to this novel, with oracles and priests and wars and curses, etc.
Jes is a strong and capable character, willful yet understanding, selfless towards her family. She is the second of four (and her mother is pregnant, so more on the way), and she is the most physically strong. Amaya, the youngest, is the most like their father in physical appearance, and has the best chance of making a match. Bettany, Jes's twin, is loud, rude, and outspoken, uncaring about her reputation (I like her a lot!). Maraya is bookish and intelligent, and she has a deformity that makes their father turn his head. Jes is the most strong, physically and sometimes mentally, and wants to leave the most, to find her own freedom. I like Jes.
Kal (Kalliarkos) is the boy who was behind Jes in the Fives she ran without her father knowing. Jes purposefully lost, because the victor has to reveal his/her face, and she knew she could not. So, Kal won. Kal is a highborn lord and the grandson of a princess, therefore making him a prince. He seemed a bit one-dimensional at times, but I liked him. He has this way about him in which he likes everyone, and respects everyone, no matter their appearance (Commoner, Patron, Lord, etc.) or what have you. He sees past societal hierarchy. Kal is naive and soft at first, but he grows a spine and makes (reckless) decisions. His character development is very obvious, and fun to watch.
Family is huge in this story. When Jes is taken from her family, and her father is going to marry a highborn lady of (basically) royalty, Jes's sisters and pregnant mother are "taken care of". Jes doesn't know what that means, but she is determined to find them and get them to safety. I really liked Maraya and Bettany. Kiya, the mother, I felt bad for. I HATED Amaya - she is a spoiled brat who only thinks of herself. I was torn about the father. You'd think he was a selfish, power-hungry jerk who abandons his family, but that isn't quite the case.
I love the story. It is interesting, engrossing, compelling. There is a reflection of race issues that should be addressed today, including the biracial theme running through the story. I love the Fives competition - it is NOT Throne of Glass esque, in which it encompasses the entire story. There is so much more to the story, especially with Jes's preoccupation with her family's whereabouts.
There IS romance in this novel! No love triangle, and I can't really see one in the future (but don't let me jinx it!). Jes and Kal are a great pair, very good together. I feel like there is a bit of insta-love, but perhaps it's just first love for both of them. There is not a lot of physical interactions between them in terms of romance, if you know what I mean. The two of them spend plenty of time together, one way or another, but not in terms of physical intimacy. Which could be viewed as a good thing, to some readers. There is subtle chemistry throughout though, but the romance is NOT the focus of the book (which is good!).
The story goes from family to the Fives to preoccupation with family back to the Fives - the actual competition. The story is thrilling on all sides. I have questions about possible magic and Efea (the Commoners), but I expect my questions to be answered in future books. The ending of this one was surprising, abrupt, and I definitely need a sequel as soon as possible!
What I Did Not Like:
Like I mentioned above (and this is a small thing), the romance is a tiny bit insta-love-y? It just seemed like Kal and Jes became interested in each other on the spot. Which is possible! But it comes off as insta-love. But still, I liked the romance.
I HATED Amaya. Gosh, that girl should die at some point. She is entitled and privileged, because she is more like the Saroese (Patrons) then any of her sisters, and she is beautiful. So of course she acts better than them, and wants them to do as she says to help her get a good match, without any regard for them. Ugh! I think the author wants us to at least dislike her... but I hate her and it's too bad she's such an important secondary character!
Also the father is a jerk. I'm torn about how I feel about him, but he's definitely part jerk.
Would I Recommend It:
YES. I would recommend this novel. It's an interesting spin on what I believe is Ancient Greece, or has a lot of Ancient Greek influence. Fantasy fans will love this one, with its good story, nice romance, and likable characters (minus Amaya). I liked the balance of story, romance, and secrets uncovered and yet to be uncovered.
4 stars. I cannot wait to read the sequel! I hate waiting but I'm very excited for another book in this world. Thank you, Little, Brown, for the review copy!
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