Sword and Verse by Kathy MacMillan
Publisher: Harper Teen
Publication Date: January 19, 2016
Rating: 5 stars
Source: eARC from Edelweiss
Summary (from Goodreads):
Raisa was just a child when she was sold to work as a slave in the kingdom of Qilara. Despite her young age, her father was teaching her to read and write, grooming her to take his place as a Learned One. In Qilara, the Arnathim, like Raisa, are the lowest class, and literacy is a capital offense. What’s more, only the king, prince, tutor, and tutor-in-training are allowed to learn the very highest order language, the language of the gods. So when the tutor-in-training is executed for teaching slaves this sacred language, and Raisa is selected to replace her, Raisa knows any slipup on her part could mean death.
Keeping her secret is hard enough, but the romance that’s been growing between her and Prince Mati isn’t helping matters. Then Raisa is approached by the Resistance—an underground army of slave rebels—to help liberate Arnath slaves. She wants to free her people, but that would mean aiding a war against Mati. As Raisa struggles with what to do, she discovers a secret that the Qilarites have been hiding for centuries—one that, if uncovered, could bring the kingdom to its knees.
What I Liked:
Sword and Verse was one of those books that I knew I would enjoy, upon reading only the synopsis. I remember seeing the title, and then the synopsis, and then the cover... I remember discovering that the author was a fellow Baltimorean, which is REALLY exciting. Of all of Harper's 2016 Winter and Spring debuts, Sword and Verse was the one I wanted to read the most. You probably already saw my top five reasons why I think you should read this book, but this will be a more in-depth and coherent log of my thoughts on the book - which was superb!
Note: I will not do this book justice, with this review. I couldn't do it with my Top Five Reasons post (which you should check out, it's slightly more condensed), and I know I can't do it here. There are some books that are that great that I just want to say, "TRUST ME AND READ IT!" and be done with the review. Still, I hope I can write a nice review (and not spoil things).
As a child, Raisa was chosen to be the next tutor, and so she began to learn to read and write alongside the crown prince of Qilara, Mati. Years later, Raisa's feelings for Mati have grown, and she has also become a very accomplished Tutor, mastering the language and symbols with ease. Raisa and Mati know they shouldn't feel anything towards each other... but they do. When war breaks out against Qilara, Raisa will help the Resistance or stay loyal to Qilara - there is no easy way out of her past, present, or future.
This book is written from Raisa's POV, and it starts in the past, when Raisa is small. She wasn't always a distinguished tutor-in-training - she used to be a slave in the kingdom. As an Arnath child, she never felt welcome in Qilara anyway. Raisa is a different heroine from what we typically see in YA fantasy these days. She isn't bent on saving the world, or wielding swords, or defying royalty. She's loyal to Mati, and she doesn't forget her people, but she doesn't want to necessarily help the Resistance when it could mean hurting Mati (indirectly). Raisa is a mentally and emotionally strong young woman, which is just as important as being physically tough. She is intelligent and kind, and has to work through an incredible amount of emotional burden throughout the book.
Mati is the male protagonist of the book, and a very important character in the story. He has to lead Qilara for various reasons, and the learning curve is steep. He never wanted to be a part of the conflict and war that Qilara is deeply entrenched in, but he takes steps to ensure Qilara's success. Mati is selfless and clever, which is one of the reasons why I think him and Raisa are a great pair.
So much of this book revolves around language and writing and symbols. The Resistance is desperate to have Raisa helping them because she can read and write, and she is in the palace. Raisa's role as Tutor will be to teach Mati's children how to read and write, as well as train the next Tutor.
So you see that Raisa and Mati's roles were clearly defined from that start... but it didn't stop either of them from falling for each from the start. We know that Raisa has feelings for Mati since she was little, and we find out that he has feelings for her too. The romance is a strange one; no love triangle, but it isn't like any romance I've read. There was a point in the book that broke my heart, and it was less than halfway through. This book takes place over a year (maybe a little over a year?), not including the prologue. A LOT happens during that time, in terms of the romance (and in terms of the entire story). This book is a fantasy novel through and through, so there are certain elements of the story that intersect with the romance that really only occur in fantasy novels... you'll have to read the book to know what I mean, but the romance in this book is very unconventional.
And I say all of that and mean it in a GOOD way. I absolutely love how MacMillan constructed the romance, how it developed. The romance wraps up in a satisfying way, and there is no love triangle. NO LOVE TRIANGLE. None. The romance is one of my favorite aspects of this book. So. Good. Lots of swoon and fangirling from me, I will assure you.
MacMillan also does a great job with the world-building. Sometimes high fantasy novels seem to blur together, in terms of the worlds. I didn't find it the case with this book; the emphasis on language and symbols made this book highly distinctive, as well as the structure of the court and kingdom, and the role of religion.
The ending is stunning, in my opinion. The book takes it time for the most part, in terms of pacing, but the climax picks up speed and the ending is eye-opening. I love the pacing of the book overall, and I really liked how the ending felt. Everything comes together, and the ending wraps up all the loose threads. I was really happy with the ending, especially in the last few pages.
This book is a standalone, and the ending is perfect for it. It's not as tightly wrapped as I would have hoped (there are one or two things that I thought were open-ended), but I have it on good authority that things will be addressed in the future - but not as a series. So. Standalone for the win!
What I Did Not Like:
This book was really satisfying for me, so I don't think I have complaints. One of the things that I mentioned above was that I found that there were a few things that were open-ended. Usually this would be a complaint of mine if the book is a standalone (which this one is), but if those elements will be addressed in future companion novels, then by all means!
Would I Recommend It:
I highly recommend this novel. Fantasy fan, YA fan, someone who enjoyed Kristin Cashore's books, or Alexandra Bracken's Brightly Woven, etc. It's a standalone with an incredible and totally unique romance, and high-stakes action, and unforgettable world-building. This stunning debut did not disappoint on any level!
5 stars. <--- That's a rare rating from me. I like it when I build a novel up in my head for forever, and then the novel turns out to be really, really wonderful. If you get a chance to read this book, do it! Don't miss this book!
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