Poisoned Blade by Kate Elliott
Book Two of the Court of Fives trilogy
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: August 16, 2016
Rating: 4 stars
Source: ARC sent by the publisher
Summary (from Goodreads):
Jessamy is moving up the ranks of the Fives—the complex athletic contest favored by the lowliest Commoners and the loftiest Patrons in her embattled kingdom. Pitted against far more formidable adversaries, success is Jes's only option, as her prize money is essential to keeping her hidden family alive. She leaps at the chance to tour the countryside and face more competitors, but then a fatal attack on Jes's traveling party puts her at the center of the war that Lord Kalliarkos—the prince she still loves—is fighting against their country's enemies. With a sinister overlord watching her every move and Kal's life on the line, Jes must now become more than a Fives champion...She must become a warrior.
What I Liked:
Wow! I'm pretty sure I liked this even more than I liked Court of Fives, which I really enjoyed. I remember feeling a little unsure about Court of Fives last year, if I should read it or not. I did read it and I liked it, and as it would turn out, the sequel was even better!
At the end of Court of Fives, Jessamy beats Prince Kalliarkos to become a Challenger, which moves her up in the ranks of the Fives. By doing so, she betrays Kal, forcing him into a role in the army that she knew he wanted to avoid. Their relationship lies in ruins, and he leaves with her father to fight in the war. Jes continues to run the Fives, and she must garner enough attention and favor to continue to be successful. But the Fives isn't Jes's priority; her mother and siblings are in hiding, with no money and no protection. Traveling with Lord Gargaron in the countryside allows her to compete more, but the dangers even higher, bringing her directly into the war. Suddenly Jes isn't just trying to move up as a Challenger, and she isn't just trying to protect her family. Jes must decide who she is fighting for, and where she stands.
This book was exciting from start to finish! So much time passes in this book. I like how Elliott does that - a month of training will pass, a month between one run of the Fives to another, weeks of travel, and so on. I like how Elliott moves the chains (football reference, sorry) of time without taking us though those days and weeks specifically.
Jes really grows with time, even though we don't get to see that time passing all the time. She is the revered champion of Garon Stables, the Commoner that shot up the ranks, from Novice to Challenger. She's the daughter of a respected General, and a lowborn Commoner woman. Jes isn't hurt by insults like "mule" that are thrown at her, and she isn't ashamed of who she is. She has her weak moments, but I love how Jes owns who she is. In a country where Efeans are dirty commoners, Patrons are the exalted upper class, and children of each are called mules, it's difficult for "half-breed" children like Jes to get anywhere. But Jes is determined to make it through the Fives, to win and win and win. She fights for her family, and for herself. Her loyalty to her mother and siblings is admirable, and so is her loyalty to her father (whom I don't really like).
Kal is the Prince and grandson of the current matriarch ruler. He is no longer an adversary, since Jes beat him. He is a captain in the army, a position he did not want. He is no longer warm smiles and encouragement, but a hardened soldier, calculating and somewhat cold. It seems like he won't forgive and forget, but he grows in this book too. Now that he has spent time in the army, in the war, he realizes how much bigger everything is than him. How political the Fives are, and how Jes needed to think of herself and her family above all else.
I've seen some compare this series to The Hunger Games, and I guess I can see it? In my opinion, this book is far more political and war-filled. Yes, the Fives are a game and Jes is a star. But most of the story is not focused on Jes running the Fives. There is a lot of politics and scheming and planning and betrayal. Jes has to watch her back at all turns; Lord Gargaron has her watched, and he doesn't know that she rescued her mother and siblings from the tomb he locked them in. This series is so different from The Hunger Games because a lot less time is spent in the "game", and more time is spent dealing with political intrigue, and war.
One thing I will say is that Kal and Jes have to go through some obstacles in their relationship. Kal is very angry with Jes in the beginning of the book, and he is sent away to war very early on in the story. For about 60% of the book, Kal and Jes do not cross paths. This gives Jes plenty of time to try and forget him, but she never can. And while we never get to read from Kal's POV, we know that it is the same for him.
Still, I like the progression of their relationship. After the ending of Court of Fives, it was clear that Jes needed to choose her family over Kal, and couldn't trust Kal to keep them safe at all costs. But I feel like by the end of this book, Kal and Jes's bond is more solid. There are a few scenes featuring them having serious conversations, and there are a few sweet romantic scenes. Most of this is towards the end. However, I like that the first half of the book isn't too angst-ridden.
We see a lot of Amaya, Jes's younger sister. I didn't hate her as much as I did in book one, though I still didn't like her very much. I understood her and felt for her more though. Bettany, I didn't like at all. But at the same time, I felt for her. Jes's father is a fool, but he is a pawn, and so I understand why he does what he does. Still, I think I do dislike him (in book one, I wasn't sure if I did or not). I really feel bad for Jes's mother, who now has six children (two are twin infants), and only one of her original four is with her. Elliott really makes it hard on Kiya (Jes's mother).
So there is a war, and the there is the Fives, and there is a crazy political scheme, and another within that one, and then there is another one that Princess Berenise is running... there are so many schemes happening, and Kal and Jes are caught right in the middle. The ending of this book got crazy pretty quickly! Crazy as in insanely action-packed and eye-opening. I'm happy to see things like a stronger, unified couple (Kal and Jes), family reunion, and some of the schemes broken up. But let's just say that book three will be very intense, given how this book ended!
What I Did Not Like:
I do really hate General Esladas's new wife, Menoe (Kal's sister). Wow I could throw her off a fictional cliff and not feel bad about it. I honestly really hope both Menoe and Esladas meet there fate in book three. This isn't a spoiler, I promise! Just wishful thinking.
I'm hoping to see more physical romance in book three. While I LIKED how Elliott went about the romance in this book, I want to see more for sure. Kal and Jes have all the odds and the universe and basically everything against them, but it would be great to see some of the passion that lies between them overflow. In any way.
Would I Recommend It:
I am loving this series, so I would definitely recommend this book if you've read Court of Fives. The dislikes I mentioned above are more like considerations for book three. If you are a fan of fantasy, with light romance and a kickbutt protagonist, I highly recommend this book.
4 stars. I love it when the sequel of a book is better than the first book! Even better, in this case. I am very curious to see how everything will end, in book three! Crossing my fingers for a nice ending. Is "nice" a thing in fantasy? Sometimes it is. Let's hope so!
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