The Reader by Traci Chee
Book One of the Sea of Ink and Gold series
Publication Date: September 13, 2016
Rating: 4 stars
Source: eARC from First to Read
Summary (from Goodreads):
Sefia knows what it means to survive. After her father is brutally murdered, she flees into the wilderness with her aunt Nin, who teaches her to hunt, track, and steal. But when Nin is kidnapped, leaving Sefia completely alone, none of her survival skills can help her discover where Nin’s been taken, or if she’s even alive. The only clue to both her aunt’s disappearance and her father’s murder is the odd rectangular object her father left behind, an object she comes to realize is a book—a marvelous item unheard of in her otherwise illiterate society. With the help of this book, and the aid of a mysterious stranger with dark secrets of his own, Sefia sets out to rescue her aunt and find out what really happened the day her father was killed—and punish the people responsible.
What I Liked:
What a fascinating debut novel! This book was fun and entertaining, but not in a light way. There is plenty of bloodshed and violence, but also adventures and magic and pirates! In a tangential way, this book reminded me of another YA '16 debut, Rebel of the Sands. Completely different stories, but the feel of the stories (the tone?) are similar, and wonderful.
In this fantasy world, people no longer have the ability to read. Books have been forgotten and lost. Sefia's parents had one book hidden, and Sefia didn't know what it was. Both of her parents are dead, and she's with her Aunt Nin. But when Nin is captured, Sefia takes the book and goes after them. Months pass, and no luck. Sefia was well-taught by Nin to survive, but Sefia has no direction. The only thing that can help her is the book, which Sefia slowly begins to understand. But will the book help her figure out where Nin was taken, and more about her parents?
This book is written in third-person limited, and I loved that. Certain chapters are from Sefia's POV (most of them), but also Archer's (Sefia's companion whom she rescues/frees during her hunt for Nin), Tanin's (you could say she's the villain), Lon's (an Apprentice to becoming a secret Librarian), and Reed (pirate captain of the Current of Faith). At first, the POV switches threw me, even though all were in third person. But I really came to enjoy all of the POVs, especially when I finally began to understand how they connected with each other.
I loved the writing in general! I think that's one thing that you'll see reviewers say over and over - the writing of this book is brilliant. There is almost a lyrical quality to it. There were a few lines that made me roll my eyes, because they seemed out of place compared to the rest of the paragraph. BUT, for the vast majority of the book, the writing was amazing.
Another technical aspect of this book that I really liked was the physical marks of the book - there are finger smudges, ripped/burnt pages, words in the margin, and so on. It was pretty cool! I was reading an eARC, but I've heard that the ARC (and I'm sure the final hardcover copy) has these purposeful marks in it as well. So neat!
I liked Sefia a lot. You can clearly see her growth from start to finish. She's a little scared and unsure of herself in the beginning, but she gains confidence and capability as the story goes on. She's kind and intelligent, and she is pretty handy with knives or a bow and arrow.
Archer is the boy that Sefia frees, fairly early on. He has been trained to kill all his life, and he had been dragged in a crate when Sefia saw him in the forest. She freed him, they escaped, and they were inseparable for the whole story. Archer has such a heartbreaking past, present, and future. He's a complex boy, and I liked seeing him and Sefia work together. Both of them have trauma in their pasts, and they both needed the companionship.
In terms of plot and story, this story follows Sefia and Archer trying to find Nin, as well as Captain Reed trying to find a certain treasure, and Tanin following Sefia and Archer. Lon is another important character, and his role is cleverly written. All paths merge around the halfway point in the book, and it's pretty cool how the author does that. Things get complicated as Sefia and Archer flee one enemy after the other.
Did I mention pirates? Captain Reed is somewhat of a pirate, though he's not really the plundering type. He's really more of just a captain, but he goes after treasure, so we can call him a pirate. He strikes a deal with another pirate. Yay for pirates!
There is a hint of subtle romance in this book, if you didn't pick up on that in this review! Sefia and Archer are fairly platonic throughout the book, but they grow close emotionally, and rely on each other a lot. They're each others anchors in more ways than one. But it's also sweet seeing them fall for each other. I liked seeing the trust build between them, as well as the feelings. No love triangle!
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. The ending had my heart racing and breaking and racing some more, but things worked out in a satisfying way (for now, I suppose). I'm a little scared of how much shenanigans the author could "cause" in the next books, because there is so much room for utter chaos! But the ending of this particular book was good.
What I Did Not Like:
This book is about 450 pages, and at some points, it really shows. Not each for me to stop reading, but enough for me to notice. There is a bit of drag midway through the story. I've seen some fellow reviewers stop reading at that point, because the story doesn't seem to go anywhere. But it goes somewhere, and it's really good! Especially in the last twenty-five percent.
If you like king/sword/pirate/magic kinds of fantasy, this is a book for you! I've been a little hit or miss with the YA '16 debuts, but this debut was definitely even better than I expected it to be.
4 stars. I'm looking forward to reading the next book! I almost wanted to save this series to binge-read the series all at once, but I'm glad I read this book now. It's such a great story!
Was this review helpful? Please let me know in the comments section!